There are plenty of different blackjack variations, and most large casinos offer a wide variety of them.
The first time I played a Spanish 21 game, the rules seemed great. But I soon realized that there weren’t any 10s in the deck. I had no idea that such a deck would even be used in a blackjack game. And my initial reaction was that the casino was simply cheating players by removing all of the 10s.
After doing some research, I learned more about Spanish 21 and what a Spanish deck is. Here’s an explanation of what a Spanish deck is and how it changes the odds when you play blackjack.
What Is a Spanish Deck of Playing Cards?
A Spanish deck of playing cards is exactly like a standard deck of 52 cards but with one important exception. As mentioned above, the deck doesn’t have any 10s. But it still has all of the face cards that are worth 10 in blackjack games, as well as the aces and 2s through 9s.
What Games Use a Spanish Deck?
The two games that I’ve seen utilizing a Spanish deck are called Spanish 21 and Pontoon. Most of the time, these two games appear exactly the same. They’re just called by different names in different places.
While I’ve played games called both Spanish 21 and Pontoon and they’ve always been similar, they actually do have their differences.
Just like other variations of blackjack, there are minor rules variations from one Spanish 21 or Pontoon table to the next.
How a Spanish Deck Changes the Odds
While the missing 10s change the odds of getting any hand in a blackjack variation, the most costly way it changes things is when it comes to getting a natural 21. Below, you’ll find a simple example.
Using a deck of 52 cards, you have a 4 out of 52 chance, or 1 out of 13 chances to get an ace for your first card. When you get an ace with your first card, you have a 16 out of 51 chance to get a card worth 10 on your second draw. This is because there are only 51 cards left in the deck after you get an ace, and 16 of them are worth 10.
Using a deck of 48 cards with no 10s, you have a 1 out of 48 chance to get an ace first and a 12 out of 47 chance of getting a card worth 10 as your second card.
If you prefer to use percentages instead of odds to compare the two situations, your chances of getting a card worth 10 as your second card with a 52-card deck is 31.37%. Your chances of getting a card worth 10 after starting with an ace is 25.53%.
Of course, you have a better chance to start with an ace with 48 cards. The percentage of hands you start with an ace are 8.33% in a game with a Spanish deck and only 7.69% in a game with a 52-card deck.
You also need to understand that this is the only way to get a natural 21. You can also get a card worth 10 for your first card and an ace as your second card.
The odds of starting with a card worth 10 in a game with a standard deck of cards are 16 out of 52, or 30.77%. Then, the odds of getting an ace as your second card are 4 out of 51, or 7.84%.
The odds of starting with a card worth 10 in a game with a Spanish deck are 12 out of 48, or 25%. It’s significantly lower. The odds of getting an ace as your second card is 4 out of 47, or 8.51%.
With 52 cards, you have a 16 out of 52 chance to start with a 10-point card, and a 15 out of 51 chance to get a second 10-point card for the second draw. These percentages are 30.77% and 29.4%.
With 52 cards, you have a 12 out of 48 chance to start with a 10-point card, and 11 out of 47 to get a second 10-point value card with your second card. These percentages are 25% and 23.4%.
This clearly shows how a Spanish deck hurts your chances to get a good hand in many ways beyond getting a natural 21.
A Spanish deck doesn’t just hurt your odds of starting with a strong hand, it also increases the odds of starting with a bad hand.
The worst total to start with is a hard 6. To get a hard 6, you start with a 2, 3, or 4. But to keep things a little more simple, let’s use just the 2s and 4s.
To get a 2 or 4 for your first card, you have 8 out of 52 chances, which is 15.38%. Once you receive a 2 or a 4, there are four cards left out of 51 that make a hard 6. This is a percentage of 7.84%.
Using a Spanish deck, the odds of starting with a 2 or 4 are 8 out of 48, or 16.67%. The odds of your second card completing a hard 6 are 4 out of 47, or 8.51%.
As you can see, the odds of starting with a 2 or 4 are higher with a Spanish deck and the odds of getting a second card to complete a hard 6 are higher as well.
You can follow the simple formulas I used in these examples to look at any possible starting total or hand in both a game using 52 cards and a game using 38 cards.
The only upside of a Spanish deck where the odds are concerned is that you have a better chance to get an ace. Aces are still the cards that help you win the most in Spanish 21 and Pontoon, so this slightly offsets all of the things that make using this deck bad. But it doesn’t offset things enough to make a 48 card deck better than a 52 card deck for blackjack variations.
So, Why Does Anyone Play Blackjack Variations Using a Spanish Deck?
Now that you see how bad a Spanish deck is for getting good hands, you might be wondering why anyone would ever play a blackjack variation that uses one of these decks.
Is Spanish 21 and Pontoon as Good as Regular Blackjack Games?
This isn’t a simple question to answer. The main reason why it’s difficult to answer this question is because there are so many different combinations of possible rules in blackjack variations.
Some blackjack games are better than Spanish 21 games, while Spanish 21 is better than some blackjack games.
For example, Spanish 21 games are better than blackjack games that pay 6 to 5 for a 21. But blackjack games with the best sets of rules are a little better than most Spanish 21 games.
You have to adjust your strategy when you play Spanish 21 because the best strategy for a regular blackjack game doesn’t work as well when you play the Spanish variant.
This means the best answer to this question is that it depends. If you’re able to learn the best strategy for each variation, you can play Spanish 21 where it’s available—especially if you can’t find a blackjack game with a good set of rules.
Our Conclusions About Spanish 21
While the main difference between regular blackjack games and the games that use a Spanish deck is that the deck doesn’t have any 10s, there are some other important differences. It’s much harder to get a natural blackjack, and the odds of every other total are changed as well.
Because the deck only has 48 cards instead of the normal 52, there are only 12 cards to match with an ace to make a blackjack instead of 16. Aces are still the most powerful cards in the deck, but the missing 10s change the game.