The card game traditionally known as blackjack became a beloved component of casino gambling by offering players a legitimate opportunity to compete against and beat the house. By playing Spanish 21 online, according to optimal mathematical strategy, players can reduce the house edge in blackjack to right around 0.5 percent.
The key to reaching that holy grail of house edges, however, is playing every single hand of blackjack according to specific mechanical rules. The basic strategy for blackjack boils the game down to a set of hard and fast rules for every situation, but as experienced players can attest, basic can become quite boring after a few hundred sessions battling through the shoe.
In 1995, a casino equipment vendor known as Masque Publishing sought to remedy this situation, and as a result of the company’s tinkering, a blackjack variant known as Spanish 21 was born. The originators of Spanish 21 blackjack somehow discovered a way to preserve blackjack’s essential structure and gameplay, while also adding an array of rule changes to liven up the overall experience by adding entertainment value for players.
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The Rules are Your Advantage
Best of all? Depending on the house rules in effect at a particular online casino, Spanish 21 can offer players an even lower house edge than traditional blackjack. The rules of the game and its associated odds will be described in detail below, but even with the most unfavorable rules available in play Spanish 21 still holds a house edge of just 0.76 percent, well below casino favorites like roulette and its 5 percent rake.
Alternate Names for Spanish 21
As a word of warning, take note that Spanish 21 is called Pontoon in Australia and Malaysia. When you visit popular online casinos like Bodog and Bovada, the Spanish 21 game can also be found under that platform’s Match Play 21 heading. Complicating matters even further, what’s known as Pontoon in the land Down Under plays slightly differently than the Spanish 21 product developed by Masque Publishing.
For the sake of this game review, however, all information will pertain to the original version of Spanish 21 created and brought to market by the company. You can also find a comprehensive FAQ section detailing the most common questions and answers about Spanish 21 online.
How to Play Spanish 21 Online
Just like the majority of blackjack games found in brick and mortar casinos, as well as major online casinos for that matter, Spanish 21 is typically played using a six or eight deck shoe. The version of the game spread by Bovada, for example, utilizes an eight deck shoe, while other online casinos rely on a six deck arrangement.
In any event, the crucial difference between traditional blackjack and Spanish 21 is created by the deck itself, not the number of decks in play. The standard 52 card deck of playing cards used in blackjack has been reduced to 48 cards for Spanish 21 online. It is important for players to know the common terms used in Spanish 21 casinos in order to better understand how to play it.
Removing the Tens from the Deck
Even more importantly, the deck’s four 10s are the cards which have been stripped from Spanish 21 online, a fact which might leave experienced blackjack players scratching their head.
As every blackjack player knows, the 10 value cards in the deck provide the game’s bread and butter, as the player’s goal is always to reach a hand value of 21 or closest without going over. The appearance of any 10 in a player’s starting hand, or the face cards of Jack, Queen, and King, which also hold the value of 10, usually provides the beginnings of a winner.
With an 11 total in hand, players hunt the deck for 10s after doubling down, and the card is also used as a placeholder to determine the dealer’s down card. All told, the 10 value cards form the foundation of blackjack’s gameplay construction.
Added Rules to the Game
As common sense would suggest, removing four 10s from the standard deck would seem to tilt Spanish 21’s odds in favor of the house. After all, players have less of a chance to make profitable blackjacks and 20s. But the beauty of this relatively new casino game is that by adding a slew of wrinkles to the rules, players gain both additional excitement and an increased edge.
Push Pays the Player
Among the most noteworthy changes in the Spanish 21 rules to keep in mind before sitting down for a session of playing are the additional ways in which you can beat the dealer. In the classic form of blackjack, player hands always push with the dealer on identical totals, even in the case of a 21 or a blackjack. And indeed, nothing stings a blackjack sharp quite like drawing out to a 21 on five cards, before watching in vain as the dealer does the same for the dreaded push.
Spanish 21 rules remove the push in this situation, so anytime you make blackjack or 21 on a combination of cards, our hand will beat the dealer’s no matter what they hold. Wake up with an Ace and a face card, but the dealer reveals an identical holding? In blackjack, that’s nothing more than a push, but Spanish 21 rewards the player with a win whenever they produce 21 or blackjack.
Another interesting aspect of Spanish 21 online is the variable payouts offered to different 21 value hands. When you make 21 holding five cards, for example, the payout stands at 3 to 2 on your wager. Make 21 holding six cards and the payout jumps to 2 to 1, and you’ll receive 3 to 1 on your money when you reach 21 on seven or more cards.
Another bonus payout to watch for while playing Spanish 21 blackjack occurs when you hold a 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 combination among your first three cards. When you see this arrangement of cards, the bonus payouts are divided by suit as follows:
- Mixed suits pay 3 to 2
- The Same suit pays 2 to 1
- Spades pay 3 to 1
While these extra payouts are a nice change of pace from the typical 1 to 1 wins offered by blackjack, the Spanish 21 bonus win to really watch for occurs when you hold a 7-7-7 combination while the dealer shows a 7 as their upcard. Depending on the location, this fortuitous run of cards offers a massive payout, with Bovada’s 7-7-7 payout on Match Play 21 offering a 40 to 1 return on your original wager.
Other divergences in the rules between blackjack and Spanish 21 concern the optional plays allowed to players. In Spanish 21, just like in blackjack, you can enjoy the ability to surrender half of your bet when your cards combine with the dealer’s holding to create an unfavorable situation. But while blackjack limits the surrender option to your first two cards only, Spanish 21 casinos allows players to surrender at any point in the hand.
Players can also double down after splitting a paired holding in Spanish 21 while in blackjack doubling down is removed as an option following any split. Most versions of the game found in major online casinos also allow players to hit or double down after a split but always be sure to check your venue’s specific rules to be sure when it comes to this provision. Another difference in the splitting rules occurs when you turn two Aces into separate hands, as Spanish 21 blackjack lets players re-split should they receive another Ace from the dealer.
The double down in Spanish 21 online is made more exciting as well, with players provided the option to double down at any point in the hand. While blackjack limits the double down to your first two cards only, in Spanish 21 you can exercise the option at any point no matter how many cards you hold.
And when you’ve doubled down and missed the deck, drawing a low card rather than the 10 or Ace you were hoping for, Spanish 21 online even allows players to employ the double down surrender option. This means you’ll forfeit an amount equal to your original wager, or half of the amount on the line after you doubled down, whenever the deck fails to cooperate.
Some online casinos even allow a play known as redoubling, in which case the player can double down, receive another card, and double down again up to three times total.
Soft 17 Dealer Rule
Depending on the online casino platform you’ve chosen, the dealer in Spanish must either hit or stand on a soft 17, so always be sure to check your site’s rules page before placing a bet. In a Spanish 21 online casino the difference between the dealer hitting or standing on a soft 17 can be broken down by the following house edge odds:
- House edge when Dealer stands on soft 17 = 0.40 percent
- House edge when Dealer hits on soft 17, with redoubling allowed = 0.42 percent
- House edge when Dealer hits on soft 17, with redoubling not allowed = 0.76 percent
Best Casinos to Play Spanish 21 Online
As a proprietary creation of Masque Publishing, the Spanish 21 game is only offered by online casinos which have secured a licensing agreement with the company. That’s why you’ll find identical games like Match Play 21 offered by online casino platforms like Bovada.
The following list highlights reputable online casinos currently operating around the world which spread Spanish 21 online games:
- Blackjack Ballroom
In terms of online casino gaming software providers which host Spanish 21 games, this list highlights industry leaders with the game on their menus:
- RealTime Gaming**
*The Betsoft version of Spanish 21 is titled ‘Pirate 21 Blackjack’
**The RealTime Gaming version is called ‘Match Play 21’
Online Spanish 21 Strategy
Whenever you sit down for a session of Spanish 21 at an online casino, it’s integral to take note of the exact rules setup in place for that particular game. The following breakdown of house edge odds under various rule configuration illustrates the ways in which subtle rule changes can impact your overall expected value:
- When Dealer must HIT on soft 17 (6 decks) = 0.78 percent
- When Dealer must HIT on soft 17 (8 decks) = 0.80 percent
- When Dealer must STAND on soft 17 (6 decks) = 0.37 percent
- When Dealer must STAND on soft 17 (8 decks) = 0.38 percent
- When Dealer must HIT on soft 17, with redoubling (6 decks) = 0.42 percent
- When Dealer must HIT on soft 17, with redoubling (8 decks) = 0.45 percent
As you can see, the most favorable situation for players occurs when you find an online casino offering Spanish 21 in which the dealer must stand on soft 17. In the event, your online casino of choice spreads Spanish 21 in which the dealer must hit on soft 17, the option to redouble provides players with a significantly improved house edge, one even lower than that found in blackjack while playing according to optimal strategy.
Spanish 21 can be broken down into optimal strategy tables just like blackjack, so if visual memorization is your forte, head here to find detailed charts breaking down every decision the game will throw your way. And when it comes to the hard and fast rules you should have down pat in order to play Spanish 21 online optimally. The following mandates should keep you on the right side of variance:
- Standing and Hitting: You should always STAND when you hold a hard 18 or higher, or on a soft 19 or higher. You should always HIT when you hold a hard 8 or less, or on a hard 12, soft 13, 14, or 15.
- Doubling Down: You should always double down when you hold a hard 9 or soft 16, and the dealer is showing a 6 as their up card; or when you hold a hard 10 and the dealer is showing between a 2 and 7; an 11 and the dealer is showing between a 2 and 8; a two-card soft 17 and the dealer is showing a 4; or a soft 18 and the dealer is showing a 4, 5, or 6.
- Splitting Pairs: You should always split a pair of aces and never split a pair of 4s, 5s, or 6s. When you hold a pair of 2s, 3s or 7s, you should only split when the dealer is showing between a 3 and a 7 as their up card. You should always split a pair of 8s unless the dealer is showing an Ace, in which case you should surrender. You should split a pair of 9s when the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, or 9 as their up card.
If you’re happening to be looking for a good book about playing Spanish 21, you should check out The Pro’s Guide to Spanish 21 at Amazon or another bookstore. Unlike blackjack, which has dozens of strategy books, this is the only one recommended by most people to learn more about Spanish 21 strategy. Below is a basic Spanish 21 strategy chart that can help you better understand what the basic strategy is.