Blackjack is a popular casino game with a very low house edge. It is a North American card game, entirely different from the UK based Black Jack, which is practically the same game as Crazy Eights. Contrary than many casino games that can trace their origin, Blackjack’s beginnings are the most debatable points in the history of all gambling games.
The theory that overcomes the others is that the game didn’t derive at a specific point in history or in a specific locale but evolved from several different games played in different parts of the world.
Some facts say that the Italian game “Thirty One” has lots of similarities with the current game of Blackjack, though the goal of the game was to get a total hand of 31 from 3 cards. The fact the game appeared in the XIV century makes this game the first ancestor of Blackjack as we know it today.
The first time this game was mentioned in an anti-gaming sermon by an Italian monk – St. Bernardine of Siena. The game was also mentioned in a book by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who gained his greatest fame for writing Don Quixote.
Cervantes was a gambling enthusiast himself and wrote a story called “Rinconete y Cortadillo”. 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 explains the object of the game as trying to reach 21 points without going over.
He further specifies that the Ace can be valued at either 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.
Also, another game of the 17th century from Italy made blackjack the game we know today because of the numerous features that resemble one another. The game “Seven and a Half” was very popular entertainment pastime with some similarities with the game of blackjack.
According to the rules of the game, it was played with only 8’s, 9’s, 10’s and face cards. The values of cards were the following: Aces were counted as 1; Face cards all counted as a ½ and all the rest cards were counted according to their values.
The King of diamonds in the game was considered as a wild card. Any player that received a total higher than 7.5 would automatically go bust. The player who got a value of 7 ½ won and was paid more than even money.
The dealer unlike in modern Blackjack was allowed to hit and stand when he wanted. At the same time, a game called Vingt-et-Un (the French term for ‘twenty one’) began to appear at casinos in France during the early 17th century.
Most game historians think that it was an adaptation of the French card games Chemin de Fer and French Ferme, which were both very popular at the time. ‘Vingt-et-Un’ 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 inconvenient where only the dealer was permitted to ‘double’ and a round of betting was held between each card dealt.
As in Europe, the game of Blackjack was mainly a game of entertainment, then professional gamblers in the USA tried to make it a source of gain by manipulating gaming odds and varying bets.
There were no specific governmental regulations for the gambling industry and that is why the game developed quickly and became more and more popular. It continued like this until the 19th century when the government of the US found out how gambling, influenced corruption and led to the organized crime.
The first green-felted table was made in 1919 and the game was the 3rd most popular after Roulette and Craps in 1931. In the next 15 years, Blackjack overtook Roulette and became the second most popular game, after Craps.
The first variant of blackjack basic strategy appeared in 1958, around the same time as card counting (1949 – first version, though the first blackjack basic strategy that gave the odds appeared in 1962 according to the history of card counting) as blackjack became the most popular gambling game.
Nowadays each and every online and land casino has not only traditional but several more blackjack variations. 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 has its origin 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 in one place you won’t hear it used–in Nevada’s gambling industry. Casino employees and regulators invariably refer to the game as ’21’.
Common Rules & Protocols
House edge or a casino edge is the percentage of each bet that the casino expects (the lower the house edge the bigger the chance for the player to win). In Blackjack, depending on the table rules it can be less than 1%. This advantage of the house is based on rules that favor the dealer.
One of them is the rule saying that the player must act before the dealer, which allows the dealer to have an advantage of the possibility of the players losing their bet before the dealer plays.
Black Jack is played with a standard international deck of 52 cards (the Jokers are removed). Casinos usually use up to 8 decks for one Black Jack game. Originally it was played with a single deck.
Casinos added multiple decks with the false assumption that it would be harder for the counter to keep track of all the cards. Besides the cards, Blackjack requires a table, chips, a discard tray, cut card and a shoe.
The shoe is a kind of dispenser which holds the large stacks of cards while making the practice of hole carding (a way of cheating by catching a glimpse) more difficult.
Every player and the dealer receive two cards each. The main starting difference is that the player’s cards are dealt face up, while only one of the dealer’s cards I face up while the other is face down and it’s called the hole card.
The dealer should be able to protect their down card from being seen by a player at the table (hole carding), so the player is not obliged to look away. However, if the player uses some kind of table signals and devices, the hole carding is treated as cheating.
The natural way of seeing the down card is legal in most of the jurisdictions. And the best opening in a Blackjack game is a deal of an Ace in combination with any ten point card.
Black Jack played with a single deck has a lower house edge. It is important to know the card values. The numbered cards have values corresponding to their number while the face cards have a value of 10.
The Ace can either have a value of 1 (hard value) or 11 (soft value). The purpose of the game is to come up with a hand value higher than the dealers but not more than 21. Should the player’s hand be more than 21, the player automatically loses the game (bust!).
In case the dealer has the same hand value as the player – it’s a push. All winning bets are paid by the dealer at one to one odds. In Blackjack, hands that consist of an ace and a face card are paid at 3:2 odds. In case the player loses, the dealer will take his bet.
Game Design & Aim
There can be up to 7 players at a Black Jack table but even one player can play alone against the dealer. One player can also play multiple hands. The player places a bet of 10 dollars. Dealer deals cards. Two to each player and two cards to himself.
First – face up and second – face down. The dealers up card are ‘6’ and the player’s cards are ‘6’ and ‘5’ for a total of 11. The player has two basic options: hit or stand.
In our example player makes the decision based on the dealer’s up card ‘6’ and his card total 11. Therefore player hits. Player receives a ‘9’ for a hand total of 20. Player stands. The dealer turns over his card – it is a King.
The dealer has a hand total of 16 and decides whether he hits or stands depending on table-specific rules. In this case, dealer hits on 16 or lower and stands on all, soft and hard, 17.
Dealer must hit and receives 10. Dealer has a hand total of 26 which is more than 21 so dealer busts. Player wins and gets paid one to one.
Advanced Gameplay Actions
Some advanced Black Jack actions. The player places a bet 10 dollars. Dealer deals cards. First dealer’s up card is ‘5’. Second card is placed face down. Player receives two cards, two aces and has a soft value 22 and hard value 2.
Player adds another 10 dollar bet to split the two aces. Now he has two hands. Player adds another $10 that to each of the split hands, to double down. The first hands receive a ‘5’ for a total value of 16.
The second hand receives a Jack of Blackjack. The player must always stand after double-down. Dealer shows the second card – it is Queen, making his hand worth 15. Dealer hits another card according to table rules and receives 5 to a total of 20.
Dealer stands. Player gets paid 1,5: 1 for the Blackjack and loses the second hand with a value of 16. The player can also make another advanced bet called “Insurance” in case dealer’s cob card is Ace.
Insurance pays 2:1 if the dealer has Blackjack but this bet only increases casino edge and is not recommended. Some casinos offer the option to surrender half of the players bet in case of not favorable cards. Surrender is recommended as it decreases casino edge.