Blackjack Hand Rankings

Blackjack Hand Rankings: What Beats What?

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Updated on: 26 Jun 2024
Dean McHugh

If you want to win at Blackjack, you’ll need to know how to value each card and how to create a winning hand. In this guide, we take a look at how each card and hand scores in Blackjack and how they all rank.

What Is The Value of Each Card in Blackjack?

If you don’t know how much each card is worth in Blackjack, you won’t be able to create a winning hand. Understanding the Blackjack scoring system is crucial to success, but luckily, it’s also pretty easy to remember.

This table shows the value of every card you might draw during a Blackjack game:

Card Card Value
2-10 Blackjack value matches the card value
Jack/Queen/King 10
Ace 1 or 11

If you are dealt a hand which scores 21 with your first two cards, this is a Blackjack, sometimes also known as a natural. This is a winning hand, and it’s why the picture cards and the ace are so important in Blackjack.

The ace is the sole exception to the fixed numerical value system within Blackjack; you can choose between ace high and ace low, depending on the rest of your hand. You may use the ace as either low or high; there are no fixed rules about how and when to score the ace as either one or 11. This variance provides flexibility in any hand which holds an ace that could be crucial to a win.

How Does Each Hand Rank in Blackjack?

Blackjack hand rankings

The simplest answer to this is that each hand ranks in numerical value, with 21 being the ultimate goal. The closer to a value of 21 without busting, the higher each hand will rank.

However, if you don’t instantly score 21 with your opening two cards, the ranking system doesn’t tell the full story. Although low-value hands are officially the lowest ranked, in some circumstances they may be more preferable than a mid-value hand.

With a low score, you know you can hit without any chance of busting. Therefore, any hand that is valued at 11 or lower may rank poorly, but it’s not a bad hand to hold. Even if you hit and get a maximum 10, the most you can score is 21 - which would be ideal!

Conversely, scoring 12 or more puts you in a trickier position. The chances of winning with a score of 12 are relatively low, so you may decide to hit, depending on the dealer’s card. The basic strategy for Blackjack suggests hitting with a hand of 12 if the dealer’s face card shows anything from 7-A. However, you are at risk of busting if you are dealt any card worth 10 or more - of which there are 16 of in every deck (all of the face cards and the 10s). This is why the lower-ranked hands are preferable, as you can hit to improve your score without fear of busting.

The closer you move to 21, the greater your chance of busting if you hit. This can make it very difficult to make a decision, especially with a hand valued 15-16, so it’s often advisable to follow the rules set out by the Blackjack basic strategy. These rules are based on statistical probability, and while nothing can guarantee you a win, the suggested moves will give you the best mathematical chance of success.

This table shows the chance of busting if you hit with each possible hand you could hold:

Value of Hand Held Chance of Busting If You Hit
11 or less 0%
12 31%
13 39%
14 56%
15 58%
16 62%
17 69%
18 77%
19 85%
20 92%
21 100%

As you can see, the higher the score for the hand, the greater the chance of busting if you hit. The skill in Blackjack lies in comparing your hand to the dealer’s face card and estimating what they are likely to score.

In terms of ranking, a hand of 15 or 16 are fairly near the top, but most Blackjack experts contend that these are the two worst hands to hold. This is due to the mathematical probability of winning with these hands.

For example, on average, a hard hand of 16 will win fewer than one in every four hands played. In other words, you’ll lose far more hands with this score than you’ll win. The only exception is if you hold a pair of eights and you take the option to split.

This doesn’t mean there is no chance of winning with a 16; much depends on adopting the right strategy compared to the dealer's face card. If the dealer has a low-scoring card of between 2-6 showing, they have a fairly high chance of busting (39-42%). In these hands, you can simply stand on 16 and hope that the dealer busts. Blackjack strategy charts are invaluable for these hands.

All of this illustrates why it’s important to understand how a hand ranks in Blackjack, but also that ranking is not the only factor that matters.

Are There Different Types of Blackjack Hands?

Blackjack cards

Although we’ve discussed Blackjack hand rankings in detail here, the one aspect we’ve not mentioned so far is the type of hand that is dealt. Although every hand is assessed based on numerical value, they can also be divided into two distinct and separate types of hands: soft hands and hard hands.

As a very broad overview, hard hands don’t include an ace, while soft hands do. This makes soft hands more flexible, providing the player with more options.

What Is a Hard Hand?

As described above, a hard hand is one where the two cards are dealt without an ace. This means the total is fixed with no variability in manipulating the individual cards' value. This rigidness means that hard hands are more straightforward to play, with fewer options.

In some circumstances, a hard hand can include an ace. This is only when the value of the cards means that the ace cannot be valued at 11 and must be played with as a number one. This occurs when playing the ace as an 11 would bust the hand, resulting in an instant loss. When an ace must be played as a one, the hand loses its flexibility, classing it as a hard hand rather than a fluid soft hand.

When you hold a hard hand, you know what your current total is, and you know precisely how much you can add without busting.

For this reason, hard hands usually follow a simple maxim: stand when you’re strong and hit when you’re weak. In other words, hard hands are played conservatively when they rank highly, but with a low value, players should hit. Of course, the dealer’s face card should always be taken into account, and basic strategy will help with knowing what move to play.

What Is a Soft Hand?

A soft hand is defined as a hand of two or more cards that contains an ace, where the ace can be valued as either a one or 11.

For example, a hand containing an ace and a three could be described as a soft 14. This hand could be played either as a 14 or as a 4.

Most players hope to be dealt a soft hand because it offers so many options, and it is generally more forgiving. If you make a bad decision with a soft hand, you have a better chance of still securing a good outcome by switching up the value of the ace. A soft hand offers flexibility by allowing players to either value the ace as low or high, depending on what would be beneficial for their hand.

This means that players can start by valuing the ace as high, but if the strategy doesn’t work out successfully, they can switch to valuing it as one.

The flexibility of a soft hand means that the strategies for playing it successfully are infinitely more complex. Blackjack basic strategy differentiates between soft and hard hands and offers suggested moves which are tailored to both. However, don’t forget that once the ace in a soft hand can no longer be valued as an 11 because the hand will bust, it is reclassified as a hard hand.

As a more general rule, it’s possible to be more aggressive with a soft hand because of the possibility of valuing the ace as one if you bust by using it as an 11. If you have a soft 16, you can’t bust, unlike a hard 16. This means you can opt to hit to try and obtain a better hand without fear of instantly busting.

How Do Pairs Work in Blackjack?

Pairs can be played just like any other hand in Blackjack, with the values added together to try and reach a score of 21. However, there are additional options when you hold two identical cards, which can help with poor hands.

Players have the option of choosing to split a pair in their hand. This means that the two cards are separated and treated as two hands. Additional cards will be dealt to the player to make up the two hands. Each hand will be played consecutively, just like other hands on the table. Splitting the cards requires the player to pay an additional stake, as it increases the opportunities to win. Splitting means the player has two hands to play, which are played out in exactly the same way as if they had two hands from the start.

Bets on the two hands must be equal; there’s no option to reduce the overall stake when you split.

There are some rules which are slightly different when you split in Blackjack, primarily used when you split a pair of aces. You will not be able to hit as many times as you want, unlike in a regular hand of Blackjack. When the aces are split, you will only receive one further card per hand; you will not be able to draw again. In addition, if you receive a 10 or a face card, your winning Blackjack will typically be paid out as 1:1, not 3:2.

It’s important to understand that you don’t always need to split pairs in Blackjack. Some pairs should always be split, while others are usually better kept together.

A pair of eights or aces should always be split. This is because splitting a pair of aces gives you multiple chances to score a Blackjack, as there are many cards in the deck with a value of 10.

Conversely, splitting eights is advisable as a hand of 16 is hard to win with; reducing the value to eight gives you the opportunity of a better hand.

You should never split a pair of fours, fives, or tens. A pair of tens is an excellent hand, and you’ll struggle to beat this if you split and try again. Blackjack doesn’t occur very frequently, and this is the only hand that can beat a pair of tens. Pairs of fours or fives cannot bust and provide an excellent opportunity for a good score.

Advice around the other pairs depends on the dealer’s face card, and the basic Blackjack strategy should be followed in these circumstances.

To Sum Up

Understanding how cards rank and the different options for each type of hand is key to success in Blackjack. Although it’s helpful when Lady Luck is on your side, Blackjack also requires strategy and skill for maximum returns.

Like all casino games, Blackjack should always be played responsibly, and you should never gamble with money that you can’t afford to lose.

Why not head over to CasinoGrounds to check out our other guides to playing Blackjack or to share tips with other players on our Forum?

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