The roots of blackjack trace back to Europe shortly after the first standardized decks of cards were printed in 1440 by Johann Guttenberg. Many of the earliest games played with these early decks have a lot in common with modern day blackjack.
Some of those games that have similar qualities to blackjack include Baccarat, Quinze, Seven-and-a-half, One-and-Thirty, Vingt-Un, and Trente-et-Quatre. All of these games required players to win by getting to a specific number.
For example, Baccarat began in Italy in the 1490s and to win players had to have a card count total of 9. Seven-and-a-half shared the “bust” element that exists in blackjack where players would lose automatically if they went over seven and a half. In the game all cards higher than a 7 counted as half a point.
In Spain in the late 1500s one of the more popular card games was “One and Thirty” where players tried to get as close to 31 as possible. However the game play had little in common with blackjack as each player was dealt three cards and then three community cards were dealt as well. Players in turn could trade one of their own cards for a community card if they thought it would get them closer to the magic number of 31.
Fast forward a few hundred years to France and the comparisons to blackjack become even closer. Popular games in the 1880s included Quinze where players tried to reach a total of 15 and Trente-et-Quarante which required the use of six decks. Trente-et-Quarante saw the dealer separating the black and red cards into rows, with players betting on the rows. Cards were then dealt from each until the row went over 30, then whoever bet on the row that was closest to 31 was the winner.
Probably the closest predecessor to blackjack was a French game called Vingt-Un (which translated means “Twenty-One”). Like blackjack, the object of the game was to reach 21. However the gameplay was quite different. The cards were dealt in rounds followed by a round of betting until someone reached a “natural” 21 and if that winner was the dealer it was bad news for the rest of the table because they would all have to pay triple the bet.