Back in the late 1990s, Spanish 21 was all the rage among table game gamblers. Whenever my buddies and I would take a break from grinding high-limit blackjack, the Spanish 21 tables were a sure ticket for fun hands, creative plays, and in most cases, a breakeven or winning session.
Unlike other gimmicky table games back then, Spanish 21 was designed to offer the best of both worlds. Removing the deck’s four 10s definitely favors the house, but a slew of rule modifications more than makes up for a 48-card deck.
If you make a blackjack in this game and the dealer does the same, you’ll still win a full payout. Same goes for any 21 hand for that matter, as the player hand always takes precedent to avoid pushes.
This is just one a few of the extremely liberal rules that make Spanish 21 such a player-friendly game. If you’ve been learning the ropes and want to become a legitimate Spanish 21 expert, read more below to find four amazing secrets about the game that nobody tells you about.
1 – Using Blackjack Basic Strategy Won’t Work in Spanish 21
Let’s say you start the hand holding a 6-6 for a 12 total, while the dealer is showing a lowly three.
If you enjoy playing blackjack, your instincts will direct you to split the sixes up and hopefully catch two more high cards to take on the dealer with 16 against three. That’s how the basic strategy book in ordinary blackjack says to play a pair of sixes in this spot.
But, if you split here in Spanish 21, you’d be making a big mistake.
Instead, the basic strategy chart for Spanish 21 says to hit the 12 and hope for a nine or under.
Failing to realize the nuances between blackjack basic strategy and optimal play in Spanish 21 dooms many players to an early demise, simply because they neglected to study.
If you want to avoid that fate, just be sure to consult the Spanish 21 basic strategy tables below:
Spanish 21 Hard Hands Strategy
|Hard 9||Double against dealer’s 6. Hit against everything else.|
|Hard 10||Double against 2-7. Hit against 8 or higher.|
|Hard 11||Double against 2-8. Hit against 9 or higher,|
|Hard 12||Hit against any dealer total.|
|Hard 13||Stand against 6 (except with 4+ cards). Hit against all other totals.|
|Hard 14||Stand against 4-6 (except with 4+ cards). Hit against all other totals.|
|Hard 15||Stand against 2-6 (except with 4+ cards against 2-5). Hit against all other totals.|
|Hard 16||Surrender to Ace. Stand against 2-6 (except w/ 4+ cards vs 2-4). Hit vs all others.|
|Hard 17||Surrender to Ace. Stand against all others.|
Spanish 21 Soft Hands Strategy
|Soft 13 or 14||Hit against any dealer total|
|Soft 15||Double against 6 (except with 4+ cards). Hit against all other totals.|
|Soft 16||Double against 5-6 (except with 4+ cards). Hit against all other totals.|
|Soft 17||Double against 4-6 (except with 4+ cards). Hit against all other totals.|
|Soft 18||Double vs 4-6 (except with 4+ cards). Stand against 2-3 and 7-8. Hit against 9-A.|
|Soft 19||Stand against all totals.|
Spanish 21 Pair Hands Strategy
|2-2 or 3-3||Split against dealer’s 8. Hit against 9-A.|
|4-4||Hit against all totals.|
|5-5||Same strategy as hard 10.|
|6-6||Split against 4-6. Hit against all other totals.|
|7-7||Split against 2-7. Hit against all other totals.|
|8-8||Surrender to Ace. Split against all other totals.|
|9-9||Split against 3, 4, 5, 8, or 9. Stand against 2, 7, 10 and Ace.|
You might’ve noticed a few plays that aren’t listed, but that’s only because they’re obvious, common-sense decisions.
If you have any hard eight or lower, hitting is the only play that makes sense because you’ll never go bust taking an additional card. And with any hard 17 or higher, a bust probability of 69% when hitting makes standing—even against dealer sevens, eights, nines, or 10s—the correct course of action.
2 – Win Holding a 10 to the Dealer’s 21 by Landing a “Charlie”
In the old days, blackjack tables used an odd little rule called the “five-card Charlie.”
Whenever a player ran out five baby cards without going bust, they’d be paid out on a winning hand regardless of what the dealer wound up with. Thus, a sorry looking run of cards like 2-2-2-3-3 for a 12 would receive an instant five-card Charlie payout.
That rule has largely been erased by corporate casino operators, but Spanish 21 made Charlie hands an ironclad aspect of the game.
If you land a five-, six-, or seven-card Charlie at the Spanish 21 table, you’ll receive an automatic even money payout, even if the dealer lands a natural blackjack. Thus, the rare combination of 2-2-2-2-2 for a 10 can magically take down the dealer’s perfect 21.
3 – The Game’s Strategy “Bible” Was Published 10 Years Ago
Until 2008, most gamblers who consider themselves to be sharp dismissed Spanish 21 as a fad or gimmick.
They mistakenly assumed that casinos spread the game to offer a less beatable alternative to the increasingly beatable blackjack tables.
As it turns out though, Spanish 21 is actually more beatable than standard blackjack, as casino strategist Katarina Walker revealed in her 2008 book, The Pro’s Guide to Spanish 21 and Australian Pontoon.
I advise readers to review the entire book for a full tour of Walker’s teachings, but get a load of this passage to see what it has to offer:
“The most player-advantageous card (Ace) occurs in a higher proportion (1/12 instead of 1/13). Re-splitting Aces and drawing on split Aces is permitted, making Aces even more player-advantageous. Naturals (aka Blackjacks) are always paid out at 3:2, even against a dealer natural, making Aces even more player-advantageous.”
Walker posted these insights on a popular online blackjack forum while discussing Spanish 21’s beatable nature.
I’ll admit, while the loss of four 10s from the deck got my attention, I never really considered how four aces become more valuable in a 48-card deck.
4 – At Least 2 Casino Resorts in Sin City Still Spread Spanish 21
While the bulk of Spanish 21 played today can be found at top-rated online casinos, the game is still popular in land-based gambling halls, too.
Las Vegas, meanwhile, seemed to banish the player-friendly game into exile over the last decade. You’ll still hear players talk about Spanish 21’s disappearance from Sin City, but as it turns out, one operator is looking to bring it back from the brink—Las Vegas Sands.
In the two Sands-owned casinos on the Strip, Venetian and Palazzo, you can play Spanish 21 for a $10 minimum and $1,000 maximum. Dealers hit on soft 17, but even with that house-friendly rule in effect, the edge is quite reasonable at only 0.76%.
Spanish 21 came and went in a flash, dominating the brick and mortar table game pits for a few years before transitioning mainly to online casinos. The game might not be as popular as it once was 20 years back, but the online gaming industry is definitely giving Spanish 21 a second chance at life.
That means an entirely new generation of gamblers is only now discovering just how fun blackjack can be when liberal rules and bonus payouts are put into effect. If you’re one of those gamblers, taking advantage of the four secrets listed here is the best way to make the most of your new passion for Spanish 21.