The history of Blackjack, as with all other card games and gambling games is shrouded in a mixture of legend and truth. Scholars are not quite sure where playing cards first made their appearance – China, India or Egypt? But they seem to agree that it was around 900 AD. The ancient Chinese were already playing paper games using some form of ‘card-like’money. During the Middle Ages, people were playing a variety of card games and in the fifteenth century, the playing card suits of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds were introduced to mimic French society’s class structures. At the same time Italians were gambling with a game called ‘Seven and a Half’, which was remarkably similar to today’s ‘vingt et un’ (21).

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‘Vingt et un’ started in French casino’s in the 1700s. The story goes that it was developed from the French card games called ‘Chemin de Fer’ and ‘French Ferme’ which were very popular during this time. In the 1800s, everybody in Europe was gambling, and in French casinos, the popular game was ‘Quinze” with the aim being to score 15. But ‘vingt et un’ was still the closest relation to Blackjack. It was played in a different way – the cards were dealt in rounds together with bets compared to the game of today which is played with up front wagers.

Eventually Blackjack found its way to America via ships trading goods across the seas. It met with lots of resistance as American gamblers preferred Poker to the European card game. To attract gamblers, the casinos offered high payouts of up to 10:1 for a Blackjack (Ace + 10, J, Q or K). At that time, Blackjack was made up of the Ace of Spades with either of the two black Jacks – hence the name ‘Blackjack’. As the game gained in popularity, the favorable odds were discontinued and set at 3:2 in all casinos. In 1910, rising crime prompted the state of Nevada to rule against gambling and declare it illegal. By 1930, the governor realized that they had simply forced gambling to go underground, so in 1931 it was legalized again. The casinos in Las Vegas soon began to flourish with players arriving from all over the world, and Blackjack became the most popular attraction. No one had yet worked out any ‘basic strategy’, and the Americans had no idea that it was primarily a game of skill and not one of chance.

Together with the events that follow the beginnings and subsequent rise to popularity of Blackjack, there were also literary developments that have defined the game as we know it today. In 1956 a paper was published in the Journal of The American Statistical Association entitled ‘The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack’. It was written by Roger Baldwin and he was one of the front runners who helped change the history of Blackjack forever. He wrote about using mathematical theory to reduce the casino advantage in Blackjack. Since then it has been demonstrated that a combination of the correct strategy and precise skills can be used by the player to win more often. A couple of years later, Professor Edward O Thorp published a book called “Beat the Dealer”. It had such an impact on the world of Blackjack that casinos had to adjust the rules of the game just so that the Dealers could keep up their advantage.

More books followed after this focusing on different aspects of playing the game as well as a variety of ways for players to improve their game. Stanford Wong wrote what became known as the Blackjack Bible for anyone who wanted to become an expert Blackjack player. His book was called “Professional Blackjack”. Julian Braun wrote a paper which highlighted basic Blackjack strategy. It was published in the 2nd edition of Thorp’s “Beat the Dealer” book. After this, a man named Ken Uston produced a book called “The Big Player” detailing what he discovered about winning at Blackjack. His method was to use a card-counting device which memorized the cards already played. This then enabled the player to work out which cards were still to come. He could then alter his play accordingly, and ultimately win more money. Nowadays, these devices are legal in most casinos, but the casinos do their utmost to thwart the use of them. In 2009, the state of Nevada ruled that iPhones as a card counting device were illegal.

Wherever you go in the world today, you are bound to find a couple of Blackjack tables. The game continues to fascinate and draw people to it all the time. It is a reflection of the day and age in which we live that casinos now have so many security people waking the gambling floor, and numerous closed-circuit televisions constantly watching what is happening on the gambling floor and looking for suspicious or cheating activity. Most casinos have the measure of how gambling criminals operate and most of the well-known ones are banned from certain gambling establishments. However the game is played – and there are variations from country to country – since its mysterious inception, Blackjack has remained at the top of the list as the most-loved gambling game.

About The Author

Erik Allaire is a master poker player who has won many professional poker events, wishes to represent his country at the world level.

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