The concept of cards and card games has been a part of human history for a long time. In fact, some historians date it back as far as 9th century China. Since then, people have developed countless creative ways to use these games of skill for entertainment. Because the origins of some card games were not well documented, some of them remain a bit mysterious to us, even to this day.
That is also true for the blackjack, whose history, although not set as far back in the past, still is a bit of a mystery because the beginnings and exact timeline are hard to establish. However, it is most likely that the game developed from many other similar ones. There was the French “Quinze” (“Fifteen”), Italian “Sette e Mezzo” (“Seven and a Half”), and the oldest, the Spanish “Trente-un” (“Thirty-one”). The latter was mentioned by the famous Spanish writer and author of the “Don Quixote” novel, Miguel de Cervantes.
A more direct relation of blackjack holds with the game of unclear origins called “Vingt-un” or “Vingt-et-un”, which simply means twenty-one, which became very popular all over Europe in the 18th century. Twenty-one, of course, referring to the desired number of points to reach the objective of the play without going over. And the first variations differed somewhat from the later ones; for example, they were played with a Spanish baraja (deck of cards), which didn’t contain eights and nines.
Vingt-et-un then was introduced to players in the United States where, with some important alterations, it took the shape of what we now know as blackjack. That includes the name, which primarily referred to the cards depicting the Jack of clubs or spades. The term became popular and spread to define the whole game due to the attractive bonus offered to players. During that time, the hand that consisted of the ace of spades and one of the black jacks paid ten to one. The bonus was soon withdrawn but the name stayed.
The American refinements, however, followed the need to provide some sort of control and standardized principles. For that reason, house-banked games started to appear around New Orleans in 1820. The play itself underwent some important changes that made it more approachable. The two major new rules applied to dealer’s cards, now visible to everyone, which was nowhere to be seen before in Europe. Plus, the policy on hitting or standing regarding the dealer’s hand had to be previously agreed upon and brought to the players’ attention.
Other significant changes concerned more general interpretations of the concept and were the result of increased knowledge and the developed technology. The progress in computerization, mathematics, and statistics also influenced blackjack profoundly. Then, many prominent personalities, professors, and researchers took interest in the game, applying their scientific methods to overcome the house advantage and make the game profitable. One of the most notable founding fathers of modern blackjack was Edward O. Thorp. His major publication was the best-selling and still appreciated “Beat the Dealer: Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One” where he described strategy and counting methods, which took the understanding of blackjack from a mathematical point of view to the next level and earned him a place in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Since its first edition in 1962 and throughout the years, this book has become a starting point for every analytic mind that wants to tackle the intricacies of the game.
So, there you have it, a brief representation of where blackjack came from and how it made through to the modern times. Although it started from somewhat uncharted waters, it evolved to be a well-documented form of art and skill examined from an analytic point of view. The ever-changing history of the game will surely continue to attract interest for generations to come.