Spanish 21 is an interesting variation of blackjack that’s available at most casinos throughout the world, but especially in the most popular Las Vegas casinos.
And the thing about most blackjack variations is that they’re just gimmicks designed to make you lose your money faster than you would if you were playing plain old blackjack.
But after studying Spanish 21 for a little while, I’ve come to realize that it’s just as good a game as standard blackjack. And in some casinos, it’s even better.
On this page, I offer you four facts about Spanish 21 you should understand before sitting down to play.
1 – Spanish 21 Is Both Similar to and Different From Blackjack
Spanish 21 is still a blackjack game. Your goal is still to beat the dealer, either by getting closer to 21 than the dealer or by still being in the hand when the dealer busts.
The biggest difference between Spanish 21 and standard blackjack is that the 10s are removed from the deck. Note that this is just the 10s, not the jacks, queens, or kings. Those cards are worth 10, still, but they haven’t been removed from the deck.
But in Spanish 21, you only have 288 cards left after the 10s have all been removed.
If you know much about playing standard blackjack, you probably realize that getting rid of the 10s is bad for the player, mathematically. For one thing, it reduces your chances of getting a natural, a two-card hand totaling 21, which pays off at 3 to 2.
In fact, card counters track how many 10s are left in the deck and raise the size of their bets when the ratio of 10s and face cards is favorable.
By taking the 10s out of the deck, it’s like starting the game with a negative count.
2 – Spanish 21 Compensates You for Removing the 10s, Though
The biggest thing that Spanish 21 does to make up removing the 10s is providing bonus payouts for some hands.
For example, if you get a hand totaling 21 that’s made up of five cards, you get a bigger payout (3 to 2). This is also true of hands with six cards (2 to 1) or seven cards (3 to 1) that total 21.
You also get bonus payouts if you have a hand made up of cards 6, 7, and 8 (3 to 2). The bonuses get bigger if the cards are suited (2 to 1), and they get bigger again if that suit is spades (3 to 1).
The same is true of a three-card blackjack made up entirely of 7s.
And if you have a blackjack at the same time as the dealer, you get a 3 to 2 payout instead of having the hand treated as a push.
There are also some huge payouts in a few rare situations. If you have a three-card 21 made up entirely of suited sevens, AND if the dealer has a seven showing, you get a $1000 or $5000 bonus. You get the $1000 bonus if you’re betting less than $25. The $5000 bonus applies if you’re betting $25 or more.
This makes one aspect of Spanish 21 strategy clear and obvious; the optimal bet size, if you’re not counting cards, is either $5 or $25.
If you bet less than that, your upside is 5x smaller than it should be. If you absolutely cannot afford to bet $25 per hand, the less you bet, the better.
A $1000 bonus payout on a $5 bet is 200 to 1. A $1000 bonus payout on a $20 bet is only 50 to 1. A $5000 bonus payout on a $25 bet is also 200 to 1.
You can even get a $50 envy bonus just for being at the table when someone wins this bonus. It’s like a bad beat jackpot when you’re playing poker.
These differences change your basic strategy differences significantly. If you’re not aware of and compensating for these changes, basic strategy-wise, the casino has an edge of 2% to 3% more than they should have.
On the other hand, if you master Spanish 21 basic strategy, you can get the house edge down to less than 1%, just like you can with any other blackjack variation.
3 – Not All Spanish 21 Games Are the Same
Spanish 21 is often dealt from a six-deck shoe, but it can also be dealt from an eight-deck shoe. In some casinos, the dealer stands on soft 17. In others, the dealer hits a soft 17. In that respect, it’s like blackjack, it’s better for the player if the dealer stands on soft 17.
In some casinos, you can redouble after splitting, but not in all of them. Some casinos completely disallow surrender, and you’ll also find the occasional casino who won’t let you hit aces after splitting them.
Some casinos treat a two-card 21 after splitting as a blackjack and pay 3 to 2, but most casinos don’t count it that way.
4 – The Basic Strategy for Spanish 21 Isn’t Hard to Learn
Here’s a quick guide to basic strategy in Spanish 21.
The first thing to decide is whether you should surrender. You’ll only surrender if the dealer has an ace showing as his up card, then, only when you have a total of 16 or 17. Some casinos don’t allow surrender, but if they do, this is your first decision.
The next thing to think about is whether you should split your hand. You can only split if you have a pair. The rules for splitting aren’t that hard to remember.
- You split 2s or 3s if the dealer has an 8 or less showing.
- You never split 4s, 5s, or 10s.
- You split 6s if the dealer has a 4, 5, or 6 showing.
- You split 7s if the dealer has a 7 or less showing, but if the dealer has a 7, AND if you have suited 7s, you should just hit. (You’re trying to get that $1000 or $5000 bonus payoff in this situation. Ignoring this is a huge basic strategy mistake.)
- You always split 8s unless the dealer has an ace showing.
- You’ll split 9s unless the dealer has a 2, 7, 10, or ace.
- Of course, you always split aces.
Your next decision is whether you should double down. With hard totals, you’ll only ever double down with a 9, 10, or 11.
If you have a 9, you already double down if the dealer has a 6 showing. If you have a 10, you double down if the dealer has an 8 or less showing. But you’ll make exceptions based on how many cards you have, because of the bonus payouts for 5, 6, or 7 card 21s.
If the dealer has a 2 or 3 showing, for example, you should hit if you have 5 cards. If the dealer has a 7 showing, you should hit if you have 4 cards. If the dealer has an 8 showing, you should hit if you have 3 cards.
If you have an 11, you double down if you have two cards. If the dealer has an ace or 10 showing, and you have three cards, you hit. If the dealer has a 2, 7, 8, or 9, you hit four cards. If the dealer has any other card showing, you should hit a hand with five cards.
You’ll also consider doubling down on soft 15, 16, 17, or 18. Again, if you have multiple cards, you might just hit. If you have a soft 15 versus a dealer’s 6, you’ll double down unless you have four cards. In that case, hit.
If you have a soft 16 versus a dealer’s 5 or 6, you’ll double down unless you have three cards versus a 5 or four cards versus a 6. If you have a soft 17, double down versus a dealer 4, 5, or 6 unless you have three, four, or five cards.
With a soft 18, you double down against the same dealer upcards, unless you have four, five, or six cards, respectively. You only get to the point where you decide whether to hit or stand after you’ve made the decisions regarding surrender, splitting, and doubling.
Start by learning what to do with your hard hands. Unless you’re doubling down, you’ll always hit any hard total of 12 or less.
With a hard total of 13, you’ll hit unless the dealer has a 6. You’ll stand against a 6, UNLESS you have four cards, in which case, you’ll hit.
With a hard 14, you’ll also hit most of the time. You’ll stand versus a dealer 4, 5, or 6, UNLESS you have four, five, or six cards; in any of those cases, you’ll hit.
With a hard 15 or 16, you’ll hit against any dealer card of 7 or higher. You’ll stand against a dealer’s 6 or less depending on how many cards you have. If you have four, five, or six cards, you might hit.
With a hard 17, you’ll almost always stand, unless you have six cards versus a dealer’s 8, 9, or 10. You’ll always stand on a hard total of 18.
With a soft hand, you’ll hit any soft total of 17 or less unless you’re doubling down. With a soft 18, you’ll hit versus a 9, 10, or ace. You’ll also hit if you have four cards or more. With a soft 19, you’ll stand versus almost anything, you’ll hit six cards versus a dealer’s 10 or ace.
As you can see, Spanish 21 basic strategy is slightly more complicated than standard blackjack strategy.
It’s easy to dismiss Spanish 21 for being gimmicky. It’s also tempting to skip the game because of the removed 10s.
But the game has enough other bonus payouts to make it well worth playing.
The only trick is learning the correct basic strategy and accounting for the bonus payouts for getting five, six, or seven card totals of 21.