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History of Blackjack 

Blackjack is the modern game that started life as twenty-one, a game transferred to the United States in the 18th century from European origins. The game of twenty-one was known simply in France as Vingt-et-Un but the earliest reference is found in a book by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, most famous for writing Don Quixote.

Cervantes was a gambler, and the main characters of his tale "Rinconete y Cortadillo", from Novelas Ejemplares (a series of twelve short stories), are a couple of cheats working in Seville. The story was written in or before 1602 and is the earliest reference for this type of game. The two characters were cheats at Ventiuna (Spanish for twenty-one), which was a game where the object was to get as close to 21 as possible. This means that "21" was played in the old spanish capital at least from the beginning of the 17th century.

When twenty-one was introduced in the United States, gambling houses innovated by offering bonus payouts to make the game more interesting. This is mirrored in todays game where casinos are constantly adding side-bets. For more about them and an alternative guide why not try Ladbrokes guide to the history of blackjack.

Legalized and house-banked games popped up in New Orleans in 1823. Less than legalized and player-banked games were common everywhere else in these early times. There is the tale of Eleanore Dumont, who showed up in Nevada City, California in the mid-1800’s. She banked and dealt the game of 21 to any takers, and whatever her math talents or card handling skills, enjoyed much success as an expert at the game.

New Orleans was the America's first big gambling centre where it flourished before the civil war and exported it to the whole country after the civil war. Gambling had grown with the town since 1718 but by the early 19th century it was so endemic that it was prohibited by law in 1811 across the whole state.

After ten years of pressure, illegal casinos everywhere and low state tax finances, a licensing act was passed to allow 6 casinos at $5000 per year. This led to the earliest of the large gambling houses to dominate the American gambling scene. John Davis started his extremely lavish gambling house in 1827, providing the best that money could buy for his customers. Blackjack was one of the main games but it was not called that yet, or even 21, but it was a direct transfer from Europe. It was still called vingt-et-un.

The game was still termed ‘21’ when it gained popularity in Nevada in 1931 as the State first chose to make gambling legal. Once its lawfulness was established the need to have game standards and controls in place to regulate the action began.

One early bonus was a ten-to-one payout if the player's hand consisted of the ace of spades and a black jack (either the jack of clubs or the jack of spades). This hand was called a "blackjack" and although the bonus was not popular the name took over in popular culture, hence our modern game of Blackjack.

In the years to follow, a number of other states and countries around the world legalised Blackjack and it is now the most popular real casino game.

It was in the 1950’s when Roger Baldwin published a paper called “The Optimum Strategy of Blackjack”. This was the very first attempt to use mathematics to form a basic strategy which would reduce the houses edge and give players a better chance at winning. Although Baldwin’s efforts are recognisable, he didn’t have the proper technologies (computing systems) to take his theory to the next step.

About a decade later, in 1962, Dr. Edward Thorp, expanded on Baldwins theory and created an application of mathematics that he used to analyze blackjack odds and to develop a card counting system. This was the first time card counting was acknowledged and Thorp published his discoveries in a book titled “Beat the Dealer”. This book taught players tricks of the game that would make their odds equal to the dealers. The book was a best seller and absolutely got the attention of the casino.


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