How Good are Those Spanish 21 and Caribbean Stud Games?

When I was a kid I had a friend, Billy, who came from a very large family on his mother’s side. I never saw any of his relatives from his father’s side. One day I asked him about it. “Oh, I never see those people from the other side. I don’t even know most of the people from the other side.” He emphasized the word “other” every time he spoke of them. Finally, I caught a glimpse of one of them one day and, you know what, she looked kind of otherly.

I guess we all have our “others” in this life and the casinos are no different. You have the machines, you have poker, blackjack, craps, and roulette – those are the standard fares from casino-gambling-times primordial; but then you have all those other games. Most “other” games are mutated versions of the traditional games; some evolved naturally, but most have been genetically engineered to look somewhat similar to their forebears with one major difference – they can usually take your money faster, either because the house edge is higher or the game is speedier or some combination of both.

In the years that I have been writing about casino gambling, I have seen many “other” games such as Two Up, a coin flipping game; Casino War, the kid’s game where high card wins; Russian Roulette, not the gun kind, the card version; Pokette, a combination of roulette and poker; Sic Bo, which is a dice game like Chuck-A-Luck which is a dice game like Mini-Just Dice which is a dice game like Heads and Tails which is a dice game like Sic Bo. I have played countless versions of blackjack: Red and Black, Multiple Action, Jackpot Blackjack, Bonus Blackjack, Over-Under 13 Blackjack, Royal Match and Double Exposure Blackjack. I have also played Red Dog, the casino version of acey-deucy; CrapJack, a combination of blackjack and craps; BacCraps, a combination of baccarat and craps; Pai Gow, tiles and poker version; Super Pan Nine, the gambling game, not the Chinese combination dinner platter; Hickok’s Six Card, a deadly poker variant named after a guy who died playing poker (is it any wonder this game expired?); Double Down Stud, the table game, not the porno movie; Fast Action Hold’em, a poker mutant; Bahamian Baccarat, that’s mini-bac without the commission on the Bank bet, and the ubiquitous Big Wheel.

With the exception of the Pai Gow tiles or its poker variation, none of the above games have really caught the fancy of the casino gaming public. Many don’t even exist anymore. They are dinosaur dead. However, some games have indeed hung/caught on, establishing niches in many, if not most, casinos and casino venues; and these few survivors have become the official “other” games in the casino pantheon. They are Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud, Three Card Poker, Spanish 21 and the aforementioned Pai Gow poker.

All are mutants of older games but not one has evolved naturally over time, rather each was deliberately created in the laboratory of mad-gambling scientists with one view in mind – to take our money in as pleasant a way as possible. In fact, all of these “other” games range from decent to very good based on their respective house edges and speeds. So how good are these “other” games? If we judge based on a combination of speed and house edge, we can determine how many average bets we will lose in an hour of playing these games in the long run.


Spanish 21 is the newest table game to generate some heat in casino circles. No wonder. Played with the correct basic strategy, called the Armada Strategy, players can face a house edge of around .8 percent – which means for every $100 wagered at this game, you can expect to lose a mere 80 cents. Not bad. Of course, Spanish 21 earns much more for the casinos owing to the fact that most players do not know that a completely different basic strategy is called for. Instead, the Spanish 21 players use the basic strategy for regular blackjack, with some homespun variations on occasion, and wind up giving the betway casino edges of two, three, four or more percent. Such edges, coupled with the relatively fast speed of the game (anywhere from 60 to 100 hands an hour), can cause players to wind up like the Spanish Armada – in the drink.

Spanish 21 is played exactly like regular blackjack with this difference – all the 10-spot cards have been removed. The Kings, Queens and Jacks remain. To make up for the reduction in total blackjacks because of the removal of the 10-spots, the casino gives many exciting bonus hands such as:

  • Five-card 21 pays 3 to 2.
  • Six-card 21 pays 2 to 1.
  • Seven (or more)-card 21 pays 3 to 1.
  • A three-card hand of 6-7-8 composed of mixed suits pays 3 to 2.
  • A three-card hand of 6-7-8 composed of the same suit pays 2 to 1.
  • A three-card hand of 6-7-8 composed of all spades pays 3 to 1.
  • A 7-7-7 hand composed of mixed suits pays 3 to 2.
  • A 7-7-7 hand composed of the same suit pays 2 to 1.
  • A 7-7-7 hand composed of all spades pays 3 to 1.
  • A player may surrender the original bet but save the double-down bet. This rule does not apply if the hand is busted. This rule is called the Double-Down Rescue.
  • There is a Jackpot bonus of $1,000 paid to any player who has 7-7-7 of the same suit if the dealer is also showing a 7 (of any suit). When this occurs, all other players at the table receive a bonus of $50. Some casinos make the jackpot $1,000 per five dollars wagered up to a maximum of $5,000 for a $25 or higher bet. This option will appeal to those players who like the idea that a bad run can be dramatically turned around with quick hit of luck.

Summary: Very Good Game
Loss Per Hour: Approximately one-half an average bet.
Qualifier: Must play Armada Strategy.
Playing Tip: Slow the pace whenever possible.


Caribbean Stud sailed to the mainland from the islands, circa the 1980s, and has gotten a very strong foothold on the casino beachfronts. It is a game with a relatively high house edge of 5.3 percent, but as I wrote in Bold Card Play: Best Strategies for Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, there is another way to figure the house edge at Caribbean Stud that brings it down to 2.6 percent because it includes the total amount bet and not just the initial wager. Caribbean Stud is a moderately paced game of between 45 and 55 decisions per hour.

There are two main wagers in Caribbean Stud – the ante and the bet. The bet area looks like a treasure chest just bursting with gold coins. The ante is the rectangular area. Atop the ante on the layout is a side bet – the jackpot – that is made by dropping a one-dollar chip in the jackpot slot. When a player opts to place a jackpot bet, he becomes eligible to hit the progressive jackpot (or a percentage thereof) that increases with each hand played. The side jackpot bet is strictly optional and does not influence the winning and losing of hands.

To open, the players put a bet in the ante square and, if they wish, they can make the
one-dollar jackpot bet. The dealer deals five cards face down to each player. The dealer then deals himself five cards, the last one face up. The players now have two choices to make: 1. they can play out their hands, or 2. they can surrender their hands and lose their antes. If they decide to play out their hands, they must place a bet that is double their ante in the bet square. Once the players have made their respective decisions, they put all their cards face down on the table. The dealer will now scoop up the ante bets from all the players who dropped out. This done, the dealer turns over his remaining four cards and makes the best poker hand possible out of them.

The dealer must qualify with an Ace-King hand for the game to be fully decided. If he fails to have a hand that is A-K or better, he pays off the antes and pushes on the bets. The player then takes back the bet wager. If the dealer qualifies with a hand of Ace-King (or better), then all the players’ hands are judged against it. If the player cannot beat the dealer’s hand, the player loses both his ante and his bet. If the player beats the dealer, the ante is paid off at even money, while the bet is usually paid off at the following house odds:

Winning Hand Bonus Payout Table
Ace-King 1 to 1
One Pair 1 to 1
Two Pair 2 to 1
Three-of-a-kind 3 to 1
Straight 4 to 1
Flush 5 to 1
Full House 7 to 1
Four-of-a-kind 20 to 1
Straight Flush 50 to 1
Royal Flush 100 to 1

If the dealer fails to qualify, you don’t win the bet bonus – no matter how good your hand is. You also can’t win a bonus if the dealer beats your hand.

The jackpot side bet is paid off independently, so you can lose to the dealer and still collect on the jackpot bet. The following is a typical jackpot pay scale:

Hand Progressive Bonus
One Pair none
Two Pair none
Three-of-a-kind none
Straight none
Flush $50
Full House $75
Four-of-a-kind $100
Straight Flush 10 percent of the progressive jackpot
Royal Flush 100 percent of the progressive jackpot

Summary: Good Game
Loss Per Hour: Approximately one average bet.
Qualifier: Play out your hand on Ace-King-Jack-8-3 or better.
Playing Tip: Don’t make jackpot side bet.