Any live or online blackjack player’s stress level increases when the dealer flips over an Ace as her upcard. That’s because she has only an 11.5% chance of busting and a whopping 88.5% chance of getting to a final hand that totals17 through 21 (assumes the dealer did not peek at her down card to determine if she has a blackjack).

It’s clear the dealer has a significant advantage with an Ace upcard but since we can’t change the cards that we are dealt, we must play them in a way that will decrease our expected long-term losses. This means being more aggressive when we are a dealt a stiff hand (hit rather than stand) and less aggressive when we are dealt a two-card soft hand (hit rather than double down). We also should surrender several hands (even when it results in forfeiting half our bet), and play some hands differently depending upon the composition of the cards in our hand.  What follows is the accurate playing strategy for any hand when the dealer shows an Ace upcard. 

Notations used in this article:
S17 = Dealer must stand on soft 17
H17 = Dealer must hit soft 17
DAS = Doubling down after pair splitting is allowed
NDAS = Doubling down after pair splitting is not allowed
H = Hit
S = Stand
P = Split
Dh = Double down if allowed; otherwise, hit
Rh = Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit.
Rs = Surrender if allowed, otherwise stand
Rp = Surrender if allowed, otherwise split

MULTI-DECK GAME

There are several differences in the playing strategy for multi-deck games depending if the blackjack rules are S17 or H17. I’ll summarize the strategy for S17 first, then show the changes when the game is H17.

WITH S17

  • Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit, if holding a hard 16
  • Split if holding a pair of As or 8s
  • Hit if holding a hard 5 through 15, A-2 through A-7 or a pair of 2s through 7s
  • Stand if holding a hard 17 through 20, A-8 and A-9  or a pair of 9s and 10s

Below is the corresponding blackjack strategy arranged into three color-coded tables for Hard Hands, Soft Hands, and Pairs. The first row in each table represents the player’s hand (in the case of hard hands, it represents the total count of the cards), and the second row contains the correct playing strategy against a dealer’s Ace upcard for an S17 game.

 

Hard Hands
5-9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17-20
H H H H H H H Rh S

 

Soft Hands
A-2 A-3 A-4 A-5 A-6 A-7 A-8 A-9
H H H H H H S S

 

Pairs
A-A 2-2 3-3 4-4 5-5 6-6 7-7 8-8 9-9 10-10
P H H H H H H P S S

WITH H17

If the rules are H17, make the following four changes to the above strategy against a dealer Ace upcard:

  • Surrender hard 15 if allowed, otherwise hit
  • Double down Hard 11 if allowed, otherwise hit
  • Surrender Hard 17 if allowed, otherwise stand
  • Surrender a pair of 8s if allowed, otherwise split

The color-coded strategy chart below for hard hands and pair splitting corresponds to the above H17 strategy.

Hard Hands
5-9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17-20
H H Dh H H H H Rh

S

 

Pairs
A-A 2-2 3-3 4-4 5-5 6-6 7-7 8-8 9-9 10-10
P H H H H H H Rh S S

WHAT IF YOU ARE PLAYING A DOUBLE-DECK GAME?

WITH S17

The playing strategy for a double-deck game with S17 is the same as it is for multi-deck/S17 game except for one change:

  • Double down hard 11 if allowed, otherwise hit
5-9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17-20
H H Dh H H H H Rh S

WITH H17

If the rules are H17 with NDAS, the playing strategy is the same as it is for the above multi-deck/H17 game.

If the rules are H17 with DAS, the playing strategy is the same as it is for the above  multi-deck/H17 game with one change:

  • Split a pair of 8s (instead of surrendering)
A-A 2-2 3-3 4-4 5-5 6-6 7-7 8-8 9-9 10-10
P H H H H H H P S S

WHAT IF YOU ARE PLAYING A SINGLE-DECK GAME?

WITH S17

The strategy is the same as the above multi-deck/ S17 strategy except for these two strategy changes:

  • Double down hard 11 if allowed, otherwise hit
  • Stand on A-7 instead of hitting
Hard Hands
5-9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17-20
H H Dh H H H H Rh

S

 

Soft Hands
A-2 A-3 A-4 A-5 A-6 A-7 A-8 A-9
H H H H H S S S

 

WITH H17

The strategy is the same as the above multi-deck/ H17 strategy except for these two strategy changes:

  • Surrender a pair of 7s if allowed, otherwise hit
  • Split a pair of 8s instead of surrendering
A-A 2-2 3-3 4-4 5-5 6-6 7-7 8-8 9-9 10-10
P H H H H H Rh P S S

FOR MORE PRECISION

You can gain some precision in your playing strategy if you take into consideration the composition of the cards that comprise certain hands. This is especially the case with a double- and multi-deck game when the blackjack dealer is showing an Ace upcard.

DOUBLE-DECK GAME

If the game is S17:

  • Hit a hard 11 consisting of 9-2 or 8-3 instead of doubling

If the game is H17:

  • Hit a hard 15 consisting of an 8-7 instead of surrendering

SINGLE-DECK GAME

If the game is S17:

  • Hit a hard 16 consisting of 9-7 instead of surrendering

If the game is H17:

  • Hit a hard 15 consisting of 8-7 instead of surrendering 
  • Stand on a hard 17 consisting of 9-8 instead of surrendering

PRACTICE PLAY

To be sure you have the strategy down pat for playing your hand against a dealer’s Ace upcard, determine how you would play each of the 10 hands listed below, jot down your decision on paper, and then check it against the correct play at the end of this article. (Your goal is to be able to play every hand accurately, regardless of the number of decks of cards or mix of playing rules.)

GAME HAND PLAY
Single-deck,  H17, NDAS 8-7  
Multi-deck, S17, DAS 8-8  
Multi-deck, H17, DAS 8-8  
Double-deck, S17, DAS 9-2  
Double-deck, S17, DAS 7-4  
Multi-deck, H17, DAS 10-7  
Multi-deck, H17, DAS A-7  
Single-deck, H17, DAS 9-8  
Double-deck, S17, DAS 9-7  
Single-deck, S17, NDAS A-7  

For more playing strategy tips, consult Chapter 3 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.

Correct plays for the hands in the above table are:

  • Hit
  • Split
  • Surrender if allowed, otherwise split
  • Hit
  • Double down if allowed, otherwise hit
  • Surrender if allowed, otherwise stand.
  • Hit
  • Stand
  • Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit.
  • Stand
About the Author
By

Henry Tamburin is one of world’s most respected blackjack experts and a world-class player. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, and Blackjack: Take The Money and Run. He edited the monthly Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and was a featured blackjack columnist for Casino Player magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Gaming South magazine, Southern Gaming magazine, New England Gaming News, Jackpot, Bingo Bugle, and Casino City Times.