Cards: their history
Card games were played in ancient China, at around 900 AD. The Chinese used paper money and kind of “shuffled” them to form different combinations. That was why the term they used for cards was translated as “paper tickets”.
Then “paper tickets” gaming developed into playing cards. The first card versions were invented by Islam followers and were attractively embellished with patterns. By the time cards spread to Europe, to Italy and Spain, there was a change in the patterns. The pictures of royal people and kings started to be used. With the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg it became possible to print decks of cards, too. The queen also joined the pictures on cards in the 1500s: the French were the people who replaced one of the male cards with a female one, with the Queen picture.
In the 1600s, the traditional 52 card deck started to be made. It was known as “French Pack”. Later it became popular with the English, too.
Blackjack: origin and history
You cannot say that Blackjack was invented by just one person. It is thought it originated in the distant past, and developed to its present form. Now, thanks to the web’s opportunities, it is developing, too, and there are different Blackjack versions you can play.
Some people think that the Romans were the first to start playing the first version, and they used wooden blocks which had different numbers. The Romans were fans of gambling, indeed, but this theory has not been proved.
The French had a game which stemmed from their games called “Chemin de fer” and French Ferme”. They were card games. “Fer” was the French word for iron, and the name came because they kept the cards in an iron box. From them, another game developed called “Vingt-et-Un”(which means 21). It was a game that originated in the 1700s; it was popular in the 18th century, and served as the basis for the most popular version of Blackjack.
In “Vingt-et-Un”, the players had to get a “natural” with 21 cards, but the rules for that Blackjack were different from the rules that exist for modern Blackjack. The cards were dealt in a round, and then the players betted on the round. Then another round and betting followed, etc. Only the dealer could double. When he reached a Natural, the other players had to pay him triple.
It is also worth mentioning that another game can join the list of games considered the parents to Blackjack. It was an Italian game called “Seven and a Half”. In it, only 8s, 9s, 10s, and face cards were used to play. The face cards counted as the “half”. The wild was the King of Diamonds. Let us point out that it was considered the first game in which there was an automatic “busting” of a player if the cards were over the “Seven and a Half” number.
One more game, a Spanish one, also gave the idea for the forming of the present Blackjack game. It was called “One and Thirty”. The main rule in it was to reach 31, using a minimum of three cards, not two.
Blackjack came to the United States
Then “Vingt-et-Un” spread to the United States. French colonists were the people who brought it there in the 1800s. Gambling halls started to offer it in 1910, starting from the state of Indiana, in Evansville. The game soon spread in popularity. It still was called “21” when it became popular in Nevada in 1931. The state of Nevada was the first to make gambling a legal activity. Some casinos wanted to attract more gamers, and they offered a special bet. In that bet, a hand with either Blackjack, the Jack of Spades or the Jack of Clubs, plus the Ace of Spades, paid 10 to 1 odds on the bet made by the lucky player. In some gambling houses, both the Jack of Clubs and the Jack of Spades were recognized for the getting of the 10 to 1 payout. This special feature did not stay on for long, but the name Blackjack remained for the game, and now it is known under that game. In casinos, the payout offered is 3 to 2, no matter what the suit or color is.
Other games similar to Blackjack
In Russia, the name under which the game is known is again “21”, or “Ochko”. The Pontoon game is another early variation. To finish the list of games similar to Blackjack, let us mention California Aces.
Pontoon is played in different countries. In Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, it is like MatchPlay 21, or the Spanish 21 game. It is played with many customized card decks. In the United Kingdom, Pontoon is closer to the conventional Blackjack. It is played with single decks of 52 cards. The terms “twist”, “stick”, and “buy” are used. “Twist” is used for “hit”, “stick” is used for “stand”. “Buy” is used for doubling the bet, not for doubling down. The player can buy on any hand with 2 to 4 cards, and after the player buys, he can twist.
Mathematics started to be used to help players win
Mathematics can be very useful when you play Blackjack. In the 1950s, Roger Baldwin published “The Optimum Strategy of Blackjack”. That was the first attempt to help players build a basic strategy, naturally to give them a higher chance of winning. But Baldwin did not have modern computer systems at his disposal.
About ten years later, Dr. Edward Thorp continued Baldwin’s theory, and analyzed the odds. He was a mathematician, a lecturer at MIT, and was truly fascinated by Blackjack for life. He ran his models on an IBM 704. Together with Emmanuel Kimmel, a businessman, Thorp went to Reno, Nevada, and played Blackjack, using innovative card counting techniques. He developed a system of card counting. Thorp’s ideas were published in a book entitled“Beat the Dealer”. Players who read it learned tricks that could help them to make their odds equal to the odds of the dealers. Of course, the book turned into a bestseller.
Another contributor for using mathematics to help count cards was Ken Uston who made a windfall thanks to his techniques in the beginning of the 1970s. His IQ was 169! He was admitted to Harvard University at the age of 16, and after graduating became a Vice President of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. He worked with an electronics engineer who developed a computer that could play Blackjack perfectly and could be won without the people around noticing. They won whopping amounts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. They were barred from casinos, but the court ruled in their favor.
Stanford Wong is known as Blackjack’s Godfather. He managed to beat the Continuous Shuffle Machines at the Mirage casino and his two teams won tens of thousands of dollars. The machines were removed, but they have been reintroduced and improved since then. The word “wonging”, related to card counting, comes from Wong’s surname.
As Blackjack was played on, casinos wanted to introduce changes, because they were not making enough profits: newer and newer ways were developed which helped players to beat the dealer. Blackjack was enormously popular, and the solution was not to take it off casinos. To regain the house advantage, casinos understood that they had to make changes in the rules. But players did not lake that, and many stopped going to casinos. The original rules had to be brought in force again.
But with the passing of years, casinos managed to find ways to get around the ways of card counting, and still maintain Blackjack in its original structure. Nowadays multiple decks of cards are used, and shuffling is done very often. So the house has good control of the odds.
Present casinos offer fair gaming, and modern land and online casinos are often audited for fairness. Cheating and card counting are strictly forbidden. But players still look for ways to beat casinos and get around the gaming rules. In 2002, a book entitled “Bringing Down the House” was published. In it, a true story is described, the story of a group of engineering students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That happened in the 1990s. They engaged in high rolling gambling at weekends, and formed the MIT Blackjack Club. They used computer analysis and techniques for card counting, and as a result won millions in Blackjack in different casinos in the US.
The competition between casinos and players is going on, and is becoming smarter. Thanks to modern technology, casinos now have the edge. But Blackjack continues to attract players with the opportunities of showing off skills. Let us point out, too, that the chances for winning in that game are much more auspicious than in games like Roulette or Craps. You can get home not only pleased with the practicing of skills, but also with a nice winning as a reward for that.