Several months ago, I began a series of articles about all the proprietary table games that are out there.
I did my best to do it as a sort of history of the table game industry – starting with Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud and moving on to Three Card Poker. One of the most unique proprietary games is Spanish 21.
Until the recent emergence of Blackjack Switch, Spanish 21 was the only blackjack variant to make a significant impact to the casino floor. The trash heap is filled with the names of games using only numbers (i.e. 7, 11, 31, 41 and probably everything in between).
Spanish 21 (NEVER call it Spanish Blackjack!) is owned by Masque Publishing, a company you’ve probably never heard of. They are predominately a software company (www.masque.com) and license numerous variations of casino software. For fair disclosure, they have two titles (Video Poker Strategy Pro and Caribbean Stud Knowledge Pro) that were done in concert with my father’s strategies.
Spanish 21 is essentially a very liberal form of Blackjack. Here are some of the highlights of these rules:
Player Blackjack beats a Dealer Blackjack (and is still paid 3 to 2)
Player 21 beats a Dealer 21 (all other ties are pushes)
Player may Double Down on ANY number of cards
Player may Double Down after splitting
Late Surrender is allowed
Numerous Bonus 21 payoffs – 5-plus card 21, 6-7-8 and 7-7-7
‘Free’ Super Jackpot Bonus of $1,000 if player has suited 7-7-7 and dealer has 7 upcard.
As is always the case with table games, rules may vary a bit from one casino to the next, so keep your eyes open for the specific set of rules you’re playing.
So, how does Spanish 21 manage to give the player such a liberal game? Very easily. It uses a big shoe (six to eight decks) and removes the 10’s (NOT the face cards) from the shoe. For anyone who plays blackjack regularly, you know the big cards are good for the player and the little cards are good for the dealer. So, removing 24-32 10’s from a shoe can’t be good for the player.
The rule and deck changes combine to make significant shifts in how we play many hands. The removal of the 10’s causes the dealer to bust far less frequently. Thus, we find the player hits much more frequently against traditional “bust” upcards.
The 5-plus card 21 bonus causes us to hit some very ugly hands, IF we have 4-plus cards, in attempt to secure one of these bonuses. It should be noted, however, that we NEVER hit a hard 17 or greater to go for one of these bonuses. The payouts are simply not compelling enough in these cases.
The removal of the 10’s also causes us to re-think some of our double down situations. We don’t double on a 10 vs. 8 or 9 as we would in regular blackjack. At the same time, we have to be alert to the cases where we have three or more cards and get to a 10 or 11. In Spanish 21, you get to double in these cases.
The bottom line is you have to take your strategy for regular blackjack and throw it out the window.
While there are, of course, similarities, the differences are significant. They affect every part of the game – when to hit, when to stick, when to double down and when to split.
Spanish 21 offers the player a livelier version of the game at about the same payback as regular blackjack (99 percent-plus depending on the exact rules) but only if you learn the proper strategy. Fortunately, we’ve already done the hard part!