Spanish 21 Strategy Guide
Spanish 21 is a blackjack variation that is based around what’s known as the 48-card Spanish deck. This is combined with a number of bonus wins for certain combinations of cards as well as a variety of extra rules to give the player more strategic options than virtually any other style of online blackjack. Read this guide to Spanish 21 strategy to learn more about the game and how to win more often.
Introduction to Spanish 21
Most blackjack games are played with what is known as the French deck, which is the typical 52-card deck that you see all over the place. Spanish 21 is a little different in that it uses a 48-card deck that is like the French deck with the 10s removed.
If that was the only rule change (ie: if you were playing regular blackjack with the 48-card Spanish deck), then the house would have an overwhelming advantage.
Removing those 10s lowers the chances of getting a blackjack and makes it harder for the dealer to go bust, both of which drastically decrease the payout rate for the player.
However, in this game, a number of extra strategic options, special rules and bonus payouts are added to give players more than enough compensation for the deck change. This compensation is what makes Spanish 21 strategy so much deeper than most other casino titles.
House Advantage and Payout Rates
The exact rules for Spanish 21 blackjack games can vary slightly from casino to casino or software to software. This means that there can be some slight variation in the best possible payout rate/lowest possible house edge.
Generally speaking, the most common version of the game found most of the time online has a payout rate of 99.6 percent with correct play, which corresponds with a house edge of 0.4 percent. You can expect to make more mistakes than usual in this game because of the more in-depth strategies involved, however. In practice, that means that relatively skilled players will usually have payout rates in the range of 99.3 percent to 99.5 percent on average.
Important Rules for Spanish 21
The rule set is key to understanding Spanish 21 blackjack strategy, and that’s because it’s more complicated than most other games in the genre. Aside from playing with between six and eight of the 48-card Spanish decks, here are a few to start with that set up the basic betting options:
- Surrender is allowed with any number of cards.
- Doubling is allowed after splitting.
- Aces can be re-split.
- A player with a total of 21 always wins.
- Dealer blackjacks lose to player blackjacks.
- Doubling can happen no matter how many cards you have.
- Players can hit or double after splitting aces.
- Surrender is allowed after doubling (often known as the double down rescue rule), and that means the player gives up half of the total bet and not half of the original wager for the hand.
That is a very dense set of options that is obviously much more liberal than what you almost ever see. With that said, there are also some bonus payouts available:
- Using five cards to make 21 earns 3:2.
- Using six cards to make 21 earns 2:1.
- Using seven or more cards to make 21 earns 3:1.
- Mixed suit versions of 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 to make 21 pays 3:2, but it’s 2:1 if they are the same suit unless they’re spades in which case it’s 3:1.
- If you make 7-7-7 of the same suit when the dealer is showing a 7 face-up, you’ll earn a bonus win that depends on the casino or software but that is usually worth at least 100x your bet size.
Note: None of the bonus payouts above pay out after splitting or doubling the hand in question.
The bonuses handle themselves, and you don’t really need to memorize them if you don’t want to. However, knowing exactly what the rules are and what your strategic options are is a critical part of getting the best chances possible to beat Spanish 21 games.
Strategies for Spanish 21
We want to be 100 percent clear about something: There are probably zero people in the world who can play Spanish 21 perfectly, and you shouldn’t try to. However, you can get very close to playing perfectly, which is fine in a game with as much strategic depth as this one.
In what follows, we’re going to show you the basics and some intermediate aspects of the involved strategies. They are much more in-depth than many other styles of blackjack, so it can take some real time to get good at this game. As such, we recommend that players practice at much lower stakes than they would normally play in other blackjack games until they get comfortable.
Playing Hard Hands
Hard hands in Spanish 21 online blackjack games are all about two factors. First, you have the advantage of being able to double repeatedly, which you can take advantage of against weak dealer cards. Second, you have to be more aggressive with higher hard totals because having fewer 10-point cards in the deck makes it much less likely that you or the dealer will go bust on a hit.
We start with the following general guidelines for when to double with hard totals of 11 or lower:
- Double with 5-7 if you’re facing a 6.
- Double with 8 if you’re facing a 5-6.
- Double with 9 if you’re facing 3-6.
- Double with 10 if you’re facing 2-8.
- Always double with 11 unless you have five or more cards.
If you aren’t doubling with these hands, then you’re hitting.
For higher hard card hands, your decision is between hitting and standing instead of hitting and doubling. We’re going to address when to stand and the rare occasion of when you should surrender here:
- Always hit with 12.
- Stand with 13 if you’re facing 6.
- Stand with 14 if you’re facing 4-6.
- Stand with 15-16 if you’re facing 2-6.
- Always stand with 17 or higher with the following exception–
- Surrender only with 16 or 17 when facing an ace.
If you’re familiar with the standard strategies for hard hands in multi-deck blackjack, then you’ll see that this is a bit of a different vibe than that. You can see some level of similarity, but the difference in rules really changes up how you have to play quite a bit.
Playing Soft Hands
In a lot of blackjack games, playing a soft 18 requires a different strategy that isn’t really grouped with lower or higher soft hands. You find that the best Spanish 21 strategies include this sort of thing with a soft 18 as well, and we’re going to reflect that in how we break up the strategies for these types of hands.
First, we’ll start with soft hands of 13 through 17. The question is whether you should double or hit, and we’ll show you when to double with two simple rules to follow:
- Double with a soft 12-13 when facing a dealer 3-6.
- Double with a soft 15-17 when facing a dealer 4-6.
If you have a soft 18, you need to follow this special breakdown, which seems very anti-intuitive if you aren’t super familiar with the rule set:
- Stand When Facing – 2-3, 7-8
- Hit When Facing – 9-10, A
- Double When Facing – 4-6
Finally, if you have a soft 19 or higher, you’ll always stand.
The complications don’t really ease up when you get to the paired hands in this game. Knowing how to beat Spanish 21, or at least how to get the best odds, requires you to learn how to play these hands as well even though they’re a small minority of the situations that you’ll run into.
We’re going to simply show you when to split. If you don’t split in this game, then you can treat it like a regular hard total from up above and play accordingly:
- Never Split – 4s, 5s, 10s
- Always Split – 8s, As.*
- 2s, 3s – Split against 2-8.
- 6s – Split against 4-6.
- 7s – Split against 2-7.**
- 8s – Split against 2-10.
- 9s – Split against 2-6, 8-9.
* Surrender 8s against a dealer ace.
** If you have 7s and are up against a dealer 7, you should hit instead of splitting if the bonus for 7-7-7-7 is available that we mentioned above. If not, then split.
Paired hands aren’t too difficult to learn with some practice, but a lot of the difficulty there is in not facing them that often. It can be tricky to learn how to play them without specifically practicing for it on your own because of the low frequency of facing paired hands in normal play.
Play After Doubling
Something that’s really interesting is that learning to play after doubling becomes its own set of strategies in this title. That’s not something that you see outside of Spanish 21 online games because doubling usually ends your turn in virtually all other styles of blackjack.
Your three strategic options after doubling are to stand, double or surrender. You do not get the option to hit after doubling.
Here are a few general rules for these spots that will have you playing perfectly in most hands most of the time:
- With hard totals of 6-8, double against a dealer 2-7 and surrender against a dealer 8-A.
- With hard totals of 9-11, always double no matter what you’re facing.
- With hard totals of 12-16, always stand when facing 2-7 and surrender against a dealer 8-A.
- With hard totals of 17, only surrender when facing an ace.
- Always stand with hard totals of 18 and up.
- Always double with soft totals of 13-17.
- Always stand with soft totals of 18 and up.
These are eight straightforward rules that will serve as a good guide for playing these spots. It won’t have you playing 100 percent perfectly always because of the nuance involved in a game with this much strategic depth, but you’ll play correctly a majority of the time with the above guidelines.
Bankroll Management and Betting Options
Players absolutely must be more conservative with their original bet sizes at the Spanish 21 tables compared to other styles of blackjack. This is because there is such a high rate of doubling in this title, including doubling multiple times in the same hand, so you can end up with multiple hands each session with total wagers worth 4x or 8x their original worth.
We suggest playing at around two-thirds or three-fourths of the bet size that you would normally be comfortable with, rounded down to the nearest chip amount that your online casino of choice has available.
The general dynamic for playing Spanish 21 online is that they start by massively dropping the player’s payout rate by using the 48-card deck instead of the 52-card deck. From there, they build that payout rate back up by giving players bonus payouts and some incredibly flexible strategic options.
This is why knowing how to use those options with the right strategies is so important in this game. Without that knowledge and the ability to apply it, you’ll be stuck down at the original dropped-down level of the house edge.