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history of blackjack
Sep 2019
02

How Did Blackjack Evolve?

by Christine in Features category

Going up against the dealer in the race to 21 is a rite of passage of many casino goers. That’s because blackjack is one of the most popular games out there. There are very few casinos, either online or land-based, that don’t offer the game. It’s a stone cold classic. But where did it all begin? Let’s dive into the history of blackjack to find out.

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Now back to the history lesson…

The early history of blackjack

The history of blackjack, like many popular card games, is relatively mysterious. It seems that the game evolved out of an earlier card game known as 21. Makes sense, due to the whole goal of modern day blackjack.

Although we’re not quite sure when that begin, the first known reference to that game is found in Spain. Miguel de Cervantes in his book Novelas Ejemplares written in the early 1600s, talks about card cheats scamming the game 21. He describes that the goal of the game is to reach 21 and the ace is worth 1 or 11. That means the prototype blackjack game, 21, probably developed at least a few years before that in the 1500s.

There are also other references to this blackjack-type game in France, as well as Spain, in later decades.

Modern day blackjack: All-American game?

There’s no two ways about it. The history of blackjack in the United States has somewhat of a slow start. The game 21 first cropped up in North America with French emigrants. This has slightly different rules to the modern-day game, but stick with us. This is where it all began.

It wasn’t, however, very popular at all. In fact, it was only in 1931 that things started to turn around for the game. Las Vegas casinos wanted to encourage more players to try this game, but the current rules weren’t cutting the mustard with their clientele. So they switched things up a bit. They gave a huge 10:1 payout for anyone with a hand that added up to 21 with a black jack and the ace of spades.

The massive payout was ditched for a more modest reward of 3:2. But the name still stuck. Blackjack was officially born.

Using maths to beat the dealer

A key feature of the lore of blackjack is that it’s possible, under certain circumstances, to beat the dealer. Counting cards is now quickly spotted and banned in casinos and it’s impossible to do it online because of randomisation and using more decks. But at the same time, that’s not how it always was.

In 1956 the Journal of the American Statistical Association published a paper that blew up the casino world. It’s title The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack, delivered just that. This is the first scientifically sound paper to present such a strategy.

The workings in this book became the basis of Ed Thorp’s smash-hit tome Beat the Dealer, which was published just a couple of years later in 1963.

Creating a community

Over the years, blackjack has become not just a popular game but a way of life for many. There are plenty of professional gamblers that focus their efforts almost entirely on the race to 21. This was solidified in 2002 when the Blackjack Hall of Fame was created.

This is where a diverse group of members are honoured by the blackjack community as a whole. You might just think that players can be found here, but you’d be wrong. Of course there are professional players, but you can also find mathematicians,  authors, computer analysts and many more interesting characters.

To date, there are 24 members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, all carefully chosen by professional gamblers.