If you ever find yourself becoming a bit bored with blackjack in its traditional format, Spanish 21 is the game for you.
Old-school blackjack is largely defined by the limitations it places on players. Under the standard house rules found in most casinos, you can’t double down after drawing a third card, you can’t split a pair of Aces after having already done so, and you can’t exercise a late surrender. These restrictions are put in place to preserve the house’s inherent edge, which any grinder equipped with a basic strategy chart can shave all the down under 0.40 percent.
But when you sit down to gamble real money at the Spanish 21 tables, you’re not only permitted to make these adventurous plays, you’re encouraged to do so.
This clever offshoot takes blackjack as your grandfather played it and revs the engine up, so to speak. Players have free reign to indulge all of their desires, doubling down whenever the situation warrants (two cards, three cards, whatever works in this game), resplitting Aces, and even winning on a 21 when the dealer has an identical total.
With all of these rules in effect under normal gameplay dynamics, the player would hold a nice edge over the house. To restore order and make the game competitive, Spanish 21 utilizes the 48-card deck, popularized in casinos from Barcelona to Madrid.
By subtracting these valuable 10-value cards, Spanish 21 removes just enough of the player’s equity towards making strong totals like 19, 20, and 21. Conversely, the absence of four 10s gives the dealer a leg up, as they’ll go bust hitting totals like 13, 14, 15, 16, and soft 17 less often than usual.
Most players know about the lack of 10s in Spanish 21, and maybe a few of the more popular relaxations of the rules, but that’s just about the extent of their knowledge on the game.
This can be dangerous too, as Spanish 21’s propensity for fun-filled gameplay masks a fiendishly complex underlying strategy. Simply put, if you think you can apply basic blackjack strategy and succeed in Spanish 21, you’ll be like Don Quixote futilely tilting at windmills.
To help you develop a deeper understanding of the game’s intricacies, I’ve compiled the following list of four rules and strategies for Spanish 21 that most players just don’t much about.
1 – How Many Rules Change Between Blackjack and Spanish 21
Ask around about Spanish 21 when you’re playing standard blackjack, and you’ll hear a wide variety of answers.
Some players will mention the double down flexibility, others might discuss the use of “Charlie” hands to score winners, and still others will focus on the bonus payouts for making five-card 21s or 6-7-8 / 7-7-7 combinations.
But what you’ll rarely hear is one person confidently listing all of the ways Spanish 21 changes blackjack’s fundamental DNA.
That makes sense too, as the Spanish 21 rulebook is quite extensive, with so many rules of the road that fitting them all on a little table game placard is next to impossible.
With that in mind, check out the list below for a full guide on Spanish 21’s player-friendly rules:
Spanish 21 Rules That Favor the Player
- “Charlie” hands are good for automatic winners, so when you land five, six, or seven cards without going bust, you’ll beat the dealer no matter what they have. In other words, the dealer might spike a perfect 20, but when you hit a hand like the 2-2-4-5-5 for an 18, the “five-card Charlie” makes you the winner
- Whenever the dealer holds a multiple-card 21 (any non-blackjack 21), you’ll still be the winner with a 21 of your own
- This rule isn’t universal, but many games let you “redouble,” or double down once again after making the play for the first time. In other words, you could have 4-5 for a 9 and double, with a 2 now giving you 11. Because this is still a great spot for doubling, a redouble would let you add a third bet to make a second double down
- You can double down following a split. In other words, if you split 7-7, then draw a 3 on one and a 4 on the other, you can now double down on the new 11 and 10 totals
- After splitting A-A, you can then “re-split” if you get another A-A total
- Whenever you land a five-card 21, you’ll get paid out at 3 to 2 on your bet. Six-card 21s are good for 2 to 1, while seven-card 21s score a 3 to 1 payout
- Whenever you land a 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 three-card hand, in different suits, you’ll be paid out at 3 to 2
- Any suited 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 pays out at 2 to 1
- A suited 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 in spades pays out at 3 to 1
- Landing a suited 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 in spades specifically is good for a 3 to 1 payout
- Landing a suited 7-7-7 when the dealer also shows a 7 pays out $1,000 for any bets of $25 or less
- Landing a suited 7-7-7 when the dealer also shows a 7 pays out $5,000 for any bets in excess of $25
In addition to these standard Spanish 21 rules, the dealer’s option to hit or stand on soft 17 is depends on the venue’s house rules. Same goes for the shoe construction, as Spanish 21 calls for either a six- or eight-deck shoe.
2 – Spotting the Best Dealer and Deck Setups Can Cut the House Edge in Half
Speaking of those dealer action and deck construction rules, they’re pivotal to Spanish 21 success.
As the table below makes clear, a dealer forced to hit on soft 17 automatically doubles the game’s house edge, while more decks always adds a few percentage points in the house’s favor:
Dealer Actions in Spanish 21 and Their Impact on House Edge
|DEALER ACTION (# OF DECKS)||HOUSE EDGE|
|STAND on soft 17 (6 decks)||0.37 percent|
|STAND on soft 17 (8 decks)||0.38 percent|
|HIT on soft 17, with redoubling (6 decks)||0.42 percent|
|HIT on soft 17, with redoubling (8 decks)||0.45 percent|
|HIT on soft 17 (6 decks)||0.78 percent|
|HIT on soft 17 (8 decks)||0.80 percent|
Knowing these numbers, the best possible way to play Spanish 21 is with a six-deck shoe while the dealer must stand on soft 17.
3 – Spanish 21 Basic Strategy Can Be Broken Up for Easier Learning
To begin your tutelage on Spanish 21’s optimal strategy, start off with the most obvious plays.
If you have a hard 8 or lower to start with, you should always take a hit because you’ll never go bust. And if you have a hard 17 or higher, you should always stand, because hitting here gives you a high likelihood of busting.
As for the more nuanced decisions that will come your way, see the tables below to master Spanish 21 basic strategy in a matter of minutes:
|Hard 9||Double vs dealer 6. Hit vs everything else.|
|Hard 10||Double vs 2-7. Hit vs 8 or higher.|
|Hard 11||Double vs 2-8. Hit vs 9 or higher.|
|Hard 12||Hit vs any dealer total.|
|Hard 13||Stand vs 6 (but not with 4+ cards). Hit vs all other totals.|
|Hard 14||Stand vs 4-6 (but not with 4+ card). Hit vs all other totals.|
|Hard 15||Stand vs 2-6 (but not with 4+ cards vs 2-5). Hit vs all other totals.|
|Hard 16||Surrender vs Ace. Stand vs 2-6 (but not with 4+ cards vs 2-4). Hit vs all others.|
|Hard 17||Surrender vs Ace. Stand vs all ot|
|Soft 13 or 14||Hit vs any dealer total|
|Soft 15||Double vs 6 (but not with 4+ cards). Hit vs all other totals.|
|Soft 16||Double vs 5-6 (but not with 4+ cards). Hit vs all other totals.|
|Soft 17||Double vs 4-6 (but not with 4+ cards). Hit vs all other totals.|
|Soft 18||Double vs 4-6 (but not with 4+ cards). Stand vs 2-3 and 7-8. Hit vs 9-A.|
|Soft 19||Stand vs all totals|
|2-2 or 3-3||Split vs dealer 8. Hit vs 9-A.|
|4-4||Hit vs all totals.|
|5-5||Same strategy as hard 10|
|6-6||Split vs 4-6. Hit vs all other totals.|
|7-7||Split vs 2-7. Hit vs all other totals.|
|8-8||Surrender vs Ace. Split vs all other tot|
4 – The Match the Dealer Side Bet Really Isn’t Worth the Risk
One of the biggest hooks that bring new players to Spanish 21 is the Match the Dealer side bet.
Whenever your two-card starting hand has a piece that matches up with the dealer’s up card, you’ll earn bonus payouts based on the table below:
Spanish 21 Match the Dealer Hands and Payouts
|Two suited matches||18 to 1|
|One suited and one non-suited match||13 to 1|
|One suited match||9 to 1|
|Two non-suited matches||8 to 1|
|One non-suited match||4 to 1|
These side bet payouts might seem attractive at first glance, but you’ll wind up missing out on them 84.5 percent of the time. And even with the 4 to 1 payout for one non-suited match factored in, 96 percent of all hands you see won’t return the larger rewards.
That creates a house edge of 3.05 percent, which just isn’t worth the trouble when Spanish 21’s base game is already quite reasonable.
Spanish 21’s rules and strategies are what makes the game such a pleasure to play. Instead of putting the proverbial handcuffs on a thinking player – telling them how they can’t play their cards – Spanish 21 loosens up old-school blackjack to create a more engaging game. And by incorporating the rules and strategies learned here, you’ll be able to enjoy the same razor thin house edge rates that hardcore blackjack grinders pride themselves on attaining.