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Blackjack History

Card games like blackjack have a long line of history of how it came to be and how it evolved to be the game everyone knows today. It goes back to many centuries ago that sometimes it is quite impossible for historians and researchers to get accurate details in tracing the roots. This is the case of blackjack, a popular card game in casinos. Although it is played by many leisure and professional gamblers alike, its history remains elusive.

However, there are unquestionable facts about the history of blackjack. Researchers agree that the game started in the 17th century in France. In those days, the most popular casino game was called the Vingt En Un which literally means “21” when translated from French. This is actually not the first ancestor of blackjack although it is obvious that is one of the origins of the popular card game people know today. 

The rules of Vingt En Un are not exactly the same when compared to the rules of modern blackjack. In Vingt En Un, only the dealer could play double and players have to place a bet every round. In modern blackjack, even players can play double and they have to option to skip a bet if they do not wish to participate in a round.

The two games are similar in terms of the goal of reaching a total of 21 per hand to win a round. In the old French card game, getting 21 is called “natural,” while in the modern card game known today, this phenomenon is rather known as getting a “blackjack.” In Vingt En Un, there is a special French name given to a hand of Jack and ace of spades. This hand is the most ideal that could come up and thus it was given a special name. When the French name is translated in English, it means black jack.

At about the same time that Vingt En Un was fast gaining popularity in French casinos, another game called Seven and a Half was becoming a hit in Italy. This game was played using only face cards (jack, queen, and king) and the 7s, 8s, and 9s. All others are removed from the deck. The goal is achieve a hand totaling seven and half points. All face cards are valued at half point or 0.5 each while a 7, 8 or 9 gets one full point. Furthermore, the king of diamonds can act as a wild card. It can be any card a player wants it to be. A total of over 7.5 points is a bust. Many researchers believed that the term “bust” used in modern blackjack was derived from this Italian game of Seven and a Half.

Blackjack took a very strong turning point in history right after the French Revolution when the game spread to North America. The game was an instant hit to the North American settlers especially since there were no laws prohibiting gambling or any card game during this time. Professional gamblers took a special interest in blackjack as the saw its potentials. They took it upon themselves to study the game more closely and develop basic strategies to significantly increase the odds of winning. 

As the 19th century set in, blackjack was already one of the most sought after game in casinos. However this was also the same time that the US government started drafting new policies governing gambling as they believed that the activity corrupted the minds of the society and encouraged organized crime. And thus, it was only short after the beginning of the 19th century that gambling was banned and outlawed in the US.

US citizens nonetheless continued to play blackjack and other casino games albeit underground. The more that gambling was restricted the more that these people could not be controlled. The popularity of blackjack continued to surge even if the ban was not being lifted. This went on until the turn of the 20th century. Eventually in Nevada, gambling became legal again. That was the year 1931. From there on, Las Vegas will never be the same again. With the legalization of gambling came many casino houses sprouting in Las Vegas. It attracted more and more players to prove that card games like blackjack are entertaining a lot of Americans. As more years continued to pass henceforth, science decided to dip its nose and investigate this phenomenon.

Roger Baldwin was the very first man to attempt to study blackjack along with his associates in 1953. Theirs was a very scientific study backed with statistics and mathematical calculations in their aim to reduce the house edge percentage. Their findings and conclusions were published three years after at the American Statistical Association. The article title was “Optimum Strategy in Blackjack.” This became the first ever publicly released strategy guide for this casino card game.

There were limitations to Baldwin’s study because the tools used in his research were not sophisticated. Another person by the name of Professor Edward O. Thorp attempted to take on what Baldwin has started and understand blackjack using math and science. He polished Baldwin’s studies using more advanced calculating systems. In 1962 he released his findings via a book entitled “Beat the Dealer.” Through Thorp, the first actual blackjack card counting system was born.

This book was a huge success and found its way in the top spot of the New York Times’ bestseller list. The impact of the book took both players and casinos by storm. For the players, it was gained knowledge to increase their chances of winning in blackjack. For the casino owners however, they tried to control the damage caused by the book in hopes of keeping their casinos in operation. Later on however, casino owners have realized that the book was not much of a threat after all. In fact, because of the book, more and more newbie players wanted to try the game and that meant more clients for casinos.

Another prominent player in the history of blackjack is Julian Braun. He was a former IBM employee who used his proficiency in computers to study blackjack using a simulator. His work was appended in the second edition of Beat the Dealer.

After Beat the Dealer, another book came out entitled “Playing Blackjack as a Business” which was authored by Lawrence Revere. This book was crucial in inspiring many players to play blackjack not just for entertainment but as a means to earn more money as well.

Ken Uston is considered the big hero of blackjack because he inspired millions around the world through his book called “Million Dollar Blackjack.” He, along with colleagues, produced a computer device that could be inserted in shoes. This invention was very helpful to professional blackjack gamers.

In the 1990s, a new card counting technique was invented by a group of players. This technique was called the MIT Blackjack Team. This group made millions just by playing blackjack until they were banned from casinos in 1997. The Griffin Investigation team ruled that those chips inserted in shoes were a form of cheating.

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