Card and Hand Values in Blackjack

In the game of Blackjack, the cards are remarkably simple to understand. There aren't any flushes or straights, full houses or dead-man's hands with which a player must contend.

Blackjack has only one card with a value that varies. All others are static. The Ace may be counted as a 1 or as an 11, making it both the highest and lowest possible card. The Ace is always counted in a player's favor. If a value of 11 would cause the hand to bust, then the Ace becomes a 1. If the value of the hand is low and counting the Ace as a 1 would cause the player to lose, then the Ace becomes an 11.

Face cards are all assigned a value of 10. Kings, Queens, Jacks and numerical 10's in one's hand tend to have the greatest influence on one's strategy, as well.

Numerical cards are always counted at their face value. A 2 is always a 2, for instance, just as a 5 is always a 5.

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Unlike poker and most other card games, the suit of the cards in Blackjack has no bearing on the value of the hand. Blackjack is an entirely numerical game. The cards, however, do bear the same suits as do those found in a poker deck. There are no Joker cards in Blackjack.

Although all Blackjack hands are valued by their number, a "natural" Blackjack generally pays out the most. A natural Blackjack is a two card hand that equals 21; therefore, any ace paired with a numerical 10 or a face card is a Blackjack. These hands pay out more than do other hands, usually at a ratio of 3 to 2. Any other hand that results in a total of 21 is not counted as Blackjack and pays out at standard odds.

There are some hands in Blackjack that allow specific rules to be put into play. Any hand in which the first two cards are identical may be split into two separate hands. For example, if you're dealt 2 5's, you can toss the cards onto the table—in the case of a face down game—or say "split" in the case of a face up game. You'll be able to bet on your second hand and it will be counted as a separate bet from your first. This is a good strategy with two low valued cards but a very poor one with two 10's. Some casinos have restrictions on the number of times you can split your hand and others have absolutely none. Remember that each new hand entails another bet, however, so don’t get carried away with splitting your hands!

The dealer, in the vast majority of cases, will always hit on their hand until the value reaches 17 or busts. This will be stated on a sign at the table. Based on the value of the dealer's hand, you can ascertain whether or not you need to hit or stay to increase your odds.