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1800s 1600s 1930s 1807 21 The Spanish 21 The French to Hoyle 21 According Blackjack Las Vegas

THE HISTORY OF BLACKJACK

Step back in time to where it all began

Blackjack has a long and storied history. The popular casino game finds its roots in other cultures, where it was named Vingt-et-Un or Pontoon. Along the way, the popular card game was carried across the U.S. frontier via gambling dens all through the American South to the West. Along the way, the game developed unique variants, which eventually evolved into the most common form of 21 known today: blackjack. In order for blackjack to make the jump from brick-and-mortar to the online casino – years of legislation and technical advancement was required. Over the past 2 decades, online gambling has grown from a few online poker rooms to a multi-billion-dollar industry. Today you can play all of your favorite casino games for real money from your computer or smart device.

1600s: The Spanish 21
600s: The Spanish 21

Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, was a famous gambler. In one of his tales, a pair of card sharks excelled at cheating in a game called veintiuna (Spanish for 21). This was the earliest mention of the popular game with no clear origin.

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1800s: The French 21
1800s: The French 21

The Spanish game of 21 makes its way to France, where it is called Vingt-et-Un.

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1807: 21 According to Hoyle
1807: 21 According to Hoyle

Vingt-et-Un made its way to America, where it became known as 21.

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1930s: Las Vegas Blackjack
1930s: Las Vegas Blackjack

21 became known as blackjack due to some innovative promos in Las Vegas casinos.

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1600s: The Spanish 21
1600s: The Spanish 21

Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, was a famous gambler. In one of his tales, a pair of card sharks excelled at cheating in a game called veintiuna (Spanish for 21). This was the earliest mention of the popular game with no clear origin.

Click for whole story
600s: The Spanish 21 1600
600s: The Spanish 21

Cervantes wrote his short story about 2 cheating gamblers in around 1601 or 1602. Rinconete y Cortadillo, the 2 cheaters named in the story, worked the streets of Seville, cheating unlucky punters out of their coins. The Spanish baraja deck of 48 cards was used to play the game of veintiuna (21).

As the story goes, the sneaky duo would gather would-be marks to explain the game. The aces were worth 1 or 11, and the goal was to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. The cards of the punter were compared to the dealer, and whoever was closer to 21 won. By mention of the rules of the game, we can be certain that 21 was being played in early 17th century Spain.

Whether or not those cheating card sharks received justice or escaped, you’ll have to read the original tale to find out. But the popular game of 21, whether it was carried around Europe by Spanish card sharks – or spread by the local gentry – eventually made its way to France.

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1800s: The French 21 1800
1800s: The French 21

The French version of 21 was originally called Vingt-Un, French for 21. It was later called Vingt-et-Un, which was first mentioned in the rules of the Petite Académie des Jeux in 1817.

Unlike the Spanish card deck, French 21 was played with a 52-card pack of ‘French-suited’ playing cards. While the symbols for the card suits were different, the aim of the game was still to score a 21 or as close to it as possible. The banquier (banker) deals the cards to the joueurs (punters), who then place their stakes.

Two cards are dealt to the banker and each punter one at a time, and if a punter gets an ace and 10 or an ace and a court card, he scores an ‘immediate 21.’ And in the case of French 21, the banker pays the lucky punter with the immediate 21 double his/her wager. Of course, if the banker also has the same value hand, both hands are nullified, and the punter keeps their bet.

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1807: 21 According to Hoyle 1807
1807: 21 According to Hoyle

While French-speaking gamblers from New Orleans might have still called it Vingt-et-Un, the Anglophones started calling it twenty-one, shortened to 21. In order to keep the rules stable and keep them from being lost in translation, a man named Hoyle meticulously recorded the details of many popular card games, including 21.

A more detailed explanation of the game developed, as well as some variants. Most of the common blackjack variants today are based on the same rules as the original European 21 varieties, with some minor exceptions.

In modern versions of 21, punters have different types of bets they can make before and during play, depending on the cards drawn and the rules of the table. The generous French double payments for immediate 21s were reduced to 3:2 or 6:5. Later 21 variants allowed punters to ‘split’ or ‘double down’ when certain cards appeared.

When 2 cards of the same value are dealt to a player on the opening deal, the player may split the hand to make 2 new hands, thus doubling the bet. Splitting 2 aces is a very desirable result, because the plentiful 10 value cards can bring instant 21s to both hands.
When dealt a 9, 10, or ace, a player may be offered the chance to ‘double down’ or double their bet. If they win, they are paid double. If they lose, they lose double. Doubling down is not wise when a dealer’s hand shows 10 or ace.

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1930s: Las Vegas Blackjack 1930
1930s: Las Vegas Blackjack

When the casino scene burst onto the Nevada deserts in 1931, the small town of Las Vegas was one of the first Nevada towns to take advantage of newly-legalized gambling in the state.

The first Las Vegas casinos were more like honky-tonk roadhouses than the casinos we know and love today. They had their charms, though: sawdust on the floors, a Western theme, and plenty of card games. And of course, when gamblers brought their families to a Las Vegas Western-style ‘resort,’ they could expect pony rides for the kids and cheap T-bone steak dinners.

The majority of Las Vegas casinos were located downtown, as the Strip had not yet been developed. A few straggling cowpoke, dude-ranch-styled casinos popped up in the Vegas suburb of Paradise, Nevada. After some heavy investments by notorious gangsters like Bugsy Siegel and others, Paradise would later evolve into the Las Vegas Strip we know today. But in the early 1930s, all the action was in downtown Vegas.

As downtown Vegas was just gaining popularity as a gambling town, casinos sprang up right and left. Proprietors of these early gambling joints offered the usual cheap steak dinners, prizes, and promos, until some casino owners came up with a novel concept: big payouts for getting a certain rare combination of 21.

When players were dealt an ace of spades plus a black jack (jack of clubs or spades), they won a 10-to-1 payout. The hand was called ‘blackjack,’ which became wildly popular. However, the casinos had to rethink their payout strategy when too many punters began draining the casinos. Apparently, blackjacks were more common than previously thought – especially when casinos were playing with multiple decks of cards.

Casinos withdrew their 10-to-1 payouts for blackjacks in favor of more conservative 3-to-2 payouts. However, the name blackjack remained long after the promo ended. Nowadays, any instant 21 made up of any ace and any 10-value card is called blackjack, regardless of suit or card colors.

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1600s: The Spanish 21 1600
1600s: The Spanish 21

Cervantes wrote his short story about 2 cheating gamblers in around 1601 or 1602. Rinconete y Cortadillo, the 2 cheaters named in the story, worked the streets of Seville, cheating unlucky punters out of their coins. The Spanish baraja deck of 48 cards was used to play the game of veintiuna (21).

As the story goes, the sneaky duo would gather would-be marks to explain the game. The aces were worth 1 or 11, and the goal was to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. The cards of the punter were compared to the dealer, and whoever was closer to 21 won. By mention of the rules of the game, we can be certain that 21 was being played in early 17th century Spain.

Whether or not those cheating card sharks received justice or escaped, you’ll have to read the original tale to find out. But the popular game of 21, whether it was carried around Europe by Spanish card sharks – or spread by the local gentry – eventually made its way to France.

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