Blackjack has developed from its roots that date back as far as the early 17th century into one of the most popular casino games — both online and in bricks and mortar institutions — of all of them. Like many casino games, the real history of the game we now know as blackjack is cloudy, surrounded by myth and — finally — insecure to some large degree, but here we’ll piece together the strands to bring a brief history of the beguiling card game.
Early History of Blackjack’s Precursor, “21”
One thing about blackjack that’s sure is that it evolved directly from the game of “21” that was popular in France (where it was known as “vingt-et-un”) and Spain (“ventiuna”) in the early 18th century onwards. The terrific Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes referenced the match in a brief story in 1601 or 1602 where he described a card game that involved players seeking to reach a total of 21 without going over that complete and where aces were counted as either one or 11. Sounds familiar, eh?
There have been suggestions that the Romans — who indulged in gambling activities regularly between conflicts — devised the game that came to be 21 (and hence, eventually, blackjack) using wooden blocks with numerical values on, but the evidence for this is patchy, to say the least. The more likely precursor to 21 was a Spanish game called “Trente-Uno” (meaning “31”), which was referenced by a priest back in 1440, and was played widely along the fundamentals of blackjack, that is that players try to get close to a given value (in this case, 31) based on the combined value of the cards without moving beyond the desired total.
Speculation suggests that the sport of 31 was probably united with the French games which were popular at that time such as “chemin de fer” (which developed along another path into baccarat) and morphed slowly into 21.
The Spread of 21
The sport of 21 increased in popularity throughout the 17th and 18th centuries as merchants, soldiers and dignitaries traveled far and wide. And though it made its way to the casinos of Paris and the gambling dens of other European cities and towns, it took a little longer to make the journey across the Atlantic to America. Probably introduced to the USA by immigrants fleeing persecution following the French revolution in the late 18th century (or some other European upheavals around the time), it took some time to gain popularity in America.
The Development of Modern Blackjack
It wasn’t till the early part of the 20th century that the modern game of blackjack actually begun to take hold as rewards for drawing what was termed a “natural” 21 (an ace plus a card whose value is 10) were raised to pay out at odds of 3/2. When gambling was legalized in the USA from the 1930s things really started to take off, and casinos in Nevada attempted (successfully) to boost the popularity of the game by paying bonuses if you hit an ace of spades and either a jack of spades or a jack of clubs, a hand which became known as “blackjack”. Initially, casino paid out enormous odds of 10/1 for hitting a blackjack — hence the growth in popularity and the adoption of the new name. But while such generosity did not last too long (since they reverted to chances of 3/2, as for any ace and 10-value card mix ) the title blackjack suffered and replaced the old title of 21 forevermore.
Modern Blackjack Now
Various features of the modern game of blackjack have been brought in slowly by the casinos that always wished to keep their “edge”. For example, the trader playing and the introduction of doubling down and splitting, but even so the house edge was still quite low compared to other games (which may account for a huge portion of the game’s popularity!). Because of this casinos began to introduce more decks (rather than playing just a single deck, as had become the norm) so as to make it statistically harder for players to beat the dealer (an eight-deck game has nearly a 0.5% greater advantage for the casino than does a one-deck game).
As players attempted to invent strategies books were written on the topic, including the powerful “Beat the Dealer” by Edward O Thorpe. Released in 1962, the book advocated and extolled “card counting” methods to help players get the edge over the house. Nevertheless, it was a book written five years earlier in 1957 by four mathematicians, Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott, that came closest to inventing the mathematically perfect strategy which was known as the “basic strategy”, which tells players what call to create in each given situation in a game of blackjack to give them the best (mathematical) chance of succeeding. Nowadays many casinos have basic strategy cards freely available to gamers in blackjack tables (as even playing with the best strategy, players can’t complete eradicating the house advantage ).
As a result of the growth of the internet and online casinos, there are now many new versions of blackjack accessible to perform, with principles and bonuses that come in all shapes and sizes. Overall though, the easiest forms of this game are inclined to be those with the lowest house advantage, and hence would be the ones to play if you would like to give yourself the best chance of creating a profit. In bricks and mortar casinos, however, it’s the traditional blackjack which is as popular as ever now.