Most people don’t think about casino games being anything other than recreational activities created by modern vendors as a way for punters to socialise and win money, but most casino games have long, sophisticated histories, some dating back hundreds of years. Blackjack has one of the richest histories of all casino games with a fascinating back-story that paved the way for the land based casino and online blackjack that we know and love today.
The origins of blackjack
The actual year that blackjack was invented has long eluded historians and card game fanatics, with multiple origins and periods being attributed to its creation. Like most other card games, it’s likely that modern blackjack was created from a fusion of multiple game variations from across the world, with the rules and game-play format emerging over time.
Speculation about the history of blackjack dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, where some historians believe that the Romans played a very early variation of blackjack prior to the creation of playing cards using blocks of woods marked with different numerical values. There is no evidence to support this theory, but given that the Romans had a documented love of gambling there’s every chance that it holds some element of truth.
While the true origins of blackjack remain a mystery, one of the first references to a game called ‘twenty-one’ dates back to the 1600’s. Renowned Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes wrote a book of short stories called Ronconete y Cortadillo which was set in the town of Seville in 1596 and told the tale of gambling cheats scheming to win a game called Veintiuna (the Spanish word for 21). The game of Veintiuna as described by Cervantes is very similar to today’s Spanish Blackjack, where Aces carry a value of either one or 11 and 10’s are eliminated. It’s therefore speculated that this may be the first record of blackjack in literature.
More commonly, the origins of blackjack are linked to France, emerging in the 1700’s. In French casinos during this time there was a game known as Vingt-et-Un (which translates in English to twenty one) that was a kind of hybrid of two games that were popular at that time: Chemin de Fer and French Ferme. The rules of the game were a little different to contemporary blackjack, where the dealer was the only one allowed to double down and a betting round took place every time a new card was dealt. It’s speculated that the popularity of Vingt-et-Un started to spread when the French began to colonise North America in the early 1900’s and that’s when we can really see the roots of modern blackjack form.
When blackjack was invented
When gambling became legalised in the USA in 1931, a game called blackjack was offered by the first legal casinos in Nevada. Similar to the French game of 21, the name was derived by the special rule where both the black coloured Jack of Spades and Jack of Clubs delivered a payout of 10 to one. While this rule was later abolished, the name stuck and thus we have the ever-popular modern game of blackjack.
As blackjack continued to spread to casinos around North America and the rest of the world, mathematics like Dr Edward O. Thorpe started to circulate books about card counting and how to mathematically increase your chances of winning at blackjack and beat the dealer, much to the detriment of casino vendors who started to lose money because of this practice.
Blackjack was much too popular a game to get rid of entirely, so casino operators had to introduce new rules and shuffling methods in order to counteract card counting, allowing blackjack players to apply blackjack strategy while the casino maintained protection over the house edge. Today’s casinos are strict about card counting and cheating, while many punters encouraged by Hollywood movies like 21 starring Kevin Spacey still think they can find ways to manipulate blackjack play to beat the house.
In the late 1990’s the widespread use of the Internet brought the creation of the first online casinos, with multiple online blackjack variants emerging over the years. These days you can find multiple blackjack variations including Vegas Downtown Blackjack, Spanish 21, Atlantic City Blackjack, Pontoon, Double Exposure Blackjack, Multi-hand Blackjack, European Blackjack and many more, with new games emerging all the time just like the original roots of blackjack.
The most recent milestone in blackjack history is the invention of live dealer blackjack, where real games hosted by real human croupiers from suave blackjack studios are streamed over the Internet using HD video, allowing punters to enjoy games in real time from the comfort of home. Live dealer blackjack can now be enjoyed in mobile format, allowing smartphone and tablet users to play on the go.