Blackjack Hands

While large, the range of starting hands in blackjack is not overwhelming, and any discussion of the game’s strategy requires at least a cursory look at the possible starting combinations. So, beginning with the lowest starting hand you can possibly have, let’s work our way through them.

2 (A A):

The lowest combined total you can be dealt is also one of the most complex in the game. Some casinos require you to count one of the aces as an 11 (the other value an ace is allowed to take on), so it’s impossible to have a starting hand of two. No matter what the rules, though, you’re always going to want to split two aces, even against a dealer 10, ace or face card.

You can find a guide to splitting elsewhere on this site.

Two Aces can equal 2 or 12.   A pair of Aces can also be split.

Two Aces can equal 2 or 12. A pair of Aces can also be split.

3 (A 2):

If you’ve been dealt these two cards, it means you can also count this starting hand for a total 13. Either way, you’re always going to want to hit here, then decide whether to count the ace as a one or an 11 after your next card comes. As with most starting hands of 11 or fewer this is one time that you will want to double down if the dealer has a weak showing, like a five or six.

The ace-X combination is known as a “soft” hand, meaning you can use the ace as either one or 11. If you’ve been dealt an ace with any numbered card between two and six, you’ll want to follow the logic above. For other soft hands, see below.

You can find a guide to doubling down elsewhere on this site.

4 (A 3, 2 2):

If you have two twos you’ll also have the option to split. Different players have different opinions on whether to do that, and it will always depend at least partially on the dealer’s showing. But if you’re feeling lucky, or just want to gamble, it can be fun to let things ride by splitting twos.

Just remember that if you split twos and get dealt a 10 or a face card on one or both you aren’t in a very good position going forward in the hand. Whereas, if you left them as four, you only have one poor starting hand with which to deal.

5 (A 4, 2 3):

For a two-three starting hand, you’re always going to want to hit, and if you have an especially strong positive intuition when the dealer has a really poor up card, then you might even want to consider doubling down.

6 (A 5, 3 3, 2 4):

Three-three is similar to the two-two. They are both hands that you’re going to want to push your bets with if you’re feeling lucky, and play conservatively if that’s not the case. The two-four should be dealt with in the same manner as the two-three.

7 (A 6, 2 5, 3 4):

For the non-ace combos, always take a hit, and consider doubling down against a weak dealer up card.

8 (A 7, 2 6, 3 5, 4 4):

In the ace-seven scenario, your hand is also worth 18, so most of the time you’re going to want to simply stay on that. However, if you really want to double down when the dealer is weak it’s something worth considering, especially since a really low card can improve your hand. Just beware that you’re also potentially setting yourself up to get dealt a card that hurts your hand.

Ace - Seven equals 8 or 18.

Ace – Seven equals 8 or 18.

You also might (stress the word “might”) want to consider hitting on an ace-seven if the dealer’s up card is worth 10 and you have a strong feeling their down card will make that hand worth 19 or 20. It’s certainly a gamble, but it’s worth considering in very specific circumstances.

With four-four, apply the same split considerations as you would with two-two and three-three. And for two-six and three-five, also follow the strategy laid out for other combination below 10 that can’t be split.

9 (A 8, 2 7, 3 6, 4 5):

Your ace-eight is also worth 19. Just stay on 19 and take your chances. The other three combinations can be good ones to double down on, as long as the dealer’s up card is eight or less.

10 (A9, 2 8, 3 7, 4 6, 5 5):

Again, ace-nine is worth 20. Take your likely win and run. Five-five is one split opportunity that you never want to take. Instead, just double down in most instances when you’re dealt two cards that equal ten, five-five or otherwise. The only time you might want to slow down is if the dealer’s up card is an ace or worth 10.

11 (2 9, 3 8, 4 7, 5 6):

Simple – always double down.


All the possible combinations of cards that can equal 12.

12 (2 10 or face, 3 9, 4 8, 5 7, 6 6):

One of the most difficult starting hands in blackjack. Don’t split your sixes, you’re just asking for more trouble. Play this one by the book, hitting against a dealer high card, staying when they have a potential bust showing. The only time to think about it is when the dealer’s up card is a two. In that case, trust your gut on whether to hit or stay.

13 (3 10 or face, 4 9, 5 8, 6 7):

Play by the book – hit against a high dealer up card, stay against a low one.

14 (4 10 or face,5 9 6 8, 7 7):

For the first three combinations, play it by the book. Splitting your sevens is advisable against a weak dealer up card, but not necessarily against a strong one.

15 (5 10 or face, 6 9, 7 8):

Play it by the book.

16 (6 10 or face, 7 9, 8 8):

Play the first two by the book. Always split eights (yes, always).


For these, your only real option is to stay, no matter what the dealer is showing. It only gets complicated if you’ve been dealt 21 and the dealer has an ace showing. At that point, they will offer you even money, meaning that you will win the amount of your bet instead of the time-and-a-half you would normally get paid. It’s a way to hedge against a possible dealer blackjack, which would defeat yours, with no payoff at all. It’s up to you whether to take the offer or not.

The only other possible decision you will face in this range is when you’ve been dealt a 20 via a pair of 10, jacks, queens or kings. In this situation, you will have the option to split the pair and play the hand as you would any other split. Most players prefer to stay on 20, since it’s the best hand you can have aside from blackjack.

However, the more adventurous player will sometimes take advantage of the split option, especially against a weak dealer hand. It’s rarely the safe play to make, especially as you’re taking a hand that is likely to win and exposing yourself to a loss of twice the amount of your original bet, but it’s something to consider if you really want to push your luck.