by Henry Tamburin

How many different starting hands can you get when you play blackjack? If you forget about card suits which have no role in blackjack, and consider that the picture cards and the 10 are essentially equivalent, there are 33 possible hands. They are grouped below into hard hands, soft hands, and pairs. The hard hands represent the total of the two-card hand. A hand that totals 9, for example, could be made up of any of these two card combinations: 2,7 or 3,6 or 4,5.


hard hands : 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

soft hands: A-2; A-3: A-4; A-5; A-6; A-7; A-8; A-9; A-10

pairs: 2-2; 3-3; 4-4; 6-6; 7-7; 8-8; 9-9; 10-10; A-A

You’ll notice a pair of 5’s is not included as one of the possible starting two-card hands. That’s because blackjack players should never split 5’s rather they should play the hand as a hard 10.

Of the possible 33 blackjack hands that you are dealt the following 10 hands will be your most profitable hands assuming you play the correct basic playing strategy.


  1. A,10
  2. A,9
  3. 10,10
  4. A,8
  5. 10,9
  6. 11 (e.g., 7,4 or 8,3)
  7. A,A
  8. 10 (e.g., 3,7 or 4,6)
  9. 9,9
  10. A,7

It should come as no surprise that a blackjack hand is the most profitable hand for blackjack players. This is because when you are dealt a blackjack hand you are paid a bonus of one and one-half times your initial bet (this assumes of course that the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack).

If you are wondering why the A,9 (20) is ranked above the 10,10 (20) hand and the A,8 (19) above the 10,9 (19) it’s because the soft hands (those containing an ace) reduce the dealer’s chance of having a blackjack and beating you (since you hold an ace which he needs for a blackjack). This makes these hands slightly more profitable than the hard hands that have the same total.

It turns out that the majority of your winnings will come from just two hands, a blackjack and a pair of 10’s. Nearly all the rest of your winnings will come from these five hands: 11; 10-9; 10; A-9; and A-8.

Here’s a winning tip. Because a pair of 10’s is so profitable you should never split them. This is a common mistake made by novice players. Likewise you should never double down on an A-9 hand. Like the pair of 10’s, you have a profitable hand when you hold an Ace-9 so stand.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that if you are playing blackjack and you are not being dealt your fair share of these profitable hands, you will most likely be losing. You need these profitable hands to make up for all the other hands you will be dealt where the dealer has the edge.

Because these hands are so important you must play them perfectly, otherwise you are throwing away a golden opportunity to win some money. The table below summarizes the correct playing strategy for the 10 most profitable blackjack hands. Make sure you know how to play these hands correctly!

If you are wondering why an 18 is not one of the 10 most profitable hands it’s because overall an 18 is a losing hand in blackjack. That may surprise you because most players are very happy to stand with an 18. But for every 100,000 hands of 18 you are dealt, you will lose 28 more hands than you will win.

Learn the correct playing strategies for these 10 hands and hope the dealer deals them to you when you play blackjack. If this happens, you are in good shape to bring home the money.


(assumes multiple deck game, double after pair splitting allowed, dealer stands on soft 17)


A-10; A-9; 10-10; A-8; 10-9 Always stand

  1. Double down when dealer shows a 2 through 10 and hit if dealer shows an ace

Pair of Aces Always split no matter what the dealer shows

10 (including 5-5) Double down when dealer shows 2 through 9

and hit if dealer shows 10 or ace

9-9 Split when dealer shows 2 through 6 plus 8 and 9

Stand if dealer shows 7, 10, or ace

A-7 Double down when dealer shows 3 through 6, hit

If he shows 9, 10, or ace, and stand on 2, 7 and 8


Henry Tamburin is the Lead Instructor in the Golden Touch™ Blackjack course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com) and editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free.