October 22, 2009

Say Sue! Say Sue!

Back to the casino for today’s post… and the game called Spanish 21, or as some dealers like to call it, Veinte-Uno. The truth is, there’s nothing Espanol at all about this game. It’s simply a variation on blackjack that, despite its popularity, should be avoided at all costs.

Spanish 21 is different from regular blackjack in several ways. The player is given many “advantages” – they win all pushes with the dealer on 21, even getting paid if both the dealer and the player have blackjack.

The player can surrender half their bet if they don’t like their chances in the hand, such as getting a 16 with the dealer showing a face card. They can double down at any time during play – even after hitting several times – and if they don’t like the card they get, they can pull back their double and forfeit the hand.

Players can also split pairs up to four times, and can even ask for a hit after splitting aces. Not only that, but there are “bonus” payouts for getting a five-card or more 21, for a 6-7-8, for a 7-7-7.

But wait, there’s more! Players can also make a side bet for as little as $1. If either of their first two cards matches the value of the dealer’s upcard, they get paid 3-to-1. If it matches both value and suit, it gets paid at 12-to-1. A $25 bet can net a player $300 – twice! And they don’t even have to win the blackjack hand to collect it. Players who love this game, pardon my French, go ape shit over this wager.

One lady who played the game religiously – and by that I mean, she held a cross and said “Dios Mio” for eight-hours at a pop – would scream when I placed her cards in front of her, “Say Sue! Say Sue!” It took me some time before I figured out this was her heavily accented way of praying for her card to be the “same suit” as mine, earning her 12-to-1.

With all this money flying out of the dealer’s rack, what’s not to like? What’s the catch? Well, there are two big ones. First, about that “match the dealer” side bet. Getting 12-to-1 is nice, but the true odds are so much higher – along the lines of 55-to-1. Just matching the value of the card, forgetting about the suit should pay around 12-to-1, not 3-to-1. The house edge is pretty good here, don’t you think?

Then there’s the one key aspect of the game I’ve left out. There are no tens in the deck. That’s right, prior to dealing, the floorperson will remove all the tens from, leaving only the face cards. This not only decreases the odds of getting a blackjack, but also of making 20 or 21 on a double-down.

It also plays havoc with the “basic strategy” that most regular gamblers are accustomed to using as a guide to how to play each hand. In fact, using basic strategy turns the player advantage back towards the house, a fact few casinos advertise, and fewer floorpersons and dealers are aware of.

Do card counters have an edge in this game? Certainly – even more so than in regular blackjack… but the maximum betting limits on these tables are usually much lower as a result, and therefore, not worth the risk of exposure.

Ignore the hoots and hollers of these tables. The only winning move, Joshua, is not to play.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering what the big catch was...all of those differences were looking pretty nice before you mentioned no "tens"!

    Any chance you could make a post talking more about card counting from the casino's point of view? For example, are dealers required to keep a running count in their head so they know when to look out for people changing their bet sizes? If not, do some dealers do this on their own anyways? Does the casino have training/seminars for dealers to educate them on how to catch card counters? Will the casino really kick you out or "blacklist" you if you are accused of counting? (I recently re-read Bringing Down The House, which probably explains why I asked that last question.) All of your stories from previously being a dealer are so fascinating.

    Thanks, Adam