A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the strategy regarding “soft hands” in blackjack. Soft hands are those that contain an Ace, which is counted as an 11.
Many of these hands should be played as a double down because of both the ability to significantly improve the hand (to a 17-21) AND due to the high probability the dealer will bust – as we mostly double down against upcards of 2 through 6.
As is the case with video poker, however, we must remember the strategy changes with every pay table change or rule change. We find slight changes to our strategy if we go from the dealer hitting soft 17 to the dealer sticking on all 17’s. However, if we go to the blackjack variants of Switch or Spanish 21, everything changes.
In Spanish 21 the 10’s have been removed from the decks, so we are playing with a shoe of 48-card decks. As many of us know, 10’s and face cards are our friends when playing blackjack. They enable us to make good solid hands like 20’s. They help us double down on 10’s and 11’s and get strong hands.
Most importantly, they bust any dealer hand above an 11. When you hear about card counters, they are keeping track of the percent of 10’s/faces in the deck. When there are more than normal, the game tips are into the player’s favor. So, taking four of them out of each deck is NOT to the player’s advantage.
Spanish 21 offsets this by giving the player a host of other advantages. The player can double down on any number of cards. So, if you start with a 5-3 and hit a 3 for 11, you can still double down. Player 21’s beat dealer 21’s. Player blackjacks beat dealer blackjacks.
There are also several bonus 21 hands thrown in for free. Get three 7’s and win a small bonus. The house advantage for Spanish 21 is about 0.8%, which makes it a little greater than regular blackjack, but ONLY if you learn the proper strategy.
Some of the biggest changes occur in the soft hands. Not much changes in terms of how your hand will turn out. The biggest impact is to the soft 17’s and 18’s, which have less of a chance to draw a 10, but a slightly greater chance to draw the little card you need to improve the hand.
The problem is the dealer will bust less often. The bust rate for a dealer’s 6 goes from 44.6% in regular blackjack to 40.6% in Spanish 21. The changes to the bust rate are enough to get us to make radical changes to our soft hand strategy.
To begin with, we NEVER double down on a soft 13 through 15 in Spanish 21. We simply hit these hands. We double down on a soft 16 only against a 6. However, if we have four cards or more, we hit these hands (remember you can double on three cards in Spanish 21).
Since there are special payouts for 5, 6 or 7-card 21’s, the lure of these payouts is stronger than the ability to double down. Soft 17’s are doubled down against a dealer 4, 5 or 6. BUT, only if the player has two cards against the 4, three (or less) cards against the 5, and four (or less) cards against the 6. If he has more cards than the minimum, he hits the hand in search of the 5-card 21.
Soft 18’s bring us the most opportunities to double down. We stick against a 7, but will double down even against an 8 as long as we have three cards or less. We also double down against a 6 (five cards or less), a 5 (four cards or less) or a 2 through 4 (three cards or less).
Essentially, we throw out everything we know about soft hands in blackjack if we are planning on learning how to play Spanish 21.
Next week, I’ll discuss soft hands in Blackjack Switch and the impact of the push on Dealer 22 rule on our strategy.
Note: I’m offering a 2-for-1 deal. Order Expert Strategy for Blackjack Switch for $6.95 and get Expert Strategy for Spanish 21 for free. Both books include a multi-color pocket-sized strategy card. Send check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.