Blackjack History - Origin of the Game

How it all began

The origin of Blackjack history is one of the most debatable points in the history of all gambling games. Some say the game traces its roots to back to the French game "vingt-et-un" (21), which was popular in French casinos in the 17th century. Others believe the history of blackjack started from Italy, as an Italian game "Thirty one" appeared a lot earlier, in the 13th century. Let's find out all about these games.

Blackjack Evolution

The Game of Thirty One

The Italian game Thirty one was first mentioned in the XIV century.

The aim of the game was to get a hand totaling 31.

The Italian game "Thirty One" has lots of similarities with the current game of blackjack, though the aim of it was to get a hand totaling 31 from 3 cards. The fact the game appeared in the XIV century makes this game the first predecessor of blackjack as we know it today. The first time this game was mentioned was in an anti-gaming sermon by an Italian monk - St. Bernardine of Siena. This sermon led to public burnings of dice, cards and backgammon boards. This sermon dates back to 1440.

Pics from old cards decks Fun Fact: The first deck of cards was printed by Johan Guttenberg, also famous for printing the first Bibles. The deck had 22 trumps and 4 suits of 14 cards. Each suit had 10 numbered cards, a King, a Queen, a Knight and a Valet (Jester).

Francois Rabelais The game "Thirty One" was also mentioned in the classic and famous work by Francois Rabelais - "Gargantua and Pantagruel". The game was listed in Chapter XXII as one of the 100 games played by Gargantua: "… Then the carpet being spread, they brought plenty of cards, many dice, with great store and abundance of chequers and chessboards. There he played at flush, primero, the beast, trump…one-and-thirty…..". The reference dates back to between 1532 and 1542.

The game was then mentioned in one of the stories of the famous Spanish writer - Miguel de Cervantes, where he described a great blackjack, or "Trentuno", cheat. The story was called "Riconete and Cortadillo" and was published in 1613, which is over 150 years later than the first mention of 31 in Bernardine's sermon.

Seven and a Half

Seven and Half was very popular in Italy and brought lots of its features to modern blackjack.

Unlike in modern blackjack, the dealer could choose what to do in the game.

Another Italian game of the 17th century brought lots of features that make blackjack today the way we know and love it.

The Italian game "Seven and a Half" was very popular entertainment pastime with some similarities with the game of blackjack you will definitely notice. According to the rules of the game, it was played with only 8's, 9's, 10's and face cards. The values of cards were the following: Aces were counted as 1; Face cards all counted as a ½ and all the rest cards were counted according their values. The King of diamonds in the game was considered as a wild card. Any player that received a total higher than 7.5 would automatically go bust. The player who got a value of 7 ½ won and was paid more than even money. The dealer unlike in modern blackjack, was allowed to hit and stand when he wanted.

French Vingt-et-un

The game Vingt-et-un differed in many aspects from the game blackjack as we know it today, though there are still many common features. The cards in this game were dealt in rounds allowing players to bet on each of the rounds. Though the aim of the game was partly the same - to get a hand of 21, the game was different as only dealer could double and if he got a Natural, all the players would pay him triple. Player's Natural paid double and a busted hand was an automatic loser. In Vingt-et-un the Ace could be 1 or 11 which has carried on to the modern game

As you can see, the game of Vingt-et-un is similar to blackjack game, therefore it is mostly considered to be the true predecessor of modern Blackjack.

Vingt-et-un more than any other game is similar to modern blackjack.

The game was loved by the French elite and was even played by the mistress of the king Louis XV.

Napoleon in His study at the Tuileries Fun fact: Vingt-et-un was very popular among French and even the mistress of Louis XV, Madame du Barry loved this game so much she made the king organize "Vingt-et-un" parties to make her happy. Another interesting fact is that Napoleon, who was against card games as they distracted his soldiers, played Vingt-et-un daily on his exile on Elba to kill time.

All in All

All things considered, there are no hard facts and no one can say for sure what the origin of blackjack is. Some researchers believe this game has derived from other similar French game , however those games are based on accurate and well-balanced calculations. Also the fact that casino games very rarely mutate into other games is a strong argument that blackjack did not come from vingt-et-un or any other game.

Still, there are such scholars that think blackjack belongs to the family of games that includes Baccarat, Seven-And-A-Half and Vingt-et-Un, 21 and Pontoon. These games may be very familiar to you, and as there are lots of common features they all are considered to be the ancestors of modern blackjack.

Blackjack in America

When the game of 21 came to America it started a new era and soon became the most popular gambling game.

Blackjack in action From its origins in Europe, blackjack has spread out throughout the world and came to America after the French Revolution in 1789. The game became hugely popular after casino owners offered amazing bonuses (for a hand of Jack and Ace of Spades the player got a 10 to 1 payout which brings us to the origin of the name of Blackjack).

The first name for the game however was Twenty-One which has been used in New Orleans since 1823.

As in Europe the game of blackjack was mainly a game of entertainment, then professional gamblers in the USA tried to make it a source of gain by manipulating gaming odds and varying bets. There were no specific governmental regulations for the gambling industry and that is why the game developed quickly and became more and more popular. It continued like this until the 19th century when the government of the US found out how gambling, influenced corruption and led to organized crime.

Vegas According to many researchers, the modern history of the game of blackjack started with the Nevada Gambling Act of 1931 that legalized gambling in all Nevada casinos.

This led to many changes for blackjack history. As most of US states criminalised gambling, Las Vegas in Nevada attracted gamblers from all over the world to its casinos, and blackjack became one of the most popular games at all casinos. The interest in the game grew and was boosted with the book by Edward Thorp "Beat the dealer", and you can read about it in the History of card counting.

Modern Blackjack

The first green-felted table was made in 1919 and the game was the third most popular after Roulette and Craps in 1931. In the next 15 years blackjack overtook Roulette to become the second most popular game, after Craps. The first variant of blackjack basic strategy appeared in 1958, around the same time as card counting (1949 - first version, though the first blackjack basic strategy that gave the odds appeared in 1962 according to the history of card counting) as blackjack became the most popular gambling game. Nowadays each and every online and land casino has not only traditional but several more blackjack variations.

The game of blackjack is mostly played online nowadays allowing millions of players from all over the world to play this well-adored game even if the nearest casino is hundreds of miles away. Online blackjack has all the features of a land casino game and can offer players a lot more options. However, online blackjack leaves no chance for card counters as it is impossible to track the cards whilst playing online.

History of Blackjack - Summary

1440

First mentioning of a game Trentuno in a sermon by St. Bernardine of Siena.

1532 - 1542

Francois Rabelais mentioned the game one and thirty in "Gargantua and Pantagruel".

1613

The game was mentioned in a story by Miguel de Cervantes "Riconete and Cortadillo".

XVII beginning

The beginning of the XVII century brought us two games Seven and Half and Vingt-et-un, both believed to be predecessors of blackjack.

1789

After the French Revolution, the game came to America.

1931

Nevada Gaming Act legalized gambling in Nevada.

1949

The first book on card counting appeared.

1958

Blackjack Basic Strategy appeared in its first form.