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Discover the History of Blackjack

Like many games, blackjack could be found in various forms throughout history.

There’s no denying the appeal of taking a risk and being rewarded handsomely when the eggs are placed in the right basket. That is why slot games are such popular casino games – they are the simplest form of game of chance that anybody could play.

However, another casino game that proves enduring in garnering the devotion of punters is blackjack. Unlike slots, blackjack involves an element of skill. As players have to decide whether to hit or stand in order to move a game forward, blackjack gives them a sense of control, which is especially appealing to players who dislike the feeling of relying entirely on luck to win a game.

Couple the element of skill with simple rules that allow any beginner to quickly learn how to play the game, it is no wonder that blackjack is the most popular table game in the world.

Though its exact origin is highly debated among experts and historians, most agree that blackjack is developed from card games first played in France and Spain.


The earliest forms of the card game

One of the first written accounts of a game that remotely resembles the contemporary blackjack was a 1602 short story by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who referenced the game Ventiuna – the Spanish word for 21.

That said, many experts would argue that blackjack originated in the French casinos of the 1700s, where a card game called Vingt-et-un, which also translates to 21, was played. Vingt-et-un is thought to have derived from card games such as Chemin de Fer and French Ferme, which were popular at that time.

The game of 21 could have also been influenced by other early card games in Europe, including the Spanish Trente-un (31), French Quinze (15) and Italian Sette e Mezzo (Seven and a Half). The roots of these games can be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

While every game has its unique set of rules, the main objective of each of these games was for the player to draw cards and go as close to a certain value as possible without busting.

Blackjack arrives in America

The card game of 21 made its way from Europe to North America thanks to French colonists. It was popularised in America in the 19th century, when the game made its appearance at legalised gambling halls in New Orleans.

Gambling wasn’t always legal in the rest of America. Blackjack only showed up in Nevada in 1931, when the state legalised gambling, and many more years passed before other states followed suit. Following the legalisation of gambling, the Nevada Gaming Commission changed the rules of the popular card game, which stand till this day.

When the game first came to America, it was still known as 21 and didn’t immediately become popular as gamblers still preferred playing the more familiar craps and poker.


To attract players to the game, casinos promoted huge payouts of ten-to-one on a specific hand – ace of spades paired with either the jack of spades or the jack of clubs. Coined the blackjack hand, this feature caught the attention of gamblers and helped the game gain great popularity.

Even after casinos stopped offering huge payouts for blackjack hands, gamblers continued to enjoy the game, and the name stuck around.

A memorable figure in the early development of this card game in America was Eleanor Dumont, a skilled dealer who moved from, some say Louisiana, while others say France, to California, where she opened a gambling hall in Nevada City.

Known for her charm and poise in handling the unpolished crowd of predominantly miners, people flocked to her gambling hall to have the opportunity to play a game with her. Dumont was quite a rarity in a scene where women were hardly seen playing card games, let alone be so skillful as to beat the men who played against her.

Pontoon in Australia

Naturally, as blackjack travelled to different parts of the world, variations of the game developed. In Australia, where gambling quickly became a favourite pastime, the casino table game of choice was pontoon, a version of blackjack that more closely resembles Spanish 21.

Pontoon is played with four, six or eight Spanish decks, which are regular packs of 52 cards excluding the four cards carrying the value of ten. This results in 48 cards per deck. Pontoon is also played without a hole card. As tens benefit the house more, the removal of these cards in Pontoon is seen as an advantage to players.

It is important to note that the Australian version of Pontoon is different from another blackjack variant of the same name that is played with regular 52-card decks. The latter more closely resembles the classic blackjack and is played predominantly in the United Kingdom.

Tricks up players’ sleeve


The late 1950s was when blackjack really caught on in the gambling circle. In 1956, Roger Baldwin’s The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack showed that it was possible to use mathematics to a gambler’s advantage and beat the house.

Six years later, Edward O. Thorp published Beat the Dealer, a book that became a hit among blackjack players, though probably not so much among casinos. By the 1970s, players were using computers to create and run simulations in their quest to discover the ultimate strategy in beating the house. Some even began pushing the idea that blackjack could be a viable career path, such as Lawrence Revere, who wrote the book Playing Blackjack as a Business.

Becoming aware of the threat at hand and that single-deck blackjack was vulnerable to tricks such as card counting, casino operators devised the “shoe”, which held multiple decks of cards.

The use of multiple decks in blackjack protected casino protectors against card counters. Even then, many skilled blackjack players have beaten and continue to beat casinos at their game, warranting some casinos to even ban these individuals from their establishments.

A dynamic and suspenseful game that drives players and casinos alike to great lengths to have the upper hand in the battle, blackjack is definitely here to stay and we look forward to watching it continue to evolve.

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