In the game of Texas Hold’em poker, it is pretty well documented which hands are superior to others and most likely to be a winner at the tables.
A royal flush sits at the top of the poker tree, followed by a straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, one pair and finally a high card.
However, such lists are not so readily available when it comes to another popular casino card game – blackjack.
One reason is because of the sheer number of variables involved – how many decks of cards are in play, what the face card of the dealer is and the individual casino rules regarding whether a dealer must hit or stand on a soft 17 etc.
But few would disagree that being dealt a blackjack consisting of an ace and another card with a face value of 10 is the best a player can hope for when placing their chips in the betting circle.
This is a hand that a player can expect to receive approximately once every 21 hands, regardless of how many decks are in play. In a single deck, the probability of being dealt 21 is 4.827%, while in an eight-deck game this only drops marginally to 4.745%.
But how should other strong starting hands be ranked? This is not by any means a definite list because the variables of blackjack at different casinos can be so different, but it can be used as a rough guide:
Regardless of the face card that a dealer is showing, the probability of winning when holding a hand with a value of 20 is 77.3%.
This percentage increases if a dealer is holding any card between a six and nine, with the possibilities far greater that the dealer will reach a lesser hand that they are obliged to stick on, reduced that they will complete a five-card trick and enhanced that they may end up busting.
In fact, if the dealer is showing an eight, the likelihood that a player holding 20 wins the hand is a lofty 86%. This is based on an infinite deck count.
It is sometimes easy to forget that if a player is dealt two aces then it is not a written rule that they must be split. A player could count the hand as either two or 12 and play on accordingly.
The chances of hitting a card with a value of 10 are approximately 30%, so doing this consecutively to bring two hands of 21 is fairly unlikely. Yet splitting aces is still considered the right play even though a player has to double their initial stake.
An ace-ace hand will be successful over 40% of the time, but one of the bigger issues is the frequency that a player can expect to be dealt it. In a single-deck game, if 100,000 hands of blackjack were played, this hand would only be received 451 times.
In comparison to the above, a player should expect to receive a starting hand with the value of 11 4,826 times in 100,000 deals. This is obviously because the greater range of card combinations which add up to this total.
The reason this hand is held in such high regard is because a card with a value of 10 is the most likely to be received when hitting from the deck, with four different cards being worth this amount.
However, a hand of 11 will only become a winner 32.8% of the time on average, which makes it less profitable overall than AA.
Yet, because of the greater frequency in which it will be dealt, if a player was to occupy a blackjack table for multiple hours, they could expect to make a greater sum of money from being dealt 11 than AA.
Logic would assume that 19 is a fairly strong blackjack hand to stand on, given that only two totals can beat it.
But its overall win percentage is a rather measly 27.6% and it would be especially weak if a dealer was showing a 10 as their face-up card, given the probability that their unknown card is similar.
A player should always stand on 19, but it is worth pointing out that a player’s expected return when holding this hand increases 10-fold when up against a dealer’s face card of seven rather than a 10.