The History of Blackjack

The French gambling game called Vingt-et-un or Twenty-one is often cited as the nearest predecessor of the American game called blackjack because the French game also called for cards with a total value of 21. It is believed that Vingt-et-un was brought to the United States in the 1900s when it began to appear in gambling halls in Indiana.

The game was renamed blackjack in the US after the gambling halls offered to give a bonus to any player whose first two cards are comprised of any black Jack plus the Ace of Spades. This was considered a natural blackjack. Today, a natural blackjack can be a Jack and an Ace of any combination of suits.

Americans loved playing blackjack so much that the game outlasted the prohibition against gambling in the US. In 1931, it resurfaced from the underground when gambling was legalized once more in Nevada. The game quickly rose to become one of the most popular in Las Vegas casinos.

In 1956, Roger Baldwin's paper, The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack, first showed how to beat the casino in blackjack through mathematical theory and statistics. This inspired other similar studies.

In 1962, Prof. Edward O. Thorp's book, Beat the Dealer, showed how to use the blackjack card counting system to win. The casinos were alarmed and promptly changed the rules of the game. They later changed back, though, when it was proven that the theories were too complicated for the ordinary player to apply.

In the 1970s, Ken Uston - definitely not an ordinary player - used the blackjack card counting system to win in casinos around the globe. He was considered a mathematical genius who had studied in both Harvard and Yale.

Uston partnered with an electronics engineer, Keith Taft, to put the blackjack card counting system in a small computer-like device. They used this to further help them win against the house in many casinos.

Also in the Seventies, Stanford Wong used the blackjack card counting system to defeat the newly-installed Continuous Shuffle Machines in casinos. The term "wonging" used in blackjack card counting is a tribute to him.

Blackjack card counting was once again successfully used against the casinos in the Nineties. Using only their brains, a group of students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called their team the MIT Blackjack Club and hit many casinos and got away with huge winnings.

Casinos have lobbied to make blackjack card counting illegal. In the meantime, blackjack remains popular in casinos around the globe and even online.