Sometimes referred to simply as “Match 21,” the game known as Match Play 21 is based on the traditional game of Blackjack, but with some important differences. For one thing, all of the 10’s are removed from play. It uses eight decks of 48 cards each, very much like Spanish 21, and offers special bonuses for certain combinations of cards.
Rules for Match Play 21 may differ slightly from table to table, but the basics are generally the same. All cards other than the dealer’s hole card are dealt face up. The dealer must hit on soft 17 or anything lower. Players may split pairs, including Aces, but can double down only once. After a split, two-card totals of 21 are not considered blackjacks. Surrender may be elected at any time, except facing a dealer’s Ace, when insurance is available.
The main objective in Match Play 21 is to beat the dealer by achieving a hand closer to 21 without going over. A secondary objective is to score bonuses. Natural blackjacks usually pay 3:2, although a few tables pay 2:1. Following a split, a blackjack pays even money.
Unsuited totals of 21 made up of three 7’s, the 6, 7, and 8, or any five cards pay 3:2. Totals of 21 paying 2:1 are three 7’s of the same suit; a 6, 7, and 8 of the same suit; and any six cards that total 21. Combinations paying 3:1 include three 7’s all in spades, a hand made up of the 6, 7, and 8 of spades, and any seven cards that total 21.
The highest bonus awarded is 40:1 for a “Match 21.” This requires that three 7’s of the same suit and the dealer’s up card must also be a 7. The odds against catching the Match 21 are 668,382 to 1 when playing with six decks or 549,188 to 1 with eight decks in play.
The removal of tens from the game and addition of all these bonuses leads to some unusual strategies for playing Match Play 21. For example, when it comes to splitting pairs, the player should split 2’s or 3’s anytime the dealer shows an up card of 8 or less and go after the multi-card 21 bonuses. They should not, however, split 4’s, 5’s or pairs of face cards. Against the dealer’s 4, 5, or 6 showing, it is advisable to split 6’s or 7’s. Aces and 8’s should always be split, as should 9’s, except against the dealer’s 2, 7, face card or Ace.
Doubling down also has its own unique strategy. Any number of cards totaling 11 should always be doubled. Totals of ten can be doubled against the dealer’s 2~8. A total of 9 is generally not a safe double, except against the dealer’s 6 showing. Soft totals of 16, 17, or 18 can safely be doubled when the dealer’s up card is a 5 or a 6, and usually against a 4. Doubling down on soft 15 facing a 6 is also the right move.
In the casino version of Match Play 21, a continuous shuffle machine may be employed so that there is no pause in the game and each deal begins with all of the cards available for play. This can stymie any efforts at card counting, but it does result in consistent odds for each deal so that practiced players face a house edge of about 0.76%, which is slightly worse than Spanish 21 where redoubling is allowed and “envy bonuses” are offered, which limits the house advantage to 0.42%.
Many online casinos are beginning to offer Match Play 21 among their options, but it is very important to pay attention to the rules and payouts. One web site touting its “great odds” was shown to have a house edge of 1.5%, demonstrating once again that not all games of Blackjack, or in this case Match Play 21, are created equal.