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Caribbean 21

• House edge and rules
• Basic strategy
• The "non-blackjack" hand
• Don't forget to split!
• Unusual plays
• Recommended casinos
• The "Pirate of Caribbean 21" scandal

A Caribbean 21 game in progress; the player has made a caribbean 21 hand with a ten, 1 and another 10

House edge and rules

• Caribbean 21 was introduced into the Real Time Gaming table game package at the same time as pontoon, and it's a "sister" game in several ways: they have similar house edges, they're similarly volatile and they share several unusual rules, such as doubling down on more than two cards and ties pay the dealer. However, this game is MUCH more complex than pontoon because of the liberal splitting rules which necessitate two basic strategy charts: one for the play of the initial two-card hand, the other for all subsequent plays. The house edge is 0.19%, giving a player return of 99.81%. The rules are:

• Eight decks
• European no hole card
• Hard 17
• Dealer wins all ties
• Ace is valued at 1
• The player may double and re-double at any point, including after splitting
• Any initial two cards may be split
• Surrender is available, at any point during play including after doubling
• Split aces can receive as many cards as the player wishes
• An ace plus two 10-value cards is a "Caribbean 21", and pays 3:2, including after splitting
• If the dealer has an ace up, insurance may be taken - and added to at any point, up to half the total wager. If the dealer ends up with a Caribbean 21, insurance pays 9:1

Basic strategy

Here are the two strategy charts (courtesy of The Wizard Of Odds). Since the ace doesn't have its soft 11 value it's simply referred to as "1".

H = hit, S = stand, D = double, P = split, R = surrender

Strategy for the initial two cards

Caribbean 21 chart 1 top
Caribbean 21 chart 1 bottom

Strategy for all subsequent plays

Caribbean 21 chart 2

The "non-blackjack" hand

• The fact that the ace doesn't have its soft 11 value in Caribbean 21 can give rise to some confusion until you're familiar with the game. It pays to be very careful whenever the ace makes an appearance with another card which, combined with the ace, would make a high total that you would stand with in a game in which the ace has its usual one/eleven fluctuating value. For example, take a look at this "blackjack":

C21 non-blackjack double

Ace/ten is actually only 11 - don't make the mistake of thinking this is a natural 21, and don't forget to double down.

Don't forget to split!

• The unique ability to split any two initial cards must also never be overlooked. Where you would stand on a weak hand such as 10/6 against a 5 in standard blackjack, the fact that you can actually split that 10/6 away into two separate hands in Caribbean 21, with a ten becoming your base card for one of them, is tremendously advantageous. For example:

C21 split 10/5
A blackjack player's instinct is to hit the "stand" button when faced with 15 against dealer 3. Don't make that mistake in Caribbean 21 - split the 10/5 into two hands. It's this hugely advantageous rule that compensates for the terrible ones such as "dealer wins all ties"; if you miss the opportunity for an advantageous split in these circumstances, you give away a lot of value.

Unusual plays

• Possibly the biggest problem to overcome with this game is that there are so many plays which are very much non-intuitive, not just arising from the unusually restricted value of the ace and the ability to split any two initial cards. Here's a little sequence to illustrate the point that it's dangerous to make any assumptions about the correct play, because they're most likely incorrect:

C 21 hand sequence

I start out with 9 against dealer 2 and a five-dollar initial wager. Correct strategy in most games is to hit, although single deck requires a double. In Caribbean 21, both are wrong. Correct play: SPLIT.

C 21 hand sequence

Having split, I make 9 again on the first hand; in standard eight-deck you would now hit. Caribbean 21? Wrong! Correct play: DOUBLE the 9 against a dealer 2.

C 21 hand sequence

Having doubled, I pull a 2 on the 9 for a total of 11. Time to give that hand up and move on to the next one? Nope - I can double again on my three-card 11! Correct play: DOUBLE.

C 21 hand sequence

I pull ANOTHER 2 on the 11 for 13, but now at least the correct play is the same as in standard blackjack, and I stand. On the second hand I pull an ace (1) and an eight, for 10. Three-card total of ten, so blackjack rules would now be to hit. C21? DOUBLE again!

C 21 hand sequence

Having doubled, I pull ANOTHER 2, for a total of 12 against dealer 2. Standard blackjack rules would now require a hit, and I AM allowed to hit after doubling in Caribbean 21; so, do I hit? No, correct play: STAND.

Out of the six play decisions in that hand, fully FIVE of them were different to the plays I'd have made in a normal blackjack game. Whatever you do, don't play Caribbean 21 without a thorough knowledge of the basic strategy.

My recommendation for where to play Caribbean 21:

  ♠ Inetbet ♠

Inetbet has excellent, efficient customer service and they pay very fast - rare for an RTG. Additionally, if you take a look at the article on comps you'll see that their player rewards programme is one of the best in the business.

The "Pirate of Caribbean 21" scandal

• As an amusing footnote: take a look at the bottom left-hand corner of the image of the Caribbean 21 table at the top of the page; the maximum bet is set at FIVE dollars! The reason for this is that the RTG casinos that carry this game are actually a little nervous of it, an unusual casino reaction resulting from a gambler going by the internet handle "PirateofC21" who racked up a grand total of $1,400,000 dollars in late 2003 playing this game. You can read the bombastic repercussions of the case in a record-breaking thread initiated by the man himself, which had the entire casino industry reeling, in the online casino forum at Casinomeister.

Make no mistake, there is absolutely no magic to this game, and the casino reaction of slashing the table maximums to prevent a repeat of the PirateofC21 disaster was ill-informed to say the least - the house edge is actually slightly higher than Pontoon. However, played perfectly and taking full advantage of a good comp programme can see you getting a small edge - full details listed on the comps page.

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