The most profitable hand for a blackjack player – a two-card hand of 11 or a pair of aces?

11 or Aces

For obvious reasons, the hand players would most want to be dealt in a game of blackjack is blackjack.

Not only can this hand not be beaten (it can result in a draw and the return of the original stake if the dealer is also dealt blackjack), but receiving a 10 and an ace from the deal is paid out at enhanced odds. This is typically 6/5, although certain casinos will offer increased odds of 3/2.

However, a player can expect to receive blackjack only once in every 21 hands.

Other hands that rank prominently on a player’s most desired dealt list are two aces and 11. But which is the most profitable of this duo in the long run?

AA

It should be pointed out that it is not obligatory for players to split their pair of aces and they could continue their hand as a soft 12. Card counters may decide on the latter if it has been calculated that there are minimal 10s left in the deck.

The standard play is to split the aces and count each as 11, particularly as the usual rule is that a player can only claim one hit onto each of their aces following a split.

The dream scenario is they receive a 10 alongside each ace to make two hands of 21. However, these are not viewed as two blackjacks paid at the enhanced rate. Instead, they are both paid at 1/1.

A player is considered the favourite to win 60% of the hands in which they are in the position to hit on 11, although the exact percentage depends on a few things, such as the dealer’s face card. For example, the win percentage increases to 67% if facing a six and drops to 54% against a dealer 10.

What’s more, if a player does split, they are forced into doubling their original stake. If they bet £10 ahead of getting their pair of aces, the split means they will now have £20 on the table. They are now betting £10 on each of their two hands.

They will win both hands around 30% of the time and lose both just 13%. They will break even in terms of one win and a loss on 42% of occasions. The remaining percentage is made up of results which include draws.

Overall, the average gain when dealt AA is considered about 16% of the initial stake.

11

When dealt a pair of aces, players faced the conundrum of whether to split them. When dealt 11, they face a similar conundrum as to whether to double down or not.

Doubling down works in a similar way – a player doubles their initial stake and limits themselves to one extra hit card. Now rather than £10 on a hand of 11, they have £20 riding on one single hand.

The odds of winning a hand remain the same as above in the sense they will prevail in 67% against a dealer upcard of a six and 54% against a 10.

Interestingly, if avoiding the double down and opting to play an 11 normally in making more than one hit if desired, a player would then be 56% likely to triumph over a dealer upcard of a 10.

But what a player needs to decide is whether they would rather win £10 56% of the time or 54% of the time with £20 on the table? Both promise a profit more than loss and so winning more with the latter surely makes the most sense.

A player is expected to make a profit of 17.6% of their initial stake when dealt 11.

Conclusion

It should have been noted from above that getting dealt 11 is regarded as the more profitable of the two hands.

A key factor in the reasoning is that the full stake is riding on an outcome that has the probability of turning a profit over 50% of the time. This also has the potential to climb to 67% depending on the dealer’s upcard.

To match this full return when splitting aces, a player will need to win two hands rather than one.

On the flip side, a player is also more likely to lose their full stake more often when doubling down on 11, but with winning more likely than losing when holding a total of 11, it is the potential profits that count for more than avoiding complete stake losses.