A hard hand is a hand which has an Ace which is valued as 1 while a soft hand is a hand with an Ace which is valued as 11. According to the blackjack card values an Ace card can be valued as 1 or 11, it depends on the player, but this cause for certain hands to have a dual-value less the hand bust. For example, a hand of A/2 can be valued as Hard 3 or as Soft 11, it depends of how the Ace card is calculated.
Here are some examples of hard and soft hands of blackjack:
Knowing to tell apart hard from soft hand is a part of blackjack's basics and some basic blackjack strategy relies on players to know exactly which hand is hard and which is soft. When one uses the basic doubling down strategy he must know the difference between hard and soft hands and so, even if this topic is only a small part of blackjack's basics it is essential if one want to learn how to play blackjack.
Sam Marshal - Editorial Staff 3/23/2006