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Basic Strategy for Spanish 21

3 July 2002

By John Grochowski

In the last couple of weeks, we've looked at basic strategy in blackjack. Sit down at most blackjack tables in any jurisdiction, play basic strategy and you'll narrow the house edge to a half-percent or so, perhaps a little more or a little less depending on house rules.

For the most part, house rules don't force big changes in basic strategy. We make some adjustments for single-deck play, but in the more common multiple-deck games, we use the same strategy regardless of whether the dealer hits soft 17 or whether we're permitted to resplit Aces.

But what if we get a really extreme set of rules? Could an uncommon combination force us to devise an uncommon strategy?

Yes, it could and it does in Spanish 21, which is essentially blackjack with an extreme set of rules.

How extreme? Well, we're permitted to double down after seeing any number of cards, instead of being limited to doubling after the first two. If we have 3-3-3-2 for a four-card 11, we can double down. If we don't like the card we get on the double down, we can back out with "double down rescue," which allows us to surrender one bet while pulling back the other. On other hands, late surrender is offered.

There's more. Unless the dealer has blackjack, player 21s win, even if the dealer also has a multiple-card 21. There are bonuses on 21s consisting of five, six or seven cards, and on 6-7-8 or 7-7-7.

That's the positive side for the player. There are minuses. Spanish 21 is usually a six-deck game with the dealer hitting soft 17--not great, but not all that unusual. The big negative is that the game uses "Spanish" decks with no 10-spot cards. There are Jacks, Queens and Kings that are valued at 10, but the 10s are removed. When we have an 11 and want to double down, we need to understand that there are only 12 10-value cards per deck that will complete our 21 instead of the usual 16 per deck.

The scarcity of 10-value cards means that even though we're permitted to double down on any number of cards, we actually double far less often. With fewer high cards in the deck, we also hit some hands we would stand on in regular blackjack. And sometimes, the potential for bonus hands means our play is affected by how many cards we have on the table. We'll risk busting some hard totals if we have four, five or six cards to take a chance on a bonus 21.

Let's take a look at basic strategy for Spanish 21, as extreme a blackjack game as you're likely to see.

Spanish 21 strategy for hard totals

Always stand with totals of 18 or more, and hit with totals of 8 or less. Otherwise use the following strategy:

  • Hard 9: Double down on a two-card 9 if the dealer's face-up card is a 6; hit against all other up cards and hit against 6 if the 9 consists of three cards.
  • Hard 10: Double down if the dealer shows 2 through 7; hit against 8s or higher.
  • Hard 11: Double down if the dealer shows 2 through 8; hit against 9s or higher.
  • Hard 12: Always hit
  • Hard 13: Hit if the dealer shows 2, 3, 4 or 7 or higher. Stand against 5 or 6, except hit if the 13 consists of five or more cards.
  • Hard 14: Hit against 2, 3 or against 7 or higher, Also hit against a 4 if the hard 14 consists of four or more cards, or against a 5 or 6 with five or more cards.
  • Hard 15: Hit against 7 or higher, and against a 2 if the 15 consists of four or more cards, against a 3 or 4 with five or more cards, or against a 5 or 6 with six cards.
  • Hard 16: Surrender if the dealer shows an Ace. Otherwise, hit against 7 or higher; also hit against a 2 if the 16 consists of five or more cards, or against a 3 or 4 with six cards.
  • Hard 17: Surrender against an Ace. Otherwise, stand unless the dealer shows an 8, 9 or 10 and the 17 consists of six cards. In that case, hit.

Spanish 21 strategy for soft totals

Always stand on soft 19, 20 or 21. Otherwise, use the following strategy:

  • Soft 13, 14 and 15: Always hit.
  • Soft 16: Double down if the dealer shows a 6, except just hit if the 16 consists of four or more cards. Just hit against other up cards.
  • Soft 17: Hit against 2, 3 and 7 or higher. Double down against a 4 if the 17 consists of two cards, against a 5 if the 17 consists of two or three cards and against a 6 of the 17 consists of two, three or four cards.
  • Soft 18: Hit if the dealer shows a 9, 10 or Ace; stand against 2, 3, 7 or 8, except hit against 2, 3 or 8 if the 17 consists of four or more cards, and against 7 with six or more cards. Double down against 4, 5 or 6, except just hit against 4 with four or more cards and against 5 or 6 with five or more cards.

Spanish 21 strategy for splitting pairs

Always split Aces, and never split 4s, 5s or 10-value cards. Otherwise, use the following strategy:

  • Pair of 2s or 3s: Split if the dealer's up card is 3 through 7.
  • Pair of 6s: Split if the dealer shows 4, 5 or 6.
  • Pair of 7s: Split against 2 through 7.
  • Pair of 8s: Surrender if the dealer shows an Ace. Split against all other dealer up cards.
  • Pair of 9s: Split when the dealer shows 3 through 6, or an 8 or 9.
John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

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