Hit Me: A Blackjack History

Blackjack Card Game

Easy to learn, fun to play, a casino classic with a legacy that stretches back for half a millennia. Blackjack is one of the world’s most iconic card games. The magic number is 21. Hit it and you’re good. Get close and it’s only the dealer you have to beat.

The story of Blackjack is interwoven with that of the playing card. Card games can be traced back to the 9th century AD China, when the actual cards were used as substitutes for money. By the 11th century, suits and court cards had appeared in Persia and Arabia.

The earliest record of playing cards in Europe was in the city of Berne in 1367. In the mid-15th century, the first consistent printed decks were produced. Head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, to see the Flemish Hunting Deck: the oldest complete set of ordinary playing cards in the world, dating from around 1450.

Dealing with Don Quixote

Jump forward 150 years and we get the first ever written reference to the forefather of Blackjack, by iconic Spanish author, and Don Quixote creator, Miguel de Cervantes. Keen card player Cervantes writes about a game called ‘veintiuna’ (Spanish for 21). The aim of the game is to get a point total as close to 21, without going over. In the game, aces counted as either one or 11 points.

In the next two centuries, the game would migrate and make its way around Europe and the world. In France and Britain, the game was known as Vingt-Un. In the 1800s, it is believed that French colonists took the game to New Orleans where it established itself as a casino favourite.

Blackjack by Any Other Name

Up until the early twentieth century, the game was still called Vingt-Un. The origin of the name ‘Blackjack’ is controversial.

The original theory is that the name Blackjack was the result of a bonus payout offered by gambling houses to tempt players to play. In the promotion, if a player drew the ace of spades, and any black jack, the payout would be a generous ten to one. This rewarding hand was called a Blackjack and, although the offer came to an end, the name stuck.

However, some experts dispute this; citing it is nothing more than hearsay with no evidence. Another theory is that the game was named by prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush. Blackjack was the nickname given to the mineral zincblende – often rich with gold and silver deposits. It seemed appropriate that the best hand in the game should be honoured with this name.

The Classic Card Game

Whatever the origin story, today, Blackjack is universal, popular, and here to stay. Every casino – both on and offline – has a Blackjack table. The basic rules are universal but there are scores of variations to discover. It’s also a game that is easy to play, with a low house edge and suspense built into every hand.

Some of the variations include a bonus for triple 7, the option to play two hands and switch cards, the dealer hitting on soft 17, free double downs on certain totals, and the option to split more than once. These can vary from casino to casino. If you are cheeky enough, you can even request some of these. You might get a positive response.

There are also options to surrender and/or take insurance. Some casinos allow single deck Blackjack but most will have a six-deck shoe. These large multi-deck shoes make card counting very difficult, unless – of course – you are the Rain Man.

Tweak and Stick

Every casino will have its own tweaks. Online, you can find hundreds of different versions of the popular card game; watch out for Blackjack pro, Blackjack single hand, Blackjack surrender, Blackjack peek, buster Blackjack, Blackjack multiplayer, Blackjack super 21, and many more. It’s worth taking your time to find the right game. The house edge can quickly shift from ‘great’ to ‘meh’.

Ray Charles set it to music, Kevin Spacey counted the cards, Rain Man saved the day, and Austin Powers stuck on five. Download an online crib sheet and play the perfect game. With 500 years on the clock, it’s still the casino classic that always draws a crowd. Hit me.

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