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Blackjack is all about trying to build a better hand than the dealer. You both start out with two cards, but you’ll only be able to see one from the dealer’s hand. After that, you can decide whether to hit, stand, surrender, split, or double down as you try to get as close to 21 as possible without going bust.
You can use a blackjack strategy to dictate which actions you should take, but before you can deploy these, you first need to understand the different starting hands.
It’s not quite as simple as “low = bad” and “high = good” because there are other factors you need to consider, such as whether a hand is hard or soft.
You will, however, be glad to know that the hands and strategies are the same in online blackjack and when you play them in a land-based casino, so you will only have to learn one set.
Here’s what you need to know about blackjack hands and how you can play each one.
When you start learning how to play blackjack, you will likely use your intuition to decide whether to stand or hit. However, this isn’t usually the best approach.
Blackjack is a mathematical game, and there is an optimum way to play each hand based on its value and how likely it is that the dealer can beat it. This is known as basic blackjack strategy or just “basic strategy”.
The best hand in blackjack is blackjack (hence the name), which is made from an ace and a ten or picture card. Its value is 21, but it beats any other combination of 21 (though you won’t get any non-blackjack hand of this value as a starter).
You don’t need to do anything if you have blackjack. You win, unless the dealer also has it, in which case you push (tie) and get your wager returned to you.
21 is like blackjack but with any other combination of cards. When you get 21, you stand. You’ll beat any other hand the dealer may have, except for blackjack.
When you have a hard 17 or higher (more on hard/soft hands shortly), you should always stand. Regardless of what the dealer’s up card is.
Hard 12 and 13-16
If you have a hard 13-16, you should stand if the dealer’s up card is between 2 and 6. If it’s 7 or above (including Ace), then it’s best to hit.
A hand of hard 12 is similar, but you should also hit if the dealer has a 2 or 3 up card.
If you’ve read about other games in our Casino Guide, you’ll know that most card and table games have some small intricacies that may not seem obvious initially but can be used by experienced players to mix up their strategies.
Blackjack is no exception to this as it has soft and hard hands. These terms refer to whether the value of that hand is fixed or whether it can be changed during play.
The only way that the value can be flexible (soft) is if it contains an Ace. In blackjack, the Ace can be worth both 1 and 11, depending on what other cards you have. So, if you have 9, A, you can consider that to be 10 or 20.
Having the Ace allows you to hit when you may not otherwise do so because you have the fallback of being able to change the Ace to be worth just 1.
The principles of when to hit, stand, and double down are mostly the same with hard and soft hands, but there are some key differences.
All the examples in the previous section were specifically for hard hands, but here are things you can do with soft ones.
|What to do
|Double down against dealer up cards 2-6 & Hit against cards of 7+ (incl Ace)
|Double down against dealer up cards of 2-9
|Stand against dealer up cards of 2-6 & Hit against cards of 7+ (incl Ace)
|What to do
|Hit against a dealer up card of 2-6 & Double down cards of 5-6
|Hit against dealer up cards of between 2-6 & Double down against 4-6
|Stand against dealer up cards of 2, 7, and 8 & Hit against 4-9
Another tool available to players is the option to split their cards to make separate hands. You can only do this if you get a starting hand that contains two cards of the same value, such as 8, 8 or 5, 5.
To do this, you have to put down a second wager, but you do have the chance to win both hands.
Each of your separate hands will have the same blackjack odds as though you were only playing with one, but they are completely independent of each other so you can win one and lose the other.
Generally, you should always split Aces and 8s. 9s can also be split in most instances, though not if the dealer has an up card of 7, 10, and Ace.
Also, you should never split 10s or 5s. You do, however, have some freedom with pairs of 3s and 2s if the dealer’s up card is also a 2 or 3. In these cases, you can choose whether to split or not.
The same applies to pairs of 6 when the up card is 2 and pairs of 4 when the dealer has 5 or 6.
An Ace and a ten make a natural blackjack hand. The ten can be any face card. The only negative outcome here is a tie, which means the dealer also got a natural.
All the face cards have a value of 10 each. Aces count as either 1 or 11. An Ace will have a value of 11 unless that would give a player or the dealer a score above 21, in which case, it has a value of 1.
If a player is dealt a pair of eights, a total of 16, considered a troublesome hand. The value 16 is said to be the worst hand one can have in Blackjack.
A soft 17 is 17 with an Ace. Ace can be counted as 11 or 1, providing flexibility on whether you should hit or not. The dealers must hit or stand on a soft 17, depending on the casino.