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Number of Starting Hands in Blackjack

24 July 2022

QUESTION: I was talking with my dad, who taught me how to play blackjack, and we were wondering how many different starting blackjack hands you could get.

ANSWER:. That depends on how you look at it. If you consider all hard hands with the same two-card total as one possible hand, there are 34 starting hands. That counts hard 12 as one hand even though it can be made as 10-2, 9-3, 8-4 or 7-5. Two 6s are counted separately among pair hands rather than hard hands.

Similarly, the 34 total includes all pairs of 10 values as one hand, instead of separating out King-King vs. King-10, Queen-Jack or any other pair totaling 20.

That leaves 15 hard hands from 5 through 19; eight soft hands from Ace-2 through Ace-9; 10 pairs from 2-2 through 10 value-10 value, plus blackjack.

If you want to consider the different ways to make hard hands and the different ways to make pairs of 10s as separate hands, the number of starting hands climbs to 55.

To most players, the composition of a two-card total makes no difference. Some advanced players augment basic strategy by composition-dependent strategies.

For example, in a two-deck game where the dealer has a 4 face up, basic strategy indicates you should stand. However, those who take advantage of composition-dependent strategies stand on 9-3, 8-4 or 7-5 but hit on 10-2. The presence of the 10 in your hand makes it slightly less likely you'll bust.

That's enough in a close-call hand to shift strategies.

With six decks, there's a schism. It's slightly better to hit 10-2 vs. 4 if the dealer stands on soft 17, but better to stand if the dealer hits.

It can be a bit much for a recreational player to track, but there is reason for advanced players to look at more than the basic 34 starting hands.


QUESTION: My slot play goes back to the 1980s, when everything had three reels and coins dropped into a tray after every win. Now I play video slots like everybody else. It seems like they've been here forever, but it can only be 25 years or so, right?

ANSWER: Video slots' leap to prominence in the United States was sparked by WMS Gaming's 1997 introduction of Reel 'Em In. Its bonus event with fishermen trying to land the big one reeled in players and overcame previous resistance to video slots.

Aristocrat Technologies had introduced video slots with second screen bonuses in Australia in 1994, but Reel 'Em In and its successors changed the market in America.

There had been previous attempts to put slots on video formats, starting with Fortune Coin, distributed by Fortune Coin Co. in 1976. There were no bonus events in those days, just a three-reel game that mimicked reel slots. It wasn't successful enough to keep a place on the floor.

The first multigame casino video console, the Bally Game Maker, included slot games along with video poker and video blackjack upon introduction in 1994. The Triple Trouble slot game carved out a small but loyal niche.

In 1996, Silicon Gaming made a short-lived splash with its technically advanced Odyssey slots. One of the initial games, Fort Knox, included a bonus. As you played, you collected digits to crack the code. When you had the full code, the vault swing open for a golden prize.

But it wasn't until several months later when WMS raised the interactivity level with its second-screen bonuses that video slots really took off. Today, they're the most-played casino games in the U.S.
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski