Blackjack is the quintessential card game. It is hard to find anyone who has ever played cards but does not know how to play it. Whether for money or fun, people just seem to feel comfortable with it. So where and how did it all begin?
The game of blackjack originated in Latin Europe. Three countries claim to be the “mother of blackjack” – Italy (Baccarat), Spain (One-and-Thirty), and France (Trente-et-Quarante).
What all these games had in common was the players’ goal of “playing” a dealt hand until a particular numerical value was reached.
However, it is widely agreed by gaming experts that from Trente-et-Quarante a new game – very similar to modern blackjack – was born, called Vingt Un, and this was the came that crossed the Atlantic ocean shortly after the American civil war.
By the Prohibition Era, the game was renamed as “blackjack” by casinos as part of a promotion promising jackpot payouts to players who could achieve a winning twenty-one hand with a black jack card.
The casino promotions were very successful and by the end of World War II it was the most popular card game in American casinos, due mainly to its simplicity and excellent odds.
In 1955 an American statistician had an idea. He realized that nobody except other professors cared about whether his theories were correct.
But what if he could use a theory of probability to make money in a casino? He saw that casinos were using a single deck of cards on their blackjack tables, and so if he could count the cards dealt – or at least the picture cards – he could tell whether the odds were in favor of the player betting or not.
After using his theory with his friends to win a good chunk of money in Las Vegas, he cashed in further by writing a book revealing the formula. It ended up a bestseller!
The casinos’ blackjack profit margins shrank, so they changed the rules to make using the formula impossible. But players responded by refusing to play.
Here the casinos made a smart move: they brought back the old rules game but quietly made other changes that would render the card counting systems useless.
Ironically, all the publicity from the book made blackjack so popular that by the 1970s the casinos’ profits from the game were bigger than ever.
Blackjack remains the most popular casino card game everywhere.