Super 21

The card game called Super 21, also known as “Super Fun 21,” may look a lot like single-deck Blackjack to a casual passerby. However, the differences between the two games are significant enough that, in Nevada at least, gaming authorities have prohibited the use of the word “blackjack” in association with Super 21. That’s a pretty good tip-off that serious players may wish to avoid this table.

Many of the rules of Super 21 are the same as classic Blackjack. Players are dealt two cards, face up. The dealer has an up card and a hidden hole card. The object is to get a hand higher than the dealer’s without exceeding 21, and the dealer must hit on any total of soft 17 or less. But some changes have been made to make play “more fun.”

For example, surrender is allowed, both early and late. Players can even surrender against an Ace showing for the dealer. Guides to playing Super 21 actually advise surrendering with a 15, 16 or 17 against an Ace or a 16 facing the dealer’s 10. This has great appeal to beginners, who see the opportunity to get out of a weak hand as a great benefit.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Surrendering at any time is a decision to lose, giving the house half of the original wager without earning it. More chances to surrender can only mean more opportunity for the house, not the player.

Another “fun” innovation in Super 21 is the multi-card bonus. If the hand has not been doubled, a player with a 5-card or 6-card 21 receives a payment of 2:1. What’s more, any undoubled 6-card hand that does not exceed 20 is an “instant winner,” automatically paid even money regardless of what the dealer has. Such bonuses are an inducement to hit 4- or 5-card hands when Basic Strategy would indicate the appropriate play is to stand.

Again to increase the amount of “fun” in the game, liberal rules are applied to doubling down and splitting. The player is allowed to double not only on the first two cards, but on any number of cards, such as a 3- or 4-card 11. Pairs may be split and re-split up to four hands, including Aces. Players are also permitted to double down on a split hand and they may draw additional cards to split Aces.

Coupled with the anytime-surrender option, players can double and split with reckless abandon. And because the game is usually played with just one deck, it is pretty easy, even for novices, to know what cards are remaining to be dealt. If Super 21 seems almost too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Where the house takes back all the advantages it is giving away is in its payout for natural blackjacks. Where the classic game of Blackjack pays 3-to-2 and many of the new variations pay a poor 6-to-5, Super 21 pays a terrible 1:1. The only exception is a suited blackjack in diamonds, which pays 2-to-1.

This simple reduction in the payout for blackjacks has a huge effect on the player’s odds of winning. The house edge for the single-deck Super 21 game has been calculated at 1.16%. If a second deck is added, it goes up to 1.30%.

By comparison, a standard double-deck Blackjack game without all of the “bells and whistles” of Super 21 offers the house an advantage of just 0.42% to 0.50%, depending on whether the cards are reshuffled after each deal. The very tightest game of classic eight-deck Blackjack, with limited splits and double downs, has a house edge of no more than 1.12%.  That’s why players who define “fun” as winning will want to stick to real Blackjack and avoid Super 21.