The History of Blackjack

Blackjack as we know it likely started with a French game called Vingt-et-un (meaning twenty-one in French) that originated sometime in the late 17th century. In this game, the goal of each player was to reach a total of 21, also called a ‘Natural.’ However, this is where the similarity to our modern game of blackjack ends. Instead of placing a single bet, as is done in U.S. and European casinos, Vingt-et-un allowed bets to be placed after each round, marked by the dealing of another card. Additionally, only the dealer was allowed to double, a rule that would surely cause distress among gamblers today. Several other similar European games, involving counting card totals while attempting not to ‘bust,’ may also have contributed some rules to modern blackjack, but only Vingt-et-un appears to be the direct precursor.

‘Twenty-One’, the original name of the game in English that is still used sometimes today, first appeared in America in the late 1800’s. Apparently, the game didn’t catch on with U.S. casino audiences right away. As a way to attract new players, bonuses were offered on various plays and card combinations. One of these bonuses was the “blackjack,” where a hand consisting of the Ace of spades and either black Jack (clubs or spades) would pay the player 10-1. Although the bonus offer was not around for long, the catchy name stuck to the game.

Gambling, along with blackjack, was formally legalized in Las Vegas in 1931. By this time, it had already gained considerable popularity among American audiences. Roger Baldwin published he first basic strategy system in 1956 by, allowing all players the opportunity to play with a minimal house edge and further increasing the popularity of the game.