An ace is, without a doubt, the best card in blackjack. If the dealer is showing an ace as their hole card, then it’s a major concern for the player; if the player is the one with the ace, then there could be a big hand on the way. This is the “ace in the hole”, and while that phrase comes from poker and not blackjack, it’s perhaps more relevant in a modern game of blackjack than a game of poker.
With that in mind, let’s see just how important the ace in blackjack really is.
What is an Ace in Blackjack?
As you probably know, the goal of blackjack is to get as close to 21 as possible. If the hand hits 21 in 2 cards, then it’s an immediate win for the player; if the dealer hits 21 in 2 cards, then it’s an immediate loss.
The cards are all assigned a number value, with all picture cards valued at 10 and all cards from 2 to 9 given their face value. The ace is the only exception here as it can equal both 1 and 11, which effectively means that ace is both high and low in a game of blackjack.
This is important for several reasons. Firstly, it means that an ace is essential to make a winning hand from just 2 cards (a picture card + an ace or 10 + 11 = 21). Secondly, it gives the players more options as they are the one who decide how much the hand is worth.
For instance, if they get an ace and a 5 then they have either a hand of 16 or a hand of 6. They can choose to stand, in which case the hand becomes 16, or they can choose to hit. If they hit a 5 or less, that ace can still count as an 11, giving them anything from an 18 to a 21. If they hit a 6 or higher then it automatically becomes a 1.
As you can imagine, this gives them a lot to play with. It also gives them a good chance of getting a hand with 5 or more cards, which can result in a side bet victory or a bonus win in many modern blackjack variants.
Soft vs Hard Blackjack Hand
One of the aspects of blackjack that confuses new players is when a hand is “soft” or “hard”. You will often see dealer rules stating things like “dealer hits on soft 16” or “dealer stands on soft 17”. So what does this mean? Well, it all has to do with the ace, and whether that ace forms a part of the hand.
If a hand contains an ace, then it becomes a soft hand, with the score that the player/dealer has being a “soft” score. That’s because the player/dealer has more room to move. They can take a passive route, settling for the 11 points and a high score, or they can take a more active and risky one, playing the ace as a 1 and trying to score even higher. In any case, if that hand contains an ace, then it becomes “soft” by nature.
This term only really matters where the dealer is concerned, as the dealer is forced to abide by the rules of the table. If, for instance, the table says that the dealer “must hit on a soft 17” and the dealer is dealt an ace and a 6, then they must hit. 17 is a good score, so you could be forgiven for thinking that this was more advantageous to the player, but you’d be wrong.
17 may be a solid score, but it’s a score that will lose more times than it wins and when the hand contains an ace, it’s a score that can easily be improved upon. Think about it for a moment. If the dealer draws a 4 or less, then they can keep their ace as an 11 and improve upon their hand, potentially getting 20 or 21. If they draw a 5 or more, that ace then becomes a 1 and they can try and build from there.
If you look at it in terms of what a single card can offer them, then think of it this way: there are 13 possible cards from ace to king. Four of these will improve their hand, four will put them back on 17, and five will give them a middling hand that is very easy to improve upon.
Not only does this give you some perspective into why these rules exist for the dealer, but they can also teach you a thing or two about using an ace yourself. A soft 17 is debatable, because while it is very often beat and easy to improve upon, it still beats a number of dealer hands. A soft 16, however, should never result in a stand.
What if the Dealer Has an Ace?
As any professional player will tell you, the dealer’s hand matters just as much as your hand does. This is something that many newcomers often overlook, but only because they see the object of blackjack in its simplest terms, which is to try and get to 21, whereas a professional player sees it as follows: the goal is to beat the dealer.
If the dealer has an ace as their hole card, then there is a good chance they will show a 10 and hit 21. If they don’t show a 10, the odds are still in their favour as that ace effectively becomes both the highest scoring and lowest scoring card in the deck—an advantage that can’t be overlooked. That’s why it’s important to play tight when the dealer is showing an ace. You should aim to stand on a higher score and to be careful when using splits and doubles.
But as we have stated several times, do not take insurance. It may seem like a good idea, but you’ll lose more money than you’ll win by taking this option.