Origins: History of Blackjack

The early origins of modern blackjack

The early origins of modern blackjack are mysterious. The contemporary form of blackjack originates from vingt-un or vingt-et-un, which translates to 21. French and British colonists introduced this game to the United States and Canada. It grew in popularity here and developed into the blackjack game that we know today.

There are records of earlier, similar games in different European countries. Let's explore them.

Spain

The earliest mention of 21 is in a Spanish dictionary dated 1611. The entry for Carta or cards mentions the game of ventiuno (21). Don Quixote author, Miguel de Cervantes, provides a brief description of the game in his novella (short story) Rinconete y Cortadillo in 1613. The evidence suggests that ventiuno was played in Seville from the early 17th century or earlier.

Britain

The game of vingt-un was first recorded in England in the comedy play “dissipation” by Miles Peter Andrews, published in 1795. The actual rules appear in the 1800 edition of Hoyle's Games Improved, showing that this was already a popular pastime some years before the publication was released.

These rules remained unchanged until the 1850s when they began to evolve towards modern-day pontoon. Around the same time, the game became widespread in German-speaking countries.

After the First World War, Britons began referring to the game as pontoon. The pontoon rules are the same as the rules published by Trumps in 1870 for Vingt-un.

France

Vingt-un's first mention in France was in the gazette and literary magazine Mercure de France in 1768. Although this predates the first instance in England, the first rules were only published in France in 1817, almost two decades after Hoyle's published theirs in 1800.

Courtiers of Louis XV played vingt-un and, according to rumour, it was a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte. The game was popular among soldiers on both sides of the First World War, resulting in a new interest in the game as troopers began returning home.

Germany

By the 1850s, Germans played vingt-un, sometimes calling it siebzheinundvier (17 and four) or einundzwanzig (21). Its popularity continues to this day.

North America

Many sources claim that vingt-un arrived in North America with the soldiers returning from World War One. Others claim it only came with the era of the large casino in the 1930s. There is evidence that New Orleans saw the first legalized games played in the 1820s. The game was certainly around during the Klondike Gold Rush between 1896 and 1899.

The Modern Game

The Modern Game

There is no doubt that the modern game developed in North America. Blackjack in its present form started in the 1930s. After the legalization of gambling in Nevada, there was pressure to attract bettors to the new casinos. Around this time, the Nevada Gaming Commission published a set of standardized rules, establishing the game of modern blackjack. Casinos started offering exceptional 10:1 odds for making 21 with the ace of spades and any blackjack.

Many people believe that this is the origin of the name blackjack. However, French card historian, Thierry Dupaulis, proved that the name originated during the Klondike Gold Rush. ZincBlende is a mineral associated with gold or silver deposits and is known as blackjack. Prospectors began referring to the winning combination of an ace and any 10-point card in vingt-un as blackjack.

Rules

blackjack rules

Blackjack varies slightly according to the version, but the object of the game remains the same: to get as close to 21 as possible without going over or bust. The ace is used either as a one or 11 at the player's discretion.

The Play

The dealer will deal each player and himself one card face-up. He then places the second card face-up to the players and face-down to himself. Players may then request another card or hit, or they may stand. Once the players all stand, the dealer will turn his card face-up and continue to take cards until the value is 17 or more.

Betting

Bettors must make initial wagers before the deal. Players can create additional bets during the game, as explained below.

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Splitting pairs

If the player is dealt a pair with his first two cards, he may decide to split. That is to treat each of the cards as a separate hand. The original wager remains with the first card and an equivalent amount put on the second card.

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Doubling down

If the value of the first two cards dealt is nine, 10, or 11, the player may choose to double down. The player doubles his bet. The dealer deals one more card face-down. The card remains face-down until settlement at the end of the hand.

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Insurance

If the dealer's face-up card is an ace, players may make a side bet of up to half their original wager that the face-down card is a 10. This side bet pays out at 2-1, insuring the player against losing their initial stake.

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Settlement

If a player goes bust (over 21), the dealer collects the bet. If the dealer gets a natural (21 in the first two cards dealt), he collects the chips of all players who do not have a natural. If the dealer goes bust, all players receive their payout on bets that stand at less than 21.

If the dealer has less than 21, he will pay out any players with a higher total than his but less than 21. In the case of a tie, no chips change hands.

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Conclusion

The true origin of blackjack is unknown. There are even claims that the Romans played a similar game with tiles rather than the cards we see today. We know that blackjack is an enjoyable game with just the right mixture of chance and skill to keep punters interested.

Who wouldn't want to play a game that Napoleon's soldiers or Klondike Gold Rush prospectors enjoyed? Playing blackjack is like playing a little bit of history.

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