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Blackjack: A Brief

Blackjack: A Brief History of the World’s Favourite Casino Game

Written By Carla Harris

Playing cards are generally believed to have originated in China sometime around the 9th century, making their way to Europe some five centuries later. However there is also evidence that suggests they were first used in India, whilst others historians have found further evidence of them in the Islamic countries bordering the Mediterranean. Ultimately, though, everyone is in agreement that by the 14th century they were being used in Europe, where the 52 card deck and the modern concept of card suits were born.

The Italo-Spanish deck was made up of cups, coins, clubs and swords, but the suits that we know today (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) were courtesy of the French, which is where most people believe the game of Blackjack originated.

Like so many card games, there is no consensus as to Blackjack’s origins. It more than likely originated in France (like so many of the card games that migrated to North America), probably around 1700. It was called ‘Vingt-et-Un’ (Twenty-one), which explains why Blackjack is also known as ‘21’. It could also have been influenced by the card games ‘Chemin de Fer’ and ‘French Ferme’ – two very popular amusements with the gaming classes of the time.

However there was also a similar game that existed in Spain that predated the French version. Author of the classic novel ‘Don Quixote’, Miguel Cervantes referenced this version in a story called Ronconete y Cortadillo in Novelas Ejemplare, in the early 1600s, and this is the earliest written reference found to date that relates to the game of Blackjack. ‘Ventuina’, as it was known, also translates to 21 and although the deck on which it was played lacked eights, nines and tens, the aim was to reach 21 points.

The game travelled to North America with French colonists and soon spread through the continent. French culture was exceedingly popular with Americans at the time, which can explain why it caught on so quickly. However the rules were still different to the modern version played today. Nevada gambling houses began to introduce unique bonus hands to attract gamblers. One such bet offered a 10 to 1 payout for any player that achieved a 21-point hand made up of the Ace of Spades and either the Jack of Clubs or Spades – it was, of course, known as ‘blackjack’. The name soon stuck (although the payout didn’t!) and referring to the game as 21 became less and less common.

What is unique about Blackjack is that it continues to evolve and adapt, with new variants cropping up – especially at online casinos that usually boast a number of versions. It’s no surprise that Blackjack has maintained its popularity and is played in casinos, and online, around the world.

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