Spanish 21

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This is one of the more popular variants of blackjack.  The reason why is because it’s still possible to gain the edge over the house when you play, if played properly.

 

PLAYING RULES

The reason it’s called Spanish 21 is that a 48-card “Spanish deck” is used. A Spanish deck has the 4 10’s removed, leaving 48 cards.

Remember, 10’s are considered player friendly in regular blackjack.  Without 10’s in the deck, the house edge raises by almost 2 percent.

To compensate for the absence of 10’s, the rules for Spanish 21 are much more liberal than the regular game of blackjack.

For example, if you get 21, (hitting to 21 as opposed to being dealt a blackjack) you always win even if the dealer has 21. Within a traditional blackjack game, if you hit to 21, you would “push” if the dealer ends up with 21 as well. Winning hands of 5,6 or 7 cards will pay a bonus.  You’re allowed to surrender at anytime, even after hitting, doubling or pair splitting.

The table below summarizes the typical Spanish 21 playing rules compared to the traditional game of blackjack.

 

Traditional Blackjack vs. Spanish 21 Blackjack
  Blackjack Spanish 21
Number of Decks 1,2,4,6,8 6 or 8
Dealer Soft 17 Rule May Hit or Stand May Hit or Stand
Blackjack Payoff 3-2 or 6-5 3-2
Player Blackjack (2 cards) Always pushes when Dealer has blackjack Always wins, even if Dealer has blackjack
Player 21 (3+ cards) Always pushes when Dealer has 21 Always wins, even if Dealer has 21
Doubling Down Only after initial 2 cards Can double on any number of cards
Doubling After Splitting Usually allowed Always allowed
Resplitting Pairs Usually up to 3 or 4 hands, except Aces Up to 4 hands, including Aces
Late Surrender Sometimes allowed Always allowed, even after doubling, splitting and hitting
Insurance Pays 2-1 Pays 2-1*
    *Considered one of the worst bets in a casino because of the increased house edge

(Note: There may be some slight differences in rules from one casino to another.)

 

BONUS HANDS

Spanish 21 often pays a bonus for 5, 6, and 7 card hands that total 21, as well as, 6-7-8 and 7-7-7 hands. The payoffs for these bonus hands vary but they are all greater than even money.

EFFECT OF THE MISSING TENS

You can probably understand the thrill in Spanish 21 because of all the different rules and bonus hands that are offered. However, beware, missing those 4 10’s does make a big difference in how the game works out. If you were to play with the same strategies of traditional blackjack, you’d lose your money before your seat was warm!

Why? Because the ratio of low cards to high cards in Spanish 21 will obviously be different from that of traditional blackjack.  In a 52 card deck, 4 out of 12 cards (30.8 percent) are 10-value. In Spanish 21, it is cut down to 3 out of 12 cards or 25 percent are 10-value.

The key point is that these major differences in rules should have a great effect on the playing strategy, meaning it is a bit more complicated.  You know the house doesn’t want to make things too easy for you!

Here’s a solid example: If you have a stiff 12 – 16 in traditional blackjack and the dealer shows a 2–6, you would stand (except you would hit 12 against dealer’s 2 and 3). With Spanish 21, hitting becomes more inviting because you have less chance of busting because of fewer 10-value cards. Plus, if you hit to 21, you automatically win.

Accordingly, some of the traditional “stand on stiffs” becomes “hits” in Spanish 21. When your stiff hand contains 4,5, or 6 cards, traditional strategy tells you to stand (or double) regardless of the number of cards in your hand, in Spanish 21, considering the bonus payouts, the number of cards in your hand can influence how you would play a hand.

Yes the strategy is more complicated, but it can be mastered with study and practice. There are several sources available for accurate Spanish 21 strategy.  Here’s a couple to checkout: The Big Book of Blackjack by Arnold Snyder and The Pro’s Guide to Spanish 21 and Australian Pontoon by Katrina Walker.

HOUSE EDGE

For a 6-deck, S17 game, the house edge (as a percentage of initial wager) using the Spanish 21 basic playing strategy (U.S. standard rules) is only 0.37 percent (from Katrina Walker’s book).  For a 6-deck, H17 game, the house edge becomes .78 percent. As you can see, the game with S17 is much more player friendly than one with H17; however, to achieve these low house edges, you must learn the Spanish 21 basic playing strategy.

REDOUBLE OPTION

The redouble option is available in some land-based casinos.  This player-friendly option allows a player to double down again after doubling and getting a card. For example, if you were to double down with a 7-2 and drew a 2 for an 11, you could double down again.

With redoubling allowed, the house edge decreases slightly (For example, from 0.78% in H17, six-deck game to 0.42%). Yes it’s great that the house edge goes down, but also remember that having to learn the correct strategy for this redouble option makes the basic playing strategy for Spanish 21 even more difficult.us

Conclusion

Because Spanish 21 offers the player plenty  of options, it provides a sense of excitement not found in traditional blackjack.  Therefore, more and more players are flocking to Spanish 21 for the thrill of a new challenge. Almost all casinos are offering it now, with tables full of players looking for a more exciting game of blackjack.

4 thoughts on “Spanish 21

  1. What a fun site! I thought your article was very complete and well-thought-out. I, too, have played a bit of blackjack in my day, but never Spanish 21. Thanks for filling us in.

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