As with many popular gambling pastimes, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the game of blackjack as we know it today actually originated. It is generally believed that blackjack is in fact a combination of several popular games that were played in Europe during the Middle Ages. Possible ancestors of blackjack include games such as Seven-and-a-Half, Baccarat (which came onto the scene in the 15th century) and One-and-Thirty. With the printing of the first standardized deck of cards in the early 15th century, card games similar in concept to blackjack became quite the rage.
The French Connection
The French can certainly be attributed to supplying some of the basic elements of classic blackjack. In the late 19th century, the game of Quinze was wildly popular and required players to reach the number 15 with their dealt cards. However, ideas from the game of Vingt-un (literally: 21) are probably the nearest that we are able to recognize in classic blackjack, with some slight exceptions. For example, the aim of Vingt-un was to reach as near to a natural 21 as possible, with the game being played in rounds.
Blackjack Reaches the New World
It was obvious that before long, the popularity of blackjack would reach America. The game probably came across the ocean at the end of the 19th century and was first recorded as being present in a gambling establishment in the 1910's, although it is known that it was played as a private leisure activity earlier than that. In fact, the game appeared in “Foster’s Hoyle” in 1875.
How Blackjack got its Name
From the time that Vignt-un reached America, it received a lukewarm reception by the gambling public. In order to attract more players to the game, casino owners began to offer incentives such as extra bonuses for getting certain card combinations. One of these was a very generous 10-1 payout if players were able to get an Ace of Spades and black (spades or clubs) Jack. While the bonus for this hand was eventually phased out by casino owners, the name blackjack stuck and Vignt-un became a thing of the past.
Although blackjack players enjoyed a honeymoon period in the early 1900s thanks to bonus incentives and other changes, that soon came to an end with new laws implemented by the American government that basically outlawed gambling. Underground gambling halls mushroomed alongside bars during the Prohibition period and blackjack remained illegal for two decades. After the Great Depression, however authorities decided that certain locations around the country should allow gambling to be legal and the days of illicit blackjack were over in places like Nevada. The popularity of blackjack and other gambling activities eventually led to the great expansion of Las Vegas into a gambling icon.
Beating the Blackjack Odds
Gamblers are always searching for ways to increase their odds and ‘beating the system’ and this was no different in the history of blackjack. During the 1950’s, calculations and strategies revolving around blackjack abounded in the industry, culminating in the publication of a basic blackjack strategy in the Journal of American Statistical Association, written by a mathematician by the name of Roger Baldwin. This led to the concept of card counting that was developed by Dr. Edward Thorpe, another mathematician. Thorpe published his groundbreaking book in 1962 called, “Beat the Dealer” which encouraged a whole generation of card counters at casinos around the country.
Casinos Fight Back
Casinos were not willing to play into the hands of professional blackjack card counters and started taking extreme steps to counter the problem during the 1970's and 80's. More decks of cards were introduced and free alcoholic beverages were offered to players to blur their concentration and thought. Parallel to these steps was also the fact that computerized dealing systems took over from manual ones, making card counting obviously even more difficult. Today, although it is increasingly difficult to count cards during an average game of blackjack, casinos still use advanced surveillance technology to counter this practice and any other forms of abuse.
Blackjack in the 21 st Century
In the middle of the 1990's, online gambling hit the scene and almost overnight, blackjack became accessible to millions of homes. Blackjack became one of the first games offered by online casinos due to its easy to follow rules. In no time, the popularity of blackjack spread to every corner of the world and today it is considered one of the foremost games in the industry. Exclusive blackjack sites exist alongside online casinos that offer the game in a multitude of gaming options, ranging from blackjack variants, differing skill levels and multiplayer tournaments. Casinos use incentive policies such as bonuses to attract blackjack players to their sites, with the hope that they will part with their dollars and join in the fun.