Stiff Hands in Blackjack

Stiff Hand is a Blackjack term associated with the notion of a “hard hand”. A hard hand is one for which the cards making the hand can only be added in one way and thus can only have one total value.

In Blackjack, aces can be counted as either 1 or 11. Because of the ace’s interchangeable value, a hand made up of an ace and a 6 for example, can be totaled as either 7 or 17. Because the ace creates a choice between two different totals, the hand is said to be a “soft hand” or a “soft 17”.
In contrast, a hand made up of a 10 and a 7 can be totaled only one way, and therefore is said to be a “hard total” or a “hard hand”. The term “stiff hands” is reserved for hands of 12-16 that cannot be totaled any other way. They are said to be “stiff hands” because they possess a low probability of winning if the player elects to stand, and any attempt to make a higher total is at the risk of going over 21 and busting.

In contrast, the term “pat hand” generally refers to a hand that enjoys either a high probability or complete certainty of being the winning hand or the best hand among all hands in play. In Blackjack, a pat hand is more loosely defined as one having a value of between 17 to 21, since traditional game odds dictate that if the player’s hand totals 17 at least, their odds of winning are best if they “stand pat” and don’t attempt to draw any more cards. For the same reason, standard casino rules require the dealer to stand on any total of 17 or more.