Blackjack History

Blackjack History – the Origins of the Game

blackjack history

Blackjack is one of the most popular card games that are played in casinos – both real and virtual. It is also a game whose origins are shrouded in the mists of mystery. No one nation can lay claim to being the home of this popular game as there is reference to something similar being played in the folklore of many countries in Europe. While the French lay claim to this game and say that blackjack is a modernized version of their popular “vignt –et –un”, the Italians have their own theory that modern day blackjack is based on their 14th century card game ‘thirty one’ where 3 cards had to total to 31 for them to called winners.

The Italian connection to modern Blackjack

Italion Blackjack
The Italian game “Thirty One” has lots of similarities with the current game of blackjack. The aim of this game of cards was to draw a hand totaling 31 from 3 cards. There is evidence of this game being very popular in 14th century Italy so much so that sermons about it being evil and that it had to be banned by the church. Anti gambling sermons were very strident about the addictive nature of Blackjack and one of the most well known sermons about how Blackjack was the idea of the devil was the one delivered by St. Bernadine of Siena. His sermons were so effective that they were normally followed by dice burning and card burning. Blackjack also finds mention in the famous novel “Garangtua and Pantagruel” by Francois Rabelais as one of the 100 games played by Garangtua. This novel which is dated between 1532 and 1542 speaks of other gambling games too.

During the 17th century, another Italian game that drew inspiration from the old game of 31 was ‘Seven and a Half’. According to the rules of the game, it was played with only 8’s, 9’s, 10’s and face cards. The values of cards were the following: Aces were counted as 1; Face cards all counted as a ½ and all the other cards were counted according their values. The King of diamonds played the role of a wild card and could substitute their respective values. Any player that drew a total higher than 7.5 would automatically go bust. The player who got a value of 7 ½ won and was paid more than even money. Another difference was that the dealer, unlike in modern Blackjack was allowed to hit and stand when he wanted.

Spain and Blackjack

spain blackjack
Miguel Cervantes, the famed creator of Don Quixote makes a reference to Blackjack in his 16th century short story ‘Riconote and Cortodello’ which speaks of two thieves who constantly cheat people in a game called ‘trentuno’ or 31. This reference comes much more than 150 years after the sermons by St, Bernadine.

France’s Vingt et un and Blackjack

Another popular precursor to the modern day blackjack is the famous French parlor game Vingt et un. Even though the goal of the game was to reach the magic number 21, it is different from Blackjack in the sense that players can bet on all rounds and only the dealer gets the option of doubling. If the dealer ever did draw a natural, then all the other players would have to pay him triple the bet amount. As Aces could be either 1 or 11 depending on the drawn card, this is seen as the true predecessor of Blackjack.

The popularity of this came was at the greatest level during the time of King Louis XV, with the king’s mistress Madame du Barry constantly arranging parties where people could sit and play the game. The fact that this game was one that could appeal to even the harshest of critics is proven by the fact that Napoleon, the French general who loathed gambling in any of its forms spent all his time in exile playing this very game.

Going over the history and the predecessors of the game, one thing that is very evident is the fact that Blackjack’s origins are very elusive even to the keenest of researchers but its popularity is something that has been recorded across the world. While some researchers stand by their theory that modern day Blackjack can be traced to the French card games such as Vingt et un and Baccarat, there are other researchers who state with equal conviction, which is based on conclusive research that casino games do not mutate into other forms, that Blackjack is unique and singular.

Blackjack in the United States

Blackjack’s journey to the United States can be traced to the years following the French Revolution and the huge Diaspora of people from Europe to the New Land. It was extremely popular in the New Orleans region where it went under the name ‘21’. Through the 18th and early 19th century gambling was rampant in the United states and Blackjack ruled the roost as the game that had the greatest rewards. If any player managed to draw an Ace and a Jack in black spade they were paid 10 times their bet and this particular payout worked to make blackjack exceptionally popular across the country.

With the game becoming popular and more players joining the ranks of people betting in the hope that they would win 10 times more than they bet, manipulation of the gaming odds and varying bets became more frequent. This manipulation became the basis for organized crime and betting rings and the government had to resort to declaring all gambling activities as illegal. The state of Nevada was singular in announcing that gambling was legal in 1931 and this set in motion the modern history of the game in the United States. Gamblers from across the world flocked into Nevada and to this day, Blackjack remains the most popular of card games in these casinos.

In modern times, Blackjack has been consistently amongst the top 3 casino games across the world. Slight changes like felt tables, colored chips, strategies and card counting have come along at regular intervals and have been easily assimilated by the players. The most influential change that boosted the appeal of blackjack even further amongst the people has been the easy availability of the game in online casinos. With the advent of the internet and the easy access available to virtual casinos, blackjack has become the most played card game in the virtual world. With most casinos offering many different types of blackjack nowadays, and a great variety of bonuses and payouts the popularity has only increased manifold. While the thrill of the real casino might not be totally replicated in the online casinos, the excitement that is associated with blackjack remains undiluted.

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