History of Blackjack

The history of Blackjack is somewhat mysterious as its true origins, stemming from the game of “21”, are unknown. The farthest the history of Blackjack can be dated back to is right about the turn of the 17th century.

The first known mention of Blackjack was a game called “veintiuna”, the Spanish word for twenty-one. It appeared in the novel “Rinconete y Cortadillo”, by Miguel de Cervantes, the famed author of “Don Quixote” and a recreational gambler in his own right. In this story, the main characters are cheaters operating in Seville, playing the game of “veintiuna”, where the players strive to get the closest to 21 without going over.

It is also mentioned in the book that Aces are worth 1 or 11 in value, but using a Spanish deck, there are no 10's present, much like the current Blackjack variant known as Spanish 21. Though the precise publication of Cervantes book – a short story that is part of the “Novelas Ejemplares” collection - is unknown, it is dated back to about 1601 to 1602.

Later references to the game of Blackjack have come from France and Spain. When Blackjack was finally introduced in the United States, it did not catch very well. Casinos attempted offering bonus payments to attract more participants, such as a 10-to-1 payout for achieving a 21 with the Ace of Spades and the Jack of Spades or Clubs.

This is when the history of Blackjack took a huge turn, changing from the common title “21” to its current favor - “Blackjack”. Soon, the popularity of Blackjack was growing at a staggering pace. With so many players flocking to the tables, casinos decided to do away with the bonus pay out system, returning to the standard pay out rules seen today. A “Blackjack” need not actually consist of any black cards, much less a jack, so long as the total is 21 with only two cards dealt. Even so, the name Blackjack stuck.

Blackjack has continued to develop over the years and is now played in multiple variations around the world. Multi-Hand blackjack has become incredibly popular among those who consider themselves highly skilled at the game. There are regional variations, such as European blackjack and of course Spanish Blackjack. The actual payouts and rules tend to vary by where you play the game.

Some casinos call for a rule known as “Soft 17”, where a dealer must hit 17 so long as there is an Ace, valued at 11, involved in the hand. Another common rule variation is whether a player is allowed to Split Aces or not.

Another staple in the history of Blackjack was the introduction of “card counting” strategies. Though there is no real way to know just how long professional Blackjack players have been using some sort of card counting technique, the credit is given to an American mathematician by the name of Dr. Edward O. Thorpe, even though he was not the first to publish a book with a card counting system. That credit goes to “The Four Horsemen” - Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbet Maisel and James McDermott – who published a Blackjack strategy guide with a vestigial card counting system in the 1957 publication of “Playing Blackjack To Win”.

Dr. Thorpe greatly enhanced the idea in his book “Beat The Dealer” in 1962, where he revealed the secrets to a 10-count Blackjack system. He included optimal betting strategies for various situations. However, his card counting system was considered relatively difficult, and was later modified by a number professional Blackjack players who, in turn, published their own card counting systems with a more simplistic scheme. A complete history of Blackjack card counting can be viewed in the documentary film “The Hot Shoe”, from director David Leyton.