Back in the 16th century, Spaniards played a game known as Veintiuno, meaning “21.” It has many of the characteristics of Blackjack, the casino table game played round the world today. However, the modern game called “Spanish 21” has taken the genre into new territory with modifications in not only the rules of play but also on the decks of cards that are used.
The Spanish deck of cards contains just 48 cards, not 52. All four of the 10s have been removed. This makes the possibility of catching a “natural 21” or “blackjack” on just two cards much lower than it would be in the traditional version of the game. Since this adjustment favours the House, a number of bonuses and other rule changes are made to alleviate the player’s disadvantage.
Spanish 21 may be played with either six or eight Spanish decks. Among the special rules that benefit the player is the ability to surrender at any time (“late surrender”) and receive half of the wager back. It is even possible to surrender after doubling down, a practice referred to as “double down rescue,” whereby the player forfeits an amount equal only to the original bet and recovers all additional wagers.
A very liberal approach is taken to doubling down and splitting, too. For example, the player may double down on any number of cards and at any time during the hand. Doubling down after a split is allowed, including hitting and doubling down after splitting Aces. Also, re-splitting of Aces is permitted, which can make for some very big hands indeed.
Whenever the player gets a blackjack, it is a winner paying 3-to-2, even if the dealer gets a blackjack. In fact, the player’s total of 21 beats the dealer’s total of 21, too—no push. Also, when the player gets a five-card 21, it pays 3-to-2, not even money. And a six-card 21 pays 2-to-1, while a 21 made up of seven or more cards pays 3-to-1. These higher odds for 21 apply only to the original hand, however, not to hands that have been doubled down or split.
Other special bonus payments are made for special combinations of cards adding up to 21. For example, a 21 made up comprised of 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 of mixed suits pays 3-to-2. If those combinations are made up of cards from the same suit, they pay 2-to-1, and if that suit is spades, they pay 3-to-1. Again, these bonuses are typically available only for hands that have not been doubled down or split.
A few casinos provide an extra incentive of a fixed amount, say €1,000, if the player gets a suited 7-7-7 and the dealer also shows a 7 face up. This payout is often accompanied by a €50 “envy bonus” for every other player seated at the table where it occurs.
It is easy to see why Spanish 21 is such an attraction. The existence of so many more options and bonuses than traditional Blackjack makes it quite an exciting game to play. Otherwise, it is quite like other versions, with the dealer hitting on totals of 16 or less and standing on totals of 17 or more. House Rules may indicate either hitting or standing of “soft 17”—a total of 17 that includes an Ace counted as 11.
Regarding strategy, surrender should be avoided unless the dealer shows an Ace and the player’s total is 16 or 17. Whenever a potential bonus hand is possible, hitting is recommended, such as drawing to a total of 15 made up of 7-8 in hopes of drawing a 6. Doubling is almost always the appropriate action when the player’s total is 10 or 11, no matter how many cards the hand contains.