THE ORIGINS OF BLACKJACK

Unlike many casino games that can trace their origin to hundreds of years BCm blackjack’s beginnings are unclear.

The prevailing theory is…

…the game didn’t originate at a specific point in history or in a specific location but evolved from several different games played in different parts of the world.

There are speculations that the game might date back to the Romans (who were enthusiastic gamblers despite its illegality in the Holy Roman Empire). There’s little evidence for this although it does make sense on a logical basis.

As far as the game’s documented history…

…it appears to begin in the 16th century. The first known reference is a literary one–it is mentioned in a book by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who gained his greatest fame for writing Don Quixote.

Cervantes was a gambling enthusiast and wrote a story called “Rinconete y Cortadillo” in a compilation called Novelas Ejemplares. Two of his primary characters in the story are gambling cheats working in Seville.

Their specialty is cheating at a game called ventiuna–the Spanish word for ’21’. Cervantes’ narrative explain the object of the game as trying to reach 21 points without going over.

He further specifies that the ace can be valued at both 1 or 11. Cervantes’ short story was written between in the early years of the 1600s which suggests that ventiuna was played in Spain since no later than the start of the 17th century.

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SIMILAR GAMES AROUND THE WORLD

The game appears to have really started to catch on in the 17th century. A game called Vingt-et-Un (the French term for ‘twenty one’) began to appear at casino spots in France during the early 17th century.

Most scholars…

…think that it was an adaptation of a couple of popular French card games Chemin de Fer and French Ferme, both of which were extremely popular at the time. Around the same time, a game called ‘One and Thirty’ was being played throughout Spain.

It deviates significantly from the game described by Cervantes–the primary goal of ‘One and Thirty’ was to reach 31 with a minimum of three cards.

Among the various games that may have given birth to modern day blackjack the French game ‘Vingt-et-Un’ had the most popularity and longevity.

It spread throughout Europe and eventually to North America via French colonists or sailors.

There’s some evidence to suggest that it first came to North America via New Orleans–that would make sense given the ‘Crescent City’s’ French heritage.

The rules of the game at this point were somewhat unweildy–only the dealer was permitted to ‘double’ and a round of betting was held between each card dealt.

BLACKJACK COMES TO NEVADA

The state of Nevada legalized gambling in 1931 and the game of ’21’ quickly became popular. It’s also about this time that the game established the ‘blackjack’ nickname.

The name derives from a side bet offered by some casinos that paid 10-1 on a ’21’ made with either ‘Black Jack’ (the Jack of Spades or Jack of Clubs). The bet didn’t last long but the name ‘blackjack’ caught on and is still used today.

The name ‘blackjack’ is used frequently by the public one place you won’t hear it used–in Nevada’s gambling industry. Casino employees and regulators invariably refer to the game as ’21’.

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