Canal 21 Blackjack
For residents of the Central American nation of Panama, or visitors to the area’s many casinos, one of the most popular local variants on traditional blackjack is known as Canal 21 Blackjack.
Taking its name from the ubiquitous Panama Canal – one of the greatest feats of human engineering ever completed and a source of great pride for the Panamanian people – Canal 21 blackjack is a hybrid that incorporates several exciting wrinkles into the gameplay.
This page was written to help players decide whether Canal 21 blackjack is the game for them, so you’ll find a detailed breakdown of the game’s rules and structure. Next, we’ll provide a useful list of places where Canal 21 blackjack can be found, before finishing things off with an introduction to basic strategy, the game’s house edge, and other crucial information.
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Rules and How to Play
Panama Canal 21 Blackjack
Unlike most blackjack variants, which are based on the same foundation as traditional blackjack before including a few adjustments to the rules, Canal 21 is based on Panamanian blackjack.
The national version of this age old classic offers a very liberal rules setup, with most of the variable rules (dealer hitting or standing on soft 17s, players allowed to double down on more than two cards, etc.) tilted to favor the player.
Canal 21 Blackjack Rules
To begin with, we’ll run through a list of fundamental rules which are common to both Panamanian blackjack and Canal 21:
The Dealer Receives Only One Up Card to Begin
A holdover from “European” blackjack, the single-card rule mandates that the dealer must wait until all player actions are finished before they take a second card to complete their starting hand.
The Dealer Must Hit on Soft 17’s
Whenever the dealer’s hand totals a 17, while also using an ace – which is typically referred to as a “soft 17” because the hand’s value is variable at the moment – the dealer will be forced to hit and take another card. This is another element used in “European” blackjack, and over the long run, the dealer hitting on soft 17s slightly benefits the house.
Dealer Blackjack Wins Original Bet Even After Player Split or Double Down
In cases when the player has opted to split their hand, double down, or both, while the dealer also makes a blackjack, the house will only claim the original ante bets. Additional wagers placed in order to split or double down will be returned as a push in the case of a dealer blackjack.
Early Surrender is Permitted Except Against an Ace Up Card
When faced with an unfavorable hand against a strong dealer up card, players are allowed to surrender the hand in exchange for half of their ante bet back. The surrender option may not be used when the dealer shows an ace as their up card.
Players Can Double Down on First Two Cards No Matter The Total
In many forms of blackjack, the option to double down is limited to either 10 or 11 totals, but in Canal 21 blackjack and other forms of Panamanian blackjack, players can double down no matter what their first two cards happen to the total. Of course, it won’t always be beneficial to do so, but doubling down lends an air of excitement to the proceedings, and players tend to appreciate this ability to maximize their perceived edge on any given hand.
Players Can Double Down on First Three Cards When Holding a 9, 10, or 11 Total
An extension of the previous rule, players can double down whenever their first three cards happen to total 9, 10, or 11. Any three card combination which does not total 9, 10, or 11 may not be doubled down upon.
Players Can Split Any Paired Hand, Including Aces, Up To Four Times
Whenever the player’s first two cards are of identical value, they have the option to place an additional wager equal to their ante bet while splitting the two cards to form two new hands. The dealer will then distribute the second card to each new hand, and should these new hands also form identical pairs, the player may opt to split them once again, up to four hands in total. Players can also split a pair of aces, which isn’t allowed in many blackjack variants.
The rules above are common to both Canal 21 blackjack and regular Panamanian blackjack, so you should familiarize yourself with this gameplay setup before sitting down to play in Panama.
Canal 21 Blackjack Rules Only
If you’re sticking solely to Canal 21 blackjack, the following rule adjustments have been included to augment the basic form of blackjack:
Four Decks Are Used
The dealer will use four decks in Canal 21 blackjack, with each deck representing the standard 52-card deck of playing cards. When using a four-deck shoe, the shoe will be reshuffled after most of the cards within have been distributed, and players are granted the option of placing the cut card to provide the final shuffle. In some Canal 21 blackjack games, a continuous shuffling machine will be used rather than a shoe.
Blackjack is an Automatic Win With Even Money Payout
Whenever your first two cards form a blackjack (any ace combined with a 10-value card), the hand becomes an automatic winner. Unlike traditional blackjack, however, the house does not award any additional premium on the payout for making blackjack, so rather than the typical 3 to 2 or 6 to 5 payout scheme, blackjacks in Canal 21 payout at even money on your ante wager.
Making a Suited Three of a Kind Pays 20 to 1
Whenever you happen to hold three cards of identical value and suit as part of your hand, the dealer will award a payout of 20 to 1 on your ante wager. This special hand can include more than three cards, so holding something like Kh-3d-3d-3d or 8s-4h-4h-4h would satisfy the requirements.
Making an Unsuited Three of a Kind Pays 3 to 1
An extension of the previous rule, this special hand is paid out at 3 to 1 on your ante wager, and your three of a kind can come in different suits. In this case, hands like Kh-3d-3s-3c or 8s-4s-4c-4d would warrant the bonus payout.
Making a Suited 6–7-8 Combination Pays 5 to 1
Another special bonus hand in Canal 21 blackjack comes when you hold a 6-7-8 combination (which happens to make a 21 total) in suited cards. If you can find the 6h-7h-8h, 6s-7s-8s, 6d-7d-8d, or 6c-7c-8c combination, the dealer will award a payout of 5 to 1 on your ante bet.
Making an Unsuited 6–7-8 Combination Pays 3 to 1
An extension of the previous rule, this special hand is paid out at 3 to 1 on your ante wager, and your 6-7-8 combination can come in different suits. In this case, any combination of 6-7-8 will produce the 3 to 1 payout.
Making a 21 Total With Seven Cards Pays 5 to 1
Based on the popular “five-card Charlie” rule, this special hand entitles players to a bonus payout of 5 to 1 whenever they hold a total of 21 formed by exactly seven cards. In this case, you’d need to hold a combination like A-2-2-3-4-4-5, 2-2-3-3-3-4-4, or A-A-2-2-2-3-K to trigger the bonus payout.
Making a 21 Total With Six Cards Pays 3 to 1
This rule is an extension of the seven-card Charlie, but the payout drops to 3 to 1 for making a 21 total using exactly six cards.
Making a 21 Total With Five Cards Pays 2 to 1
This rule is an extension of the seven-card Charlie, but the payout drops to 2 to 1 for making a 21 total using exactly five cards.
As you can see, the appeal of Canal 21 blackjack lies in the fact that players have many ways to win. In addition to the even money payout for making blackjacks, players have no less than seven alternative paths to earning a payout.
While making most of these special hands may be quite difficult to achieve, players don’t have to pay for a bonus bet in order to be eligible for the additional payouts. Simply playing a hand of Canal 21 blackjack for the table minimum entitles players to an opportunity for payouts of up to 20 to 1, provided the cards are dealt out in the perfect order.
Strategy & House Edge
As you’ll discover in the strategy section, even as these changes appear to favor the player, the game’s house edge actually increases slightly when compared to basic Panamanian blackjack, or the traditional forms found throughout American, Europe, and Asia.
If excitement is what you seek from a casino game, Canal 21 is the blackjack variant for you, combining liberal base rules with a variety of special hands and escalating payouts to form an entertaining hybrid table game.
Best Places to Play Canal 21 Blackjack
As a regional variant on a global game, Canal 21 blackjack is local to the casinos and card rooms of Panama.
With over 40 casinos located in Panama, visitors there should have no problem finding a Canal 21 blackjack table at some point on their journey.
The country’s capital of Panama City is home to 29 casinos itself, while the city of Colon has three, and Herrera and Chiriquí each have two. Several other cities in Panama, such as Penonome, El Dorado, Santiago, and David are home to a single casino.
Panama Casinos With Table Games
With that said, not all casinos in Panama are equipped for table games, and in fact, the majority are slots-only affairs. We’ve compiled a list of the Panamanian casinos which do run table games, including Canal 21 blackjack, below in order of city and table game concentration:
|Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel & Casino||56 tables|
|Majestic Casino||36 tables|
|Grand Hotel Soloy & Fiesta Casino||21 tables|
|Riande Continental Hotel & Crown Casino||20 tables|
|Continental Hotel & Casino||20 tables|
|Hotel El Panama & Fiesta Casino||16 tables|
|Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino||7 tables|
|Riande Granada Hotel & Crown Casino||5 tables|
|Caeser Park Panama Hotel & Crown Casino||4 tables|
|Casino Psari||2 tables|
|Hotel Washington Colon & Fiesta Casino||9 tables|
|Radisson Colon 2,000 Hotel & Casino||5 tables|
|Casino Chitre||5 tables|
|Gran Hotel Nacional Hotel & Fiesta Casino||9 tables|
|Central Park Hotel Casino & Spa||20 tables|
|Hotel Royal Decameron Costa Blanca & Casino||7 tables|
When it comes to the online casino landscape, Canal 21 blackjack has yet to be adapted for play over the internet. This may be due to the game’s localized appeal, or simply because so many blackjack variants already exist on most online casino platforms. In any case, playing live at a casino in Panama is your best bet for finding a Canal 21 blackjack table.
Canal 21 Blackjack Strategy
The most important strategic concern when assessing whether or not to play a particular table game is based on one all-important figure: house edge.
This percentage is used to determine a casino game’s favorability from the player’s perspective, with a higher house edge obviously favoring the casino, and a lower house edge giving players a chance to win more (or at least lose less) over the long term.
House Edge in Other Games
When playing traditional blackjack under American or European rules, the average house edge offered to players who rely on nothing more than their gut instinct stands at right around 1.5 percent. By employing basic strategy guidelines to help govern your decision making, this number can be reduced all the way to under 0.5 percent – making ordinary blackjack one of the best bets on any casino floor.
To put things into perspective, the house edge on a single-wheel roulette wheel is 2.70 percent, and that number jumps to 5.26 percent on the American-style double-zero wheels. Most hybrid table games like Let It Ride and Three Card Poker offer house edges between 3 percent and 6 percent, depending on the different side bets involved, and “sucker” games like keno and the Big Six wheel hold huge house edges between 11.11 percent and 29 percent.
Sufficed to say, blackjack games are always among the most favorable games on the casino floor, providing players with the ability to play at breakeven levels for the most part while chasing a hot run of good cards.
Canal 21 House Edge
When playing basic blackjack in Panama, the very liberal rules used there (dealer stands on soft 17s, the player may double any two cards, etc.) reduce the house edge even further, dropping the number all the way down to 0.12 percent when playing according to basic strategy.
For this new breed of blackjack, however, the team of Michael Shackleford and Cindy Liu – game theorists and mathematicians at The Wizard of Odds – have calculated the house edge of Canal 21 blackjack to be 1.20 percent.
Simply put, from a strategic standpoint, you’ll always be better off sticking to the regular blackjack tables when playing in Panama. By sitting down at a Canal 21 blackjack table when a normal blackjack game is running nearby, you immediately sacrifice more than 1 percent in total house edge or a 90 percent reduction overall.
The difference between 0.12 percent and 1.20 percent may not seem all that significant, but when assessed over the infinite long run, playing a game like Canal 21 blackjack will result in more losing sessions. If playing casino games with sound strategy is your objective, the best approach to Canal 21 is to avoid the game whenever possible. This is because you’ll always have a much better bet offered at the ordinary blackjack tables.
With all of that said, some players are intent on trying new things, and if you must play Canal 21 blackjack at some point or another, a basic strategy chart has been devised. Once again The Wizard of Odds has done yeoman’s work in creating an accurate, usable basic strategy chart for such an obscure blackjack variant.
Note that even with a number of additions to the payout structure, Canal 21 blackjack still follows the same overall gameplay pattern of Panamanian blackjack, so the actual strategy chart can be used for both ordinary “21” and Canal 21 blackjack on your next visit to Panama.
Panama Blackjack Variation Created
Depending on the particular Panamanian casino you find yourself frequenting, the game may be presented under a different name, with most venues simply substituting their own name for the word “canal.” Thus, you may find Majestic 21 at the Majestic Casino, Soloy 21 at the Grand Hotel Soloy & Fiesta Casino, and so on.
In any event, these “21” games in Panama all play according to the same set of rules and overall structure, so the information presented on this page pertains to both Canal 21 blackjack and its associated derivatives.
Because the concept of gambling is considered more of a pastime in Panama, a source of relaxation rather than thrill-seeking, players there are accustomed to a more entertaining experience. Canal 21 blackjack was designed with this spirit in mind, which means the game includes several new ways for players to earn payouts, along with escalating “bonus” payouts for making rare hands.
For the average Panamanian player, Canal 21’s creative gameplay enhancements serve the purpose of spicing up traditional blackjack, a game which can often become an exercise in rote memorization. However, for experienced blackjack players who prefer the game because of its inherently low house edge, these tweaks to fundamental aspects of “21” may create unfavorable situations.