The History of Black Jack
Blackjack has been defined as “A card game in which the object is to accumulate cards with a higher count than the dealer but not exceeding 21.”
It has been traced to 18th century France, where it was originally named “vingt-et-un” (twenty and one, or twenty-one). It wasn’t called blackjack until it came to America, and at the beginning, the game wasn’t popular in the United States. Seeing that the game wasn’t attracting players, casinos and card rooms started to offer incentives. The special offer of giving up to 10-1 odds if the player received the ace of spades and a black jack in their hand led to the new name – which has lasted until now.
Today, blackjack is the most popular card game in the world. Its popularity comes from its simplicity and the part luck plays in the game.
A continuing quest to defeat the statistical puzzle about the game was started in the 1950s. Mathematicians and statisticians have tried to break the game down into its basic components, and then to create a strategy based on their outcomes. The first breakthrough came when Roger Baldwin published paper titled “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack” in the American Statistical Association’s journal. While groundbreaking, the study had one serious flaw for players: the method required a computer to implement it.
Professor Edward O. Thorpe developed the first card-counting techniques in 1952, creating what is now known as basic blackjack strategy. His results were published in a book “Beat the Dealer – A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty One.” In 1963 it stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for over a week. Today, it remains a classic book on blackjack strategy and can still be bought through Amazon.com for under $10.
People who hadn’t been interested in blackjack before now began to play, and the popularity of the game exploded. While players flocked to the game, the casinos panicked. They changed the rules to give the house a higher edge. They introduced table limits and “preferential shuffling,” which allowed the dealer to shuffle the deck when the players might have an advantage. These rule changes discouraged players and the game’s popularity sank. The casinos partially relented, and reinstituted the original rules, though some remnants of the more restrictive reaction survive. One example is the use of multiple decks.
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