Blackjack History

No one really knows where and how card games appeared, though you can track the history of the appearance of blackjack with a high degree of probability since there are written mentions of the game. Let's do this.

We are sticking with the version that modern blackjack emerged from the Italian Thirty-one game (Trentuno). The first mention of this game dates back to the 15th century, or rather 1440 year. Thirty-one was mentioned in a sermon against gambling led by the Italian monk St. Bernadine of Siena (1377-1444), who was later canonized by the Church of Italy. The result of this sermon was the burning of thousands of dice, boards, and cards.

St. Bernadine of Siena (1377-1444) — Blackjack History

The Trentuno game spread from Italy to different countries and became very popular in France, Spain, England, and Ireland. According to the rules of the game, players get cards from the deck in turn, trying to collect the best numerical value for the hand. A player who collects 31 or more than opponents wins the round. Ace value (A) is 11 points; The King (K), the Queen (Q) and the Jack (J) each have 10 points, and the rest of the cards count as their face value is. If several players have the same number of points, then the winner is determined by the hand, which includes the card of the highest rank. There was no bust, insurance option or double value for Aces.

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The second mention of the Trentuno game was recorded by Ed. S. Taylor in his book The History of Playing Cards, 1865. The mention also referred to Italy, in 1526, when Bernie compiled a list of Italian games. Thus, it does not make sense to question the theory that the blackjack is originated from Italy.

Ed. S. Taylor, “The History of Playing Cards”, 1865 — Blackjack History

The third mention of the game occurred between 1532 and 1542 in France, in the Gargantua and Pantagruel novel by François Rabelais. In chapter XXII, the author included Thirty-One in the list of more than 100 games that Gargantua played:

«… Then the carpet being spread, they brought plenty of cards, many dice, with great store and abundance of chequers and chessboards. There he played at flush, primero, the beast, trump… one-and-thirty…»
Chapter XXII of «Gargantua and Pantagruel»

Gargantua and Pantagruel novel by François Rabelais — Blackjack History

The fourth mention of blackjack dates back to the 17th century, Spain. In 1613, Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in his story Riconete and Cortadillo talks about a couple of heroes who engage in fraud in the game Ventiuna, which translates from Spanish as Twenty-One (21).

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, “Riconete and Cortadillo”, 1613 — Blackjack History

Ventiuna is the direct ancestor of the modern blackjack, because you also need to score 21 points to win without busting. Ace had the value of 1 or 11. The game was played by the Spanish deck, and there were no nines (9), tens (10) and eights (8). As you can see, this game is already almost a copy of the modern blackjack.

Almost simultaneously with Spain, in the 17th century, the 1600s, France also had an exact copy of the modern blackjack, that game was called Vingt et Un, which translates from French as Twenty-One (21). Unlike the Spanish version, each player and dealer had the opportunity to double the bet, and the players in each round made their bet. Presumably, the game was influenced by Chemin de Fer and French Ferme.

Italy was not spared the passion for this game. In the 17th century, there was an Italian Sette e Mezzo, which translates as Seven and a half (7.5). The game was played using the deck with nines (9), eight (8) and sevens (7). The goal was to score seven and a half points. The scoring was very simple, all paints were equal to half a point (0.5), and sevens, eights, and nines had a value of one point (1). The king of diamonds (K♦) was a joker type or a special card (wild) that could replace any card from the deck. If the sum of points was more than 7.5, the player dropped out of the game, busted.

For example, in the USA, blackjack appeared only after 1794, that is at the end of the 18th century, right after the Great French Revolution (1789-1794). So it was only after 1794 that gambling became legal and could reach the USA. At first, the game was not popular and gambling houses had to lure players into it with special promotions and bonuses. But later many players got addicted to it and now blackjack is one of the most loved games in the USA.

By the way, it is because of these bonuses that the modern name originated. In those times, when the bonuses lured people into the game, players got a payout of 10 :1 if their hand had King of Spades (K♣) and Ten (10). Such a hand was called “blackjack”. Naturally, the name stuck and came into use. Of course, later such payments were eliminated and replaced by 3 to 2 per hand of Ace (A) and Ten (10).

In the 19th century, the game was banned in the United States and was played in the underground casinos. Only in the 1930s, thanks to the opening of a gambling zone in Las Vegas, blackjack became legal again in the USA.

See Also

Online Blackjack Variations