Wondering what the ace counts as in the popular table game of Blackjack? In this guide, we’ll take a look at the value of an ace and give you some exclusive tips and tricks on how to best use the card.
The ace is worth 1 or 11 in Blackjack. Whichever the player chooses, or is forced to choose. There’s more to it than meets the eye though.
The ace is worth more than its score in Blackjack. Because of its flexibility, it could be argued that the ace is the most valuable card in the game. Furthermore, you can’t reach the magic number 21 with 2 cards unless you have an ace. Since there are only 4 aces in a pack, their scarcity makes them even more precious.
What is an Ace?
Originally the ace had its face value just like all the other pip cards. It was, and in some circumstances still is, the lowest value card in the pack. Before cards games arrived in Europe sometimes the suits were ranked in reverse. For example, in the Chinese game of Madiao the 1 of coins was a high card. The Venetian game of Trappola emerged in the 16th century, seemingly the earliest game in which the ace is the highest card of a suit. Nowadays many games allow the player to choose whether the ace is high or low. See more about the history of playing cards here.
The Blackjack Basics
Blackjack is the most popular casino game in the world. Every player is in competition with the dealer, not the other players. Each player, including the dealer, initially gets two cards. The object of the game is to score higher than the dealer without going ‘bust’, that is, exceeding 21.
Each player in turn gets the choice of taking another card from the deck, ‘standing’ (staying as they are) or splitting two cards of the same value. Any who go bust lose their stake. The dealer plays his hand, taking extra cards if wanted and trying to reach 21. If the dealer goes bust, all the players still in are winners. Otherwise, only those still in who score higher than the dealer win. If you get 21 with the first two cards it’s called a Blackjack. This is an automatic win unless the dealer also has a Blackjack.
When you’re adding up your hand, the pip cards 2 to 10 count at face value, and the court cards (jack, queen and king) count as 10. So how can you get 21 with only two cards? That’s where the ace comes into its own.
The Flexible Ace
As stated above, in many games the ace can be high or low. In the case of Blackjack this means it counts as either 1 or 11. So when you’re dealt an ace and a 10 or a court card that counts as 10, you have 11 plus 10. That’s 21 and a Blackjack, an automatic win unless you’re unlucky and the dealer also gets a Blackjack.
There are times, however, when you don’t want the ace to score 11. Say you have two cards that total more than 10 and less than 21. For example, your first two cards might be a 6 and a 9, totaling 15. Drawing an ace now would be disastrous if it scored 11, giving you a total of 26. You would be bust and lose your stake. Luckily, you have the flexibility to count the ace as 1, taking you to 16. The ace always scores 11 unless it would make you bust, when it scores 1.
Interestingly, although as the player you don’t get to choose the ace’s value, it can even change value during a hand. For example, imagine your first two cards are an ace and a 7. The ace initially counts as 11, giving a total of 18. You might draw again hoping to get a 3. If you in fact get a higher card you could be in trouble. Let’s say you draw an 9. 18 plus 9 equals 27 — very bad news. But no, the ace magically loses 10 points becoming a 1 again and reducing your score to 17.
And that’s not the end of the ace’s versatility.
If your initial deal gets you two cards of the same value you may have the option to ‘split’, depending on house rules. You now have two hands and two chances to win. Each of your split cards will be dealt another card, and you play the two hands independently. If you are allowed to split two aces you have a great chance. You might get a card that scores 10. Although this reaches 21, it might not count as a Blackjack, but still has a strong chance of winning. You also have the ace’s inbuilt flexibility to be low-scoring if you go over 21.
It could be argued that the ace is the most important card in deck. You can’t get a Blackjack without one. It’s certainly worth learning about the ace’s special qualities.
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