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Winning Hands in Blackjack

12 June 2002

By Henry Tamburin

When you play blackjack, your final hand can only be one of these possibilities--a blackjack, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16 or less, or you could bust. When you bust, you know you automatically lose and when you get a blackjack hand, at worst you'll tie and at best you'll get paid a bonus of 1.5 times your bet. But what are your chances of wining when you stand on your 17s through 21s? You would hope they are good, but that's not always the case.

Let's take the example of standing on 17 in a six-deck game where the dealer stands on soft 17. Most players are happy to have a 17 and thankfully stand. However, you will lose more money than win when the dealer shows any face card but a 6. You will lose the most money when the dealer shows a 9 and the least when he shows a 4 or 5. It's only when the dealer has a 6 showing that you stand a fighting chance of winning some money in the long run.

So what's a player to do? Actually, there is nothing you can do. Hitting a hard 17 would result in even greater losses, so the lesser of two evils is to stand. Now, don't get me wrong. Oftentimes you will stand on 17 and win a hand, but over time you will end up losing more than you win except against the dealer's 6. Standing on 17 is definitely not utopia.

Because 17 is not a good hand, you should never stand on soft 17 (you should hit or double down). Also, in a game where the dealer hits soft 17, a player faces an additional disadvantage.

Suppose we end up with 18 and stand. Surely we must fare better than standing on 17. And we do, but not as much as you think. You'll make money on that 18 in the long run when the dealer shows a 2 through 8, but you'll lose money against the dealer's 9, 10 or ace. This is the reason why you should hit soft 18 when the dealer shows a 9, 10, or ace rather than stand.

In one of my seminars on casino gambling, I asked the audience if they would be interested in the following casino proposition. Namely, they would allow you to bet as much as you want at blackjack and they would give you an automatic 18 on every hand. Would you take that bet? If you did, you would wind up losing about 60 cents for every $100 you wagered. Like it or not, 18 won't make us a winner when we play blackjack.

Now, what about standing on 19? Surely, this must be a winning hand. Well almost, except when the dealer shows a 10 or ace. If the dealer shows those cards, our 19 still isn't good enough and in the long run we will lose more then we win.

It's only when we have a 20 that we really have a strong hand. Against any dealer's upcard including an ace, we will make money in the long run. Since 20 is such a strong hand, this is the reason why 10-10 should never be split and A-9 should never be doubled. You've got a winning hand with 20, so it's best to leave it alone.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, therefore, to find out that about 70% of your total winnings at blackjack arise from being dealt these two hands: A-10 and 10-10. Nearly all the rest of your winnings is won by these 5 hands: 11, 10-9, 10, A-9, and A-8. It's important therefore to know the correct playing strategy for them because they count so much toward your overall chances of winning. In multiple-deck games always double down on 11 when the dealer shows 10 or less and double 10 when the dealer shows 9 or less. You should always stand on hard and soft 19. With a soft 18, you double down when the dealer shows a 3 through 6, hit when he shows a 9, 10 or ace and stand on 2, 7, and 8.

On the losing side of things, the following hands will account for about 85% of our financial losses: hard 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. We already covered the 17 and it should come as no surprise that the stiff 12 through 16 hands are overall losers even when we follow the basic playing strategy (if we played by the seat of our pants we'd lose even more).

Statistics are nice to know but they won't put money in your pocket. What will is knowing the basic playing strategy and betting more when the undealt cards are rich in tens and aces (i.e., learn card counting). That's how you can turn the odds in your favor when you play blackjack.

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at

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