Blackjack Card Values and How They Come Into Play

blackjack rulesBlackjack, also known by the much more explanatory name Twenty-One, is a card game that can be played with one, two, four, six, or eight decks of cards depending on the number of players, and whether it’s played in a casual or competitive setting. The goal of the game is to beat the dealer by having the sum total of your cards surpass his or her hand, without surpassing, as you might have guessed, the number 21.

But how is this number determined when a deck of cards has numberless cards, like a king or an ace or even a joker? If you want to know how to play Blackjack, you need to know the Blackjack card values. You can learn the rules of Blackjack in this guide and some clever strategies for Blackjack in this course.

Blackjack Deck

What kinds of cards make up a deck? If you’re new to card games, this might be unknown to you still. If you’re just trying to learn the rules of Blackjack, then this might be old news. Still, it’s important to know the basics.

A deck has 52 cards total, without jokers. With jokers, it’s 54, but most serious card games have you remove the two joker cards, leaving you with 52 cards.

Within these 52 cards are four suits: hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades. In a standard deck, the heart suit is represented with a red heart (), the club suit is represented with a black clover (♣), the diamond suit is represented with a red diamond shape (), and the spade suit is represented with a black, spiked leaf-like symbol (♠). It’s good to know these symbols if you’re unfamiliar, but in terms of Blackjack, the suit of cards are totally irrelevant.

For each suit, there are nine numbered cards, 2 through 10, and four face cards, a King, Queen, Jack, and an Ace. That’s 13 cards per suit, but again, the suit isn’t important in Blackjack. It’s just good to know.

Blackjack Card Values

The part of the card that matters when playing Blackjack is its number value. For the actual numbered cards, you can gather that their card value is equal to the actual number they represent. Cards 2 through 10, no matter the suit, represent that number.

Face cards, whether it’s a King, Queen, or a Jack, have a card value of 10. The Ace card is special, and can have a card value of 11 or 1 – nothing inbetween, just a solid 11 or a solid 1. And you get to pick!

To break it down so it’s easier to understand:

♥ Heart Suit

  • ♥2 = 2
  • ♥3 = 3
  • ♥4 = 4
  • ♥5 = 5
  • ♥6 = 6
  • ♥7 = 7
  • ♥8 = 8
  • ♥9 = 9
  • ♥10 = 10
  • ♥K = 10
  • ♥Q = 10
  • ♥J = 10
  • ♥A = 11 or 1

♣ Club Suit

  • ♣2 = 2
  • ♣3 = 3
  • ♣4 = 4
  • ♣5 = 5
  • ♣6 = 6
  • ♣7 = 7
  • ♣8 = 8
  • ♣9 = 9
  • ♣10 = 10
  • ♣K = 10
  • ♣Q = 10
  • ♣J = 10
  • ♣A = 11 or 1

♦ Diamond Suit

  • ♦2 = 2
  • ♦3 = 3
  • ♦4 = 4
  • ♦5 = 5
  • ♦6 = 6
  • ♦7 = 7
  • ♦8 = 8
  • ♦9 = 9
  • ♦10 = 10
  • ♦K = 10
  • ♦Q = 10
  • ♦J = 10
  • ♦A = 11 or 1

♠ Spade Suit

  • ♠2 = 2
  • ♠3 = 3
  • ♠4 = 4
  • ♠5 = 5
  • ♠6 = 6
  • ♠7 = 7
  • ♠8 = 8
  • ♠9 = 9
  • ♠10 = 10
  • ♠K = 10
  • ♠Q = 10
  • ♠J = 10
  • ♠A = 11 or 1

Blackjack Card Values in Play

The goal of Blackjack is to beat the dealer, but so many people misunderstand this as trying to get as close to the sum of 21 as possible. It’s easy to make this mistake, because in order to beat the dealer, one must have a hand that surpasses the sum of the dealer’s hand without surpassing 21. To a newcomer, it might make sense to try to add to your deck until you’re as close to 21 as possible without risking a bust, which is hitting 22 or more. That way, you have a greater chance of beating the dealer, right? Well, not exactly. But before we dive into that, let’s see how Blackjack card values work in play first.

Say you’re dealt a 3 and a 5. Together, this makes a hard total of 8, which is a low enough starting point that you’re going to want to hit. In basic Blackjack etiquette, you can do this by softly scratching your cards against the Blackjack table to indicate to the dealer that you want another card – when it’s your turn, of course.

If you start out with a King and a 5, that’s a hard total of 15. Remember, because a King = 10, and 10 + 5 = 15. Even though it deals with all relatively simple numbers, Blackjack requires some quick mental math skills. Hone yours with this course on mental math secrets, and this guide for more mental math tricks.

If you have a hard total of 15, you’re going to want to hit depending only on what the dealer holds. Remember, you aren’t trying to get close to 21, you’re betting that your hand can beat the dealer’s by having a larger sum. You make this decision based on what the dealer’s up card is, which is the one card they begin with that’s face up.

There’s a basic strategy to this that will feel more natural to you over time, but for a basic understanding of how your card values work in relation to the dealer’s, check out the reference sheet below. It’s a lot to take in, so prep yourself with this course on memory improvement techniques. Before the strategy comes naturally, you’ll need to memorize it first!

If you have 8 or less:

  • always hit

If you have 9:

  • dealer’s up card = 3, 4, 5, or 6
    • you should: double down
  • dealer’s up card = 2, 7, or more
    • you should: hit

If you have 10:

  • dealer’s up card = 2 through 9
    • you should: double down
  • dealer’s up card = 10 or an Ace
    • you should: hit

If you have 11:

  • dealer’s up card = 2 through 10
    • you should: double down
  • dealer’s up card = Ace
    • you should: hit

If you have 12:

  • dealer’s up card = 2, 3, 7, or more
    • you should: double down
  • dealer’s up card = 4 through 6
    • you should: stand

If you have 13 through 16:

  • dealer’s up card = 7 or more
    • you should: hit
  • dealer’s up card = 2 through 6
    • you should: stand

If you have 17 through 21:

  • always stand

You can learn more Blackjack strategies in this course. Eventually, the way card values work in relation to the dealer will make more intrinsic sense in terms of the game’s strategy. Check out this guide if you want to learn how to deal in Blackjack, which has its own set of rules that you can learn in this second guide.