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How to play Spanish 21?

Spanish 21 is a variant of blackjack.
In Australia and Malaysia, an unlicensed version of the game, with no dealer hole card and significant rule differences, is played in casinos under the name "Pontoon".


Spanish 21 is generally played on a standard Blackjack table [1] and uses the following rules:

* The game is played with two, four, five, six, or eight decks dealt from a shoe, or from a continuous shuffling machine (CSM). Spanish 21 is played with 48-card Spanish decks, which are standard 52-card decks with the 4 ten-spot cards removed. All cards have the same values as in blackjack.
* The dealer gets a hole card.
* In most venues, the dealer hits soft 17 (abbreviated as H17), and in some venues, the dealer stands on soft 17 (abbreviated as S17). Compared with H17, S17 lowers the dealer's average unbusted final total, and lowers the dealer's chance of busting. The effect of the former is greater than the latter, with the result that S17 is much better for the player than H17. The house edge for 6-deck H17 Spanish 21 is 0.78%, but the house edge for 6-deck S17 Spanish 21 is only 0.37%.
* Blackjack pays 3:2, and always wins regardless of whether or not the dealer has a blackjack.
* Insurance is paid 2:1, just like in Blackjack, despite the fact that there are four fewer ten-valued cards per deck. As 3 cards in 12 are worth ten, the chance of the dealer getting a Blackjack when showing an Ace is only 25%. Therefore, for insurance to be an even bet, it would have to pay 3:1, not 2:1. Consequently, the insurance bet in Spanish 21 ties with Keno as being the worst bet in any casino.
* Hitting, standing, and splitting all follow similar rules to Blackjack. Doubling after splitting (DAS) is always permitted, and, in most venues, players are allowed to draw as many cards as they wish after splitting Aces, or may double down after receiving second or subsequent cards. The Mohegan Sun casino does not allow drawing on split Aces.
* Players can split to a maximum of four hands, including Aces (abbreviated as SPL3)
* In most venues, if the dealer doesn't have blackjack, players may surrender, and get half their bet back in exchange for relinquishing the right to play on. This type of surrender is known as a "late surrender" (LS).
* Players can surrender after doubling (a k a forfeit, double-down rescue, or concede). The dealer takes the double portion of the bet, and the player retains the original bet.
* Once the initial two-card hands are dealt, if the dealer is showing an Ace or face card, he peeks underneath the hole card to check for a blackjack, before playing actually commences. If he has blackjack, all players automatically lose, unless they also have a Blackjack.
* The player may double down on any total, even after taking hit cards.
* In some casinos, players may double double down, or redouble up to two times after doubling down. For example: The player bets one unit and is dealt 2-3, giving a hand total of 5; the dealer is showing a 6. The player doubles the first time and draws a 3. The hand total is now 8 and the total amount wagered is two units. The player doubles a second time and draws a 3. The hand total is now 11 and the total amount wagered is four units. When the player doubles a third time on 11, the total amount wagered will be eight units. Redoubling is a profoundly player-advantageous rule, when optimally executed. The house edge for 6-deck H17 without redoubling is 0.78%, and with redoubling is 0.42%. The double double down rule is not offered in S17 games.
* There are a few additional rule variations associated with the double double down rule. Many casinos will not permit players to double down for less than their original wager. In cases where double down for less is permitted, the player forfeits the option to redouble. Most casinos cap the double down wagers to the posted table maximum bet. For example, the table maximum is $100; the player makes an initial wager of $75; then, the player doubles down by wagering another $75 (for a total bet of $150). If the player wishes to double down a second time, they may only wager an additional $100 rather than the full $150 because of the cap. There are a few casinos which will not permit the player to redouble if the proper size of the redouble wager exceeds the table maximum bet.
* A total of 21 always wins for the player. It never pushes against the dealer's 21.
* A five-card 21 pays 3:2, a six-card 21 pays 2:1, and a 21 with seven or more cards pays 3:1. A 21 composed of 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 of mixed suits pays 3:2, of the same suit pays 2:1, and of spades pays 3:1. These bonus payouts apply even if the hand was the result of a split. However, these bonus payouts do not apply if the 21 was the result of doubling.
* A "super bonus" of $1000 for bets under $25, and $5000 for bets of $25 and over, is paid on a suited 7-7-7 against any dealer 7. All other players at the table receive a $50 "envy bonus". The super bonus is not paid on split hands.
* The Meskwaki casino[1] in central Iowa and the Red Dragon casino near Seattle, Washington pays 3:2 on blackjacks obtained after splitting Aces or face cards, in addition to the 3:2 payout on regular blackjacks.

The removal of the four tens in each deck gives roughly a 2% advantage to the dealer. This is almost fully compensated by the liberal Spanish 21 rules.

Match the Dealer

Match the Dealer is a side bet offered on most Spanish 21 games. The player wins the side bet if the rank of either or both of their initial two cards matches the rank of the dealer's up card. If the cards match in both rank and suit, the player wins a bigger payout. Some casinos offer a second Match the Dealer bet which wins when either or both of the player's initial two cards match the dealer's hole card.

Card Counting in Spanish 21

The five-, six-, and seven-card bonuses make small cards more valuable in Spanish 21 than in Blackjack, and the ten-spot cards are removed. It was thought that the combined effect of these would render card counting ineffective. In fact, the opposite is true; Spanish 21 is more vulnerable to card counting than Blackjack for several reasons:

* The most player-advantageous card (Ace) occurs in a higher proportion (1/12 instead of 1/13)
* Resplitting Aces and drawing on split Aces is permitted, making Aces even more player-advantageous.
* Naturals (a k a Blackjacks) are always paid out at 3:2, even against a dealer natural, making Aces even more player-advantageous.
* In both games, card counters win more double downs at high counts. As the rules permit doubling after any number of cards, card counters get even more benefit from high-count doubling.
* In both games, stiff hands (a k a "bust hands") are the most common type of hand. In Blackjack multiple-deck basic strategy, players stand on all stiff hands versus 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, except for 12 versus 2 and 3. Hence, as the count increases, there is very little scope for play variation. In Spanish 21, there is much greater scope for play variation with the count. As a result, indices have a much greater impact on win rate in Spanish 21 than Blackjack.
* For each increase of +1 in the Hi-Lo true count, the average increase in the natural frequency is 17% higher than in Blackjack, and the Spanish 21 advantage, using indices, increases by an average of 0.65%, which exceeds Blackjack. Indices have a greater effect on win rate than in Blackjack.[2]
* Because many casinos don't perceive card counters as a threat on Spanish 21, it is easier to get away with a large betting spread[3]. It is possible to bet perfectly proportional to your advantage, thus optimising your win rate in a way that has not been possible in Blackjack for decades. It is also possible to play a pure Wonging game without being asked to leave.

As a result, Spanish 21 games with low house edges (S17 and H17 with redoubling) will give the card counter a better return for a given bankroll than most Blackjack games.

In addition to card counting, other advantage play techniques, such as hole carding and ace sequencing are possible.