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Casino news | Aug 16, 2021

Origins and History of Blackjack

By RTR Dennis

Card hands 18th century full 1 655x200

The History of Blackjack

Welcome to a series of blogs on the origins of, and interesting points about, the myriad of games played at casinos. Today we start with the daddy of them all, Blackjack. Any casino worth its salt has Blackjack, it’s a staple of a good casino and needs to be treated with the reverence it deserves. Blackjack is a very simple game on its surface but delve deeper and it becomes more and more complicated, with numerous tactics and stratagem. Whether you are a gut feeling player following your instincts, a calculating player following your strategy to a T or indeed, like most people, somewhere between the two, there is so much to enjoy with this classic card game.

The first mention of this famous game in literature is famously but incorrectly attributed to the brilliant author Miguel de Cervantes’ even more brilliant novel Don Quixote. The first reference is actually in a series of earlier short stories penned by the same author. Rinconete y Cortadillo is about a pair of poor young boys who scratch a living by playing cards. The game they play is called veintiuna, which is Spanish for twenty-one. The way the game is described in the book suggests that the veintiuna was very much like modern Blackjack!

What’s even more interesting is that the game would have been played with a Spanish deck which has the 10’s removed. That would make veintiuna similar to what we now call Spanish 21. According to Katrina Walker’s book The Pro’s Guide to Spanish 21, this particular form of Blackjack, along with its Australian counterpart Pontoon, is statistically the most beatable variation of the game that exists!

Blackjack has a long and sometimes shady past, in the 1970’s and 80’s Blackjack teams cornered the market in American casinos and the exploits of legendary teams of students from MIT and other colleges were captured in Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House. It was later turned into a film starring Kevin Spacey. At one point, whole casino floors would be filled with MIT Blackjack teams in a variety of disguises as they used their formidable card-counting skills to “bring down the house”. By the 1990s, it’s estimated that Bill Kaplan’s MIT Blackjack Team won over $100 million playing Blackjack.

Moving to more modern times the popularity of Blackjack has shown no sign of waning and is still the most popular casino card game after all this time, with the 2017 World Series of Blackjack grand prize being an incredible $500,000!

Though, as they say, change is the only constant and that includes casinos and in 1996 the first ever online casino was created and of course, they had Blackjack! It didn’t take long for others to see the massive potential in online casinos and online gambling boomed with a current value of over fifty billion dollars worldwide and there are no signs of that popularity declining any time soon.