Spanish Blackjack, also known as Spanish 21, is among the casino games with the lowest house edge a player can possibly hope for. This exciting variant of the classic casino-banked game has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years. It is presently available at a huge number of online casinos, which gives players the opportunity to beat the dealer from the comfort of their surroundings, be it at home or on the go.
The game plays under slightly different rules, some of which may confuse you if you lack sufficient experience with blackjack. The optimal strategy is also different for this blackjack variation because certain cards have been removed from play.
In addition, Spanish Blackjack supports a cornucopia of bonus payouts awarded when you form certain special hands that total 21. You have never played Spanish Blackjack? If so, stick with us for further information on this game’s rules, house edge, payouts, and strategy.
The Rules of Spanish Blackjack
Those of you who are accustomed to playing standard blackjack may be puzzled by the rule discrepancies in Spanish 21. This game is played with six or eight decks containing 48 cards each. The 10s are removed but the court cards (Jacks, Queens, and Kings) remain in play. The removal of the 10s works to the players’ disadvantage but the variant compensates with very liberal rules.
The dealer must hit soft 17 in most versions of the game although it is possible to find Spanish Blackjack tables where the S17 rule applies. When the dealer and the player both have blackjacks, the player’s blackjack wins at the standard payout ratio of 3 to 2. The same applies when the player obtains a multi-card hand whose total adds up to 21. This is an automatic winner regardless of what hand total the dealer is holding (as long as it is not a blackjack).
The Rules of Spanish Blackjack Additional TipsThe dealer peeks for naturals when their upcard is an Ace or has a value of ten. Players can exercise the option of late surrender against any dealer upcard. When the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, players can buy insurance which pays at the standard odds of 2 to 1.
The great thing about this blackjack variation is that it gives players unprecedented freedom when it comes to doubling down and splitting pairs. Here you can double down on any number of cards you like and have the option to surrender your hand after doubling (a rule known as the “double-down rescue). Re-doubling once is also a possibility.
If you think these rules are liberal, wait till you hear this – splitting is allowed three times so that each player forms up to four separate hands. You can split any pair you want, including unlike ten-value cards like J-Q, K-J, and K-Q, for instance. Doubling down after splitting a pair is also possible and so is re-splitting Aces. Not only are you allowed to hit split Aces but you can also double down on them after splitting, which is a rarity in the standard game of blackjack.
The Bonus Payouts in Spanish Blackjack
As we already told you, Spanish Blackjack offers the usual payouts for insurance (2 to 1) and blackjacks (3 to 2). Most of the other non-busted hands return even money but there are extra payouts for specific totals of 21 depending on the number and the type of cards they consist of.
If you succeed in drawing five cards for a total of 21, you earn a payout of 3 to 2 (1.5x your original stake). A hand that consists of six cards whose total is 21 awards a higher payout of 2 to 1. You can earn even more if you are lucky enough to draw seven or more cards for a total of 21, in which case you collect a payout of 3 to 1.
The Bonus Payouts in Spanish Blackjack Additional TipsAn off-suit hand that contains 6-8-7 or 7-7-7 for a total of 21 pays out 3 to 2 but if the cards are suited, the payout ratio increases to 2 to 1. When all cards in your 6-8-7 or 7-7-7 are spades, the payout jumps to 3 to 1. The highest payout of 50 to 1 is awarded for three suited 7s against a dealer upcard of 7. Keep in mind these bonus payouts are not honored if you have doubled down on your hand or split a pair.
Some online variants of the game give players the chance to experiment with the so-called “Match the Dealer” side bets. This is an option in Betsoft’s online take on the game that goes under the name of Pirate 21 Blackjack. When the rank of either of your first two cards coincides with the rank of the dealer’s upcard, the side bet wins. The payout depends on whether or not the cards are suited. Off-suit winning match bets pay 4 to 1. When the cards are suited, the payout increases to 9 to 1.
The House Edge of Spanish Blackjack
The house edge of this blackjack variation is affected by several factors starting with the removal of the 10s from the decks. The absence of these strong cards favors the dealer but the negative effect it has on the players’ odds is offset by the liberal doubling and splitting rules.
The number of decks in play also affects the house edge of the game, which slightly increases when you play against eight decks instead of six. The advantage the casino holds here is comparable to that of standard blackjack variations with decent rules. Microgaming’s online version of Spanish Blackjack, for example, yields a house edge of around 0.49%.
It is important to mention that the above-specified edge is correct only when the player uses the optimal Spanish Blackjack strategy. The cornucopia of extra payouts and loose doubling/splitting rules increase the game’s variance as well, rendering it unsuitable for players with small bankrolls.
Strategy for Spanish Blackjack
Spanish Blackjack is a fun game to play but if you insist on protecting your bankroll, you should stick to the optimal strategy that corresponds to this blackjack variation. And just to warn you in advance, it is far more complex than the strategy for regular blackjack because of the liberal doubling and splitting conditions.
The main trouble here is that some of your standing and doubling decisions are affected by the number of cards you hold in your hand. This makes memorizing the correct plays more difficult so you might have to consult with the chart the first few hundred hands before the optimal strategy sinks in.
Despite this, learning the strategy is well-worth your time and efforts because it leads to a house-edge reduction in the long term. Here are several key strategy plays to get you started. It should be noted these are accurate for Spanish Blackjack variants where the dealer hits soft 17.
- Hit all hard totals of 4 through 8 regardless of the dealer’s exposed card
- Hit all soft totals of 12 through 14 against any dealer upcard
- Stand on all hard totals of 18 and above
- Always split paired Aces
- Split pairs of 8s against dealer upcards 2 through 10 and surrender against an Ace
- Never split pairs of 4s, 5s, and 10s
- Double down on a 9 against a dealer’s 6
- Suited 7s should be hit instead of split against a dealer 7
As previously explained, certain doubling and standing decisions are affected by the number of cards in your hand. Here is how you should approach hand totals of 11:
- Double against a dealer’s ten-value card and Ace unless your 11 consists of three or more cards (if so you hit)
- Double against a dealer’s 2, 7, 8, and 9 unless your 11 consists of four or more cards (otherwise hit)
- Double against dealer upcards 3 through 6 unless your 11 consists of five cards, if so you hit
Another tricky hand is hard 16 as you again have to take into account the number of cards it consists of. Here is how you play it correctly in Spanish Blackjack:
- Surrender hard 16 against a dealer’s Ace
- Hit hard 16 against dealers with 7 through 10
- Stand on hard 16 against dealers showing a 6 or a 5
- Hit six-card hard 16 against dealer upcards 2 through 4, otherwise stand
Strategy for Spanish Blackjack Additional TipsThese are only some of the optimal plays for this enticing variation of 21. Surely you can see that Spanish Blackjack is not a game you can afford to play intuitively. There are way too many non-intuitive situations you can find yourself in and this is rather overwhelming to novice players. If you are not familiar with the game but are interested in playing it, we suggest you start by practicing on the web.
Many Microgaming and Betsoft-powered casinos provide players with the opportunity to bet with demo credits in fun mode. Take advantage of this option so you can play at your own pace and consult with the strategy chart when necessary until you gradually take in all the correct moves.