Spanish 21

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.

Double Exposure

What’s the Difference

In this version, both of the dealer’s cards are exposed. To compensate for this, there are rule changes that will favor the dealer.  You can assume that the house edge is better than in traditional blackjack, but it still is a top favorite variation for seasoned blackjack players.

Rules (Usual)

  • Both dealer cards are exposed
  • Dealer wins all ties, except on a natural blackjack
  • Player blackjack pays 1:1 (even money)
  • Player may split only once
  • No Insurance or surrender allowed

Additional rules that CAN vary:

  • Dealer hits or stands on soft 17
  • Tied blackjack either pushes or goes to the player
  • Player may or may not double after a split
  • Player may double on any first two cards or not
  • Player may split more than once
  • Player may or may not split different 10-value cards (10, J, Q, K)

Strategy

The strategy for this is absolutely different than that of traditional blackjack.  For instance, with double exposure blackjack, you would split two ten value cards whenever the dealer shows 13-16 and of course a hard 19 must be hit if the dealer has a 20.  This would not be typical strategy in traditional blackjack.

The fact that the dealer wins all ties (except blackjack) is what affects a player’s return the most.  It has been figured that the rule changes affect the player’s return as follows:

    • If the dealer stands on a soft 17, player’s edge is increased +.39%
    • If a double after a split is allowed, player’s edge is increased +.32%
    • If a tied blackjack is a win, player’s edge is increased +.22%
    • If a player can split only once, player’s edge is decreased -.71%
    • If a player can double on 9-11 only, player’s edge is decreased  -1.04%
    • If a player can double on 10-11 only, player’s edge is decreased  -1.44%

Perhaps the wide variance in edge advantage, is what entices the seasoned blackjack players to take a chance with this version.  It can be exciting to know that you have a better than normal chance of winning in certain situations.

As long as you have the basic knowledge of traditional blackjack, you can use the additional knowledge gained from seeing the dealer’s cards and work it to your advantage. It will cut down the errors made when guessing and although some rules work against the player, a good blackjack player will be able to turn things around for themselves

For example, when you can see that your hand is lower than the dealer’s hand, you know that the only choice you have would be to hit. As alluded to earlier, If both yours and the dealer’s hands are high, say 19 vs. 20, you need to hit.  You will still lose if you are dealt a higher card, but at least you won’t have to guess whether to hit or stand. With games like this, who knows, you might still win it. It may be tough to hit an 18 or 19, but if you know (can see) that the dealer has 20, it’s better to hit and try for the small card, than accept immediate defeat!

My Two Cents

This is another version of blackjack that is more popular online, than offline, but a player’s favorite.  Of course it’s easier for the player to make decisions in this because you see the dealer’s hand.  However, the rule changes actually give a bigger edge to the dealer, so your strategy must be on point.

While the double exposure blackjack odds may not be as good, the game is quite exciting and competitive for many players enjoyment.  Played with the correct strategy and skills, a profit can still be made.  Good Luck!

Blackjack Switch

This was created by card counter Geoff Hall in 2000, and patented in 2009.  In this version, the dealer deals out two hands per player rather than one.

Rules:

  • The player is allowed to exchange or “switch” the top two cards between his hands.
  • Natural blackjacks are paid only 1:1, instead of the typical 3:2
  • A dealers hard 22 pushes all non-busted hands, with the exception of a natural blackjack.
  • Players must make two bets of equal size
  • Cards are dealt face up
  • Usually 6 or 8 decks are used
  • Dealer usually hits a soft 17
  • Dealer wil peek for blackjack with a ten or Ace up
  • If dealer has blackjack, all player hands, except player blackjacks hands, lose
  • Players can only switch the 2nd card dealt to each hand
  • Players can double on any 2 cards
  • Players may double after a split
  • Players my split up to four hands

Side Bet

There is usually a side bet available called the Super Match.  This bet rewards pairs, three-of-a-kind, 2 pairs or four-of-a-kind among both hands. This bet has to be made before the deal takes place.  It would seem to be a good bet, considering if you got two top or bottom cards that were identical, it would rob the player of the chance to switch, so at least you could win something.  However, this is also considered a sucker bet because, in reality, how often would that happen (not too often) and then of course it ups the house edge.  You never want to increase the house edge against you!

Strategy

This is not the version of blackjack you want to play just for fun and relaxation.  If you like the challenge of thinking about game play, it’s an excellent choice.  Though available at some Vegas casinos, it’s not a popular choices offline, but quite popular online. When played with the proper strategy, the house edge can be reduced to below that of regular blackjack, thereby explaining it’s popularity. The house edge can be reduced to around .10 percent, compared to regular blackjack house edge of .50 percent.

Because you have 2 hands in play, you must quickly determine each hands strength and then be able to mentally switch the top cards to determine if you could have even stronger hands.  It’s easy to understand that the hardest part of blackjack switch is deciding on the switch.

At the simplest level, you want to balance your hands to avoid having a very weak hand against a dealer’s strong hand (when he’s showing a 7 or 8). Against other dealer up cards, you want to make your better hand as strong as possible.

There is specific blackjack switch strategy and it is imperative to understand and use it.  Because of the fact that the dealer pushes with 22, it forces big time changes to regular blackjack strategy.  There is usually more hitting on “stiffs” (a hand of less than 17 that is likely to bust with a drawn card) and slightly less doubling because of the pushing with 22.

You can find many different switch strategies available online.  Two of the most popular are developed by Arnold Snyder and Cindy Liu.  Their charts are too detailed for me to go through in this short post, but I do suggest you look one or both of them up, if you find you have an interest in trying out blackjack switch.

Final Thoughts

What makes blackjack switch enjoyable for many players is that, more often than not, you will win one hand and lose the other, thereby creating a “push,” where you don’t win or lose, but get to play another round!  So, you can usually play longer with you initial bankroll.  Good luck to you!