Spanish 21 changes skills, math

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Last week, I made a passing reference to Spanish 21. So why not feature it this week?

Spanish 21 was the first of the Blackjack variants to really catch on. It pretty much had the market to itself until the Push 22 games (Blackjack Switch and Free Bet) came along. Spanish 21 utilizes a Pontoon deck — which is a 48-card deck that has no 10’s (but has Face Cards). The game is still generally dealt from a shoe of six or eight decks.

Now, some of you might wonder just how much of an impact does removing the 10’s have on the game? Enough so that the game gives the player a variety of benefits that keep the game in the same payback range as the original. These player concessions are as follows:

• All player Blackjacks beat dealer Blackjacks and pay 3 to 2

• All player 21s beat dealer 21s. Other ties are still pushes

• Player may double on any number of cards

• A variety of Bonus 21 payoffs

 5+ cards of 21

 6-7-8

 7-7-7

• Double Down Rescue — Player may surrender the original bet but save the double down bet. This does not apply after the hand has busted.

All these changes take standard Blackjack strategy and throws it out the window. Without those 10’s in the deck, the dealer will bust far less often. As a result, the player will hit a lot of hands that he stands on in regular Blackjack.

For example, all Hard 12s are now a Hit. Hard 13s get hit against a 2, 3 or 4. Even a Hard 14 is hit against a 2 or a 3.

Then we have those 5+ card 21 bonuses. Now we need to be mindful of how many cards we have because certain hands are a Hit based on the number of cards.  

The automatic and potentially increased payouts as a result of getting those 21s makes us willing to risk the hit. So if you have a 6+ card 16 vs. a 3 or a 4, you’re actually going to hit this hand. Pull a 5 and you win 3 for 1.

Remember that the player wins all 21s, so you don’t even have to sweat out the dealer’s cards.

Doubling Down happens far less often in Spanish 21. Well, in far less circumstances. We don’t Double against any 9, Faces or Aces. We rarely Double with a 9 and we Double less with Soft Hands. But, because we can double on any number of cards, we do get a few more opportunities.

I can’t cover all of the strategy changes here in just one column. Suffice it to say that playing basic Blackjack Strategy will be disastrous. Not only will you be standing on way too many hands, you will miss all of the special opportunities that Spanish 21 affords.

For example, there is a special payout for getting three 7’s. You give this up if you split 7’s. But, we still split them against a 2-6. But against a 7 we only split them if they are not suited.

The payout for those suited 7’s 21 is only 3 for 1, but in a game as tight as Spanish 21, you have to know what to do in these special cases.

As I explained last week, no matter what game you plan on playing, you have to have your Expert Strategy ready. Spanish 21 is no exception. In fact, it may completely explain the rule.

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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