The Best and Worst Hands in Blackjack

Blackjack is a hugely popular game because there are so many possibilities, and, let’s face it, the house edge is one of the lowest among casino games. Unlike games such as roulette and slots, you can change the hand you’re dealt with, but to do so successfully, you need to know the value of the hand you have, which are the best and worst starting hands to receive, and how you should play them.

Whether you're in a land-based casino or looking to play blackjack online, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst hands you might be dealt with - and the possible actions with each hand.

The Best Hands in Blackjack

Aside from being dealt a blackjack (natural), here are some of the best blackjack hands.

Hard 20

Example of a hard 20 hand

If you get a hard 20, this is considered the best hand in blackjack (apart from a blackjack, of course!). This is one of the strongest hands possible and is made up of any two cards (apart from an ace) that add up to 20. Essentially, it is made up of two cards with a value of 10 (10, J, Q or K). If you are dealt this, then it can be played as follows:

Stand: If the dealer has a weak face-up card (such as a 6 or lower). In this instance, you can confidently stand.

Double Down: If the game gives you the option to double down, you may want to do so if the dealer shows a 9, 10 or A.

Insurance: If the dealer’s face-up card is an A, and the game allows it, you may want to take insurance to protect yourself against the dealer having a blackjack.

Ultimately, playing a hard 20 is pretty straightforward as, in most instances, you would stand - as the risk of receiving a third card and busting is too high. Usually, a dealer will have to hit to try and beat it, meaning there is a high chance they will bust.

That being said, what you do will still be influenced by the dealer’s face-up card, so whilst this is, no doubt, a powerful starting hand, there is no guarantee of a win if the dealer has a good upcard - your blackjack hand is only as good as the dealer’s hand.

Soft Hands

In the game of blackjack, a soft hand is simply a hand that includes an Ace. The reason this is called a soft hand is because the A can be valued as a 1 or an 11, which makes your hand more flexible - and reduces the risk of hitting without going bust. So, if you have a 4 and an A, this could be a 15 hand. However, if you hit and get a card that’s 7 or more, the A can be used as 1 instead, so instead of busting on 22, your hand will be valued at 12 instead. Here are some of the ways in which you can play it:

Hit: If you have a soft hand, then you can hit with confidence that you won’t bust. So, if you have an A and a 7, you can hit, get a 10 value card and get a value of 18.

Double Down: If the game lets you double down, this might be a good idea if the dealer has a weak face-up card, as you have a good chance of drawing a high card.

Standing: If you have an A and an 8 or 9, then you might simply want to stand, as this is still a strong hand.

Splitting: If you have a pair of Aces, you can split the hand and use an A for each hand - which could potentially give you two strong, soft hands.

Ultimately, this hand gives you more flexibility and reduces your risk if you do hit, meaning you can make more logical decisions when you see the dealer’s cards.

The Worst Blackjack Hands

So, what is the worst hand in blackjack? Well, some hands are best avoided where possible. Here are those that you won’t want to see when you look at your hand.

16 Hand Variations

A hand that totals 16 is often considered the worst starting hand in blackjack - or one of them, as it’s not necessarily high enough to win, but there’s a high risk of busting if you draw an extra card. Here are some factors to consider when playing your hand.

If the dealer has a strong face-up card (7 upwards), then your 16 is tricky. If you have soft 16 (5 and A), then you can risk hitting as you won’t bust if you get a high-value card. However, if you have a hard 16, it’s tougher:

If a dealer has a card 7 upwards, then it might be best to hit and hope for the best as statistically, it’s the lesser of two evils.

If the dealer has a weak upcard (6 or lower) then standing is the best option, as the dealer is more likely to bust.

If the dealer has a strong upcard, you may also consider surrendering, so you forfeit half your bet - which will minimise your loss in that situation. Ultimately, when playing this hand, you need to consider the dealer’s upcard and make the best decision based on that.

Hard Hands

A hard hand is simply any hand that doesn’t contain an Ace. Hard hands are tougher because they are a lot less flexible - and there’s a higher chance of busting if you draw another card. Here’s how you might typically play this hand:

Hit: If your hand totals 11 or under, you can hit without the risk of busting.

Stand: If your hand is between 12 and 16, this will depend on the dealer’s upcard. If the dealer has a weak upcard (2 to 6) it might be safer to stand as the dealer may bust. However, if the dealer’s card is 7 or above, hitting will give you a better chance of improving your hand if the dealer has a strong hand.

Double Down: In some games, you may be able to double down on your hand - usually if your hard hand totals 9, 10 or 11. You simply double your bet and get one more card.

Surrender: If you have a hard 16, for example, and the dealer has an upcard of 10, then surrendering the bet may be the best option, so you minimise your loss.

Playing a hard hand is tough - and you need to carefully consider the dealer’s hard hand before you make your decision.


Is a hard hand or soft hand better in blackjack?

Well, in blackjack, whether a hard hand or a soft hand is better depends on the situation you are in. Generally, soft hands are a lot more flexible and offer better odds - as they can't bust when you make that first hit. However, hard hands can still be favourable in certain scenarios - particularly if the dealer's upcard is weak and you have a strong hard hand (such as 19, 20 etc.). Ultimately, winning in blackjack is about making the right decisions based on the hand you have versus the dealer’s upcard, however, the ultimate outcome is based on random chance.

Well, the best hand in blackjack is an Ace and a 10-value card (10, Jack, Queen, or King), totalling 21 points - the blackjack. However, if you aren’t dealt this, then statistically a 20 and or a soft hand are considered the better hands. Ultimately, the best hand depends on the situation - and the dealer’s upcard, as the outcome can vary on every round you play. You could lose on a hard 20 in one round and win on a hard 16 the next.

Take Time to Think | BeGambleAware.org | 18+

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