History of Blackjack
Luck. How does one define the intangible concept of luck? Are some more lucky than others? Are some just blessed with a sixth sense that just happens to elude the masses, much like the story of blackjack’s path has eluded most quasi-historians?
It may sound somewhat sinister that “the legend of blackjack” is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, but there’s a certain truth to this. Furthermore, anything with an ambiguous past has a certain level of appeal. Besides the fact that blackjack like many other online games such as slots and Online bingo are undeniably fun, the underlying level of obscurity is definitely what draws in the crowds. The game has evolved through many ups and downs, but the foundations of the game have stayed unchanged throughout.
As legend has it, the game of blackjack first made its appearance in some form in French casinos around the turn of the 18th century. It is supposedly derived from old French card games like “French Ferme” and “Chemin de Fer”. Originally known as “Vignt-et-Un” (pronounced “Vant eh Uh”), the game gradually became identified as blak jack. The apparent reason behind this, was that when a player a Jack of Spades as the first card and an Ace of Spade of the second card, higher rewards were given to that player. And just because everyone loves a winner, it was only logical for the name “blackjack” to catch on.
That’s one side of the story. Another hypothesis is that when gambling became legal in Nevada in the 1930s, certain casino magnates saw the game of blackjack as a huge draw-card. Unfortunately, due to the game being relatively unknown at that time, the casino owners needed incentives to firstly draw gamblers to the casinos and secondly, to create a hype around the game of blackjack as a money-maker.
By encouraging better payout’s for players who were dealt a Jack of Spades or Clubs along with an Ace of Spades, many more players were drawn to the game. Blackjack became an instant hit with tourists, locals and those trying to seek their fortunes with the perceived better odds. The modern game of blackjack as I know it today was born.
But things were never that smooth running for the game. At the turn of the 20th century, American legislation banned any form of gambling. When blackjack was introduced to the United States on the back of the French Revolution, many members of the public were drawn to this free-spirited game. This led to a surge in underground gambling facilities and in turn, a large clamp-down by federal authorities on the thriving industry. By the 1930s the State of Nevada was the first to realize the huge income-generating potential of legalized gambling and soon thereafter, other states followed suit.
One would think that once something is legalized it would lose its underground and edgy appeal. This rule definitely did not apply to blackjack. On the contrary, the game’s popularity skyrocketed upon the legalization of gambling.
Blackjack was so popular by the 1950s that books were even written on it. Arguably the most famous piece was first published by the Journal of the American Statistical Association entitled The Optimum of Blackjack in 1956. This paper was submitted by Roger Baldwin who believed that the odds of winning at the blackjack tables could be significantly increased with the correct application of mathematical formulas. The paper was no longer than a half-score pages and consisted of mathematical formulas on how to win at card games.
This theory piqued the interest of the scientific world and before long, many gamblers believed that they too could beat the odds with a bit of calculated luck. In 1963, Professor Edward O. Thorp, who later became known as the “Einstein of Blackjack”, took Baldwin’s findings even further with his book entitled Beat the Dealer. This book spoke directly to the layman and with that, became a national bestseller. Now everyone was an expert. Thorp was the man who introduced the concept of “card counting”. Casinos were so thrown by this theory that they started to change the rules of blackjack so the advantage swayed back towards the casino owners. They even took it up to the point where card shuffling machines were introduced along with multiple decks of cards.
Although casino owners believed they were now in the driving seat, in the 1970s with the introduction of computers, the players once again found a way where they thought they could beat the system. From Stanford Wong’s Professional Blackjack in 1975 to Ken Uston’s pocket-sized computers that allegedly won him and his team over $100,000 in 1977 over just a small time period, the game has maintained its intrigue.
Even though blackjack has evolved from the game being played in pubs to the online blackjack version with extensions such as Vegas Strip Blackjack and Atlanta Blackjack, the core values and excitement potential has never left the game. Nowadays, blackjack is even available on cellular telephones where the digital explosion has allowed for men in China to play blackjack against housewives in Brazil.
So, with a basic overview of blackjack’s history in mind, how then does one define luck? Is there really a scientific loophole into the casino vaults? Or do some people just have that innate ability to call the right card at exactly the right time?
One thing is for certain. If George Orwell had written a book on blackjack, surely his most famous quote would have been “All gamblers are lucky. Some are just more lucky than others.