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The Development of Blackjack: From Table to Online Screen

Find out how card game strategy, the internet and popular culture help drive the contemporary evolution of blackjack.

Over the years, blackjack has received a lot of press – both good and bad – and remains a casino game well loved by most online players. While it has existed for many centuries, the game continues to evolve till this day.

We explored the early history of blackjack dating as far back as 15th century Europe in the previous post on this blog. In this article, let’s take a closer look at how card tricks, the internet and popular culture have influenced the contemporary development of the game.


The birth of card counting and other tricks

One of the reasons blackjack remains the most popular casino table game is that strategies and techniques can be applied in the game to increase a player’s odds of winning. The most basic and common of these strategies is card counting, which helps players determine whether the next hand is more likely to benefit them or the dealer.

The birth of card counting is often credited to Edward O. Thorp, a mathematician who wrote Beat the Dealer in 1962 to prove that, with some basic calculations, it is possible to gain an advantage in the card game. He also invented the wearable computer to aid in cheating. Thorp wouldn’t be the last to spew advice to give the average player hope, and he certainly wasn’t the first either.

Though Thorp popularised the concept of card counting, the true pioneer of the craft was Jess Marcum, whose successful strategy eventually captured the attention of pit bosses and got him kicked out of many casinos. A private person who didn’t like to show off what he knew, Marcum didn’t make the knowledge of his tactics readily available to the public.

In 1957, engineers Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott published a book titled Playing Blackjack to Win to introduce their basic strategy to keep track of the cards and reduce the house edge. However, though they were ahead of Thorp by five year, their book didn’t garner as much attention as the famed author of Beat the Dealer.

Other prominent figures in blackjack were engineer and mathematician Harvey Dubner who introduced the high-low counting strategy, Ken Uston who popularised the concept of team play, and Stanford Wong who developed a strategy for the solo player.

Understandably, casinos wouldn’t give in to players’s tricks without a fight. Some of the defensive moves employed were increasing the number of decks used in a game and having dealers shuffle the decks prematurely to make card counting more difficult to perform.

Card counting cannot be done successfully without practice, of course. Though there were a few card counters who stood out for their skill and walked away with impressive winnings thanks to card counting, casinos ultimately benefited from players’ frenzied attempts to beat the house as most of them were simply not skilled enough to work card counting to their advantage.

The table game goes online

The world’s first true and legal online casino was developed by Microgaming in 1994, making casino games including blackjack more popular and accessible to players than ever before.

There are many advantages to playing blackjack online – one of them is that you don’t have to necessarily spend real money to have some fun. Many websites offer blackjack games in free play or practice mode, allowing players to get familiar with the gameplay and hone their skill before putting real money on the betting table.


Just as the internet has opened the door for a plethora of themes to be developed in slots, it has also provided a platform for various versions of blackjack to be conceived. Online, you can easily find the American variant of blackjack, the traditional European version, Pontoon variant that Australians know and love well, and many more options with twists to rules, different themes and other innovative features to capture the short attention span of players.

To optimise convenience, many of these online casinos offer games in no-download mode so that players can easily play blackjack on their tablets and mobile devices without the need to install any software.

Nevertheless, technology is not without its disadvantage. With online blackjack, the techniques of card counting cannot be applied since players can’t see the deck be manually shuffled. Additionally, no matter how exciting the variety of blackjack games available on the internet, playing blackjack online cannot replace the excitement of playing the game at an actual table, with a live audience rooting for you.

To make the table game more dynamic and recreate the atmosphere of a physical casino, online casinos have introduced live blackjack games featuring real dealers. This gives you a realistic table game setting without having to travel miles to a land-based establishment.

Moreover, unlike the first live games that were streamed from land-based casinos and had poor visual quality, today’s live dealer games feature high-definition visuals, numerous camera angles and even the ability to interact with the dealer, making the experience feels more realistic.

Blackjack in popular culture

A casino game that has endured the test of time will inevitably make its way into popular culture. Besides books that feature tips and guides to help readers become better at the game, many movies have been made that paint blackjack in a glamourous light, including Stacy’s Knight, 21, Rain Man and The Cooler. There are even documentaries that highlight various aspects of blackjack, such as the card-counting process in The Hot Shoe.

These all give players the opportunity to learn more about the table game and the incentive to give it a go themselves. To make the game a more engaging and social event, some casinos even organise blackjack tournaments, where players compete against each other as opposed to a casino dealer.


And just as online casinos like to introduce contemporary variants of the game, land casinos sometimes introduce their own versions too. Though blackjack has been proven time and again to be a beatable game, casinos continue to offer it and players continue to lap up the alluring opportunity to beat the house. It’s an endless battle, but that is quite possibly the draw of the table game.

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