History of Blackjack

The history of Black jack is a contentious one and not all enthusiasts agree that the popular card game has its roots in France, but without any hard evidence to the contrary, Blackjack will go down in the annals of gambling history as being the successor of the French card games ‘chemin de fer’ and ‘French Ferme’. The French version of twenty-one – Vingt-en-Un – was originally played in the casinos of France in the early 1700’s and quickly moved across the Atlantic to the United States.

Possible Precursors of Blackjack

Although Vingt-en-Un, by the very nature of its name, bears some resemblance to Blackjack, it is a very different animal. The goal was to reach a final hand with cards totalling the chosen number 21, but the cards were dealt in rounds with bets on each round. Only the dealer, or house, could double and should he make 21 then all other players would have to pay him triple!

Another European card game, reputed to have contributed to the Blackjack we know and love, is the Italian game, ‘Seven and a Half’. It was played with only eights, nines, tens and the court cards, with the court cards counting as the ‘half’, and the King of Diamonds wild. This is, allegedly, the first card game where the player was ‘bust’ if the cards totalled more than the desired number of ‘Seven and a Half’.

The Spanish card game ‘One and Thirty’ also has a certain resemblance to Blackjack although the magic number was 31, not 21, and the game was played with 3 cards instead of two.

Blackjack moves to the United States

Blackjack is arguably a melange of several European counterparts, but whatever its origins it did not prove all that popular in the States and in an effort to get ‘bums on seats’ the gambling houses offered all sorts of outrageous bonus payouts, and one such bonus was a 10:1 payout if the player’s hand included the Ace of Spades and either black jack. The winning hand was accordingly dubbed a ‘Blackjack’ and the name stuck even though the ridiculous payout was very soon abandoned by the ever-cautious and predatory casinos, and neither an ace or jack is a prerequisite of a winning hand.

Interestingly enough casino tradition dictates that a payout of 3:2 is offered on a natural blackjack regardless of suit or colour!