A hand that totals 15 in blackjack seems like an innocuous hand but you would be surprised (no, make that shocked) at how many players botch this hand when deciding how to play it. Follow along and I will show you how to play your 15 correctly.
Note – The following abbreviations are used in this article:
s17 = dealer must stand on soft 17
h17 = dealer must hit soft 17
Hard vs. Soft Hands
The playing strategy is different between a hard 15 and a soft 15 so it is important you know the difference.
A hard 15 is any hand that totals 15 that either:
- Doesn’t contain an Ace.
- Or contains an Ace that counts as 1.
A soft 15 is any hand that totals 15:
- This hand contains an ace counted as 11.
➔ 10-5 (hard 15)
➔ 6-7-2 (hard 15)
➔ A-4 (soft 15)
➔ 2-2-A (soft 15)
Sometimes a soft 15 will convert to a hard 15 after drawing. For example, A-4 is a soft 15; if you hit and draw a 10, you now have a hard 15 (A-4-10).
Hard 15 Basic Playing Strategies
(From Don Schlesinger’s Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Card.)
Multi-Deck Game with s17:
- You should stand on hard 15 if the dealer’s upcard is a 2 through 6, and
- Hit if it is 7 through ace.
If surrender is offered:
- Surrender any hard 15 against a dealer’s 10 upcard.
Multi-Deck Game with h17:
Follow the above s17 playing strategy with one change:
- Surrender hard 15 against a dealer’s ace (instead of hit).
Composition-Dependent Playing Strategy (Multi-Deck Game)
Sometimes the make-up (or composition) of the cards in your hand can alter the playing strategy for specific hands. In the case of a hard 15 composed of an 8+7:
- Hit against a dealer’s 10 upcard instead of surrender.
- If 7 or more decks of cards are being used, then surrender.
The playing strategy for a hard 15 is nearly identical to the above multi-deck basic blackjack strategy with only one modification when surrender is offered.
- Hit an 8+7 versus the dealer’s ace in a h17 game (rather than surrender)
Note: In a rare singe-deck blackjack game worth playing (i.e., blackjack paying 3 to 2 rather than 6 to 5), the composition of the hard 15 (i.e., 10-5 vs. 9-6 vs. 8-7) plays a significant role in the composition-dependent basic playing strategy. For more details, consult the single-deck basic strategy card by Don Schlesinger.
Soft 15 Basic Playing Strategies
Regardless of the number of decks of cards or the mix of playing rules, the correct playing strategy for a soft 15 is:
- Hit against a dealer’s 2, 3, and 7 through ace.
- Double down on dealer’s 4, 5, and 6.
- If the playing rules do not allow doubling down on soft hands, or your soft 15 consists of three or more cards, then hit against all dealer upcards.
There is never a situation when you should surrender a soft 15.
How would you play the following 10 hands?
(Assume a six-deck game with surrender unless otherwise stated.)
- 10-5 vs. dealer’s 10.
- 8-7 vs. dealer’s ace (s17 game).
- 8-7 vs. dealer’s ace (h17 game).
- 2-A-2 vs dealer’s 3.
- A-4 vs dealer’s 6.
- 8-7 vs dealer’s 10 (eight-deck game).
- 10-5 vs dealer’s 10 (surrender is not offered).
- 9-3-2-A vs dealer’s 7.
- A-2-2 vs dealer’s 4.
- 8-7 vs. dealer’s ace (double-deck game with h17).
By following the above basic playing strategy for a hard and soft 15, you will always be making the mathematically correct play. (For detailed basic playing tables, consult Chapter 3 in the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.)
Answers to Test Yourself
- Double down