Blackjack

Gambling with playing cards spread steadily throughout Europe after Johann Gutenberg printed the first deck in Germany in 1440, and many of the games involved drawing cards to reach a certain total. Although the exact relationship remains obscure, blackjack is believed to have evolved from several of these early games. Baccarat, with the magic number of 9, appeared in Italy about 1490, followed by the game of seven and a half, which seems to be the first game where the player automatically lost if he went over the desired number. The game of one and thirty was first played sometime before 1570 in Spain, and the Duke ofWellington, the Marquess of Queensbury, and Prime Minister Disraeli all played quinze (15) in Crockford’s, the famous English casino which flourished between 1827 and 1844. From France came trente et quarante (30 and 40) and finally vingt un or vingt et un (21 or 20 and 1), which crossed the Atlantic ocean and was listed in the American Hoyle of 1875.

As first played in the United States, it was a private game, but by 1910, tables for twenty-one were being offered in the gambling parlors of Evansville, Indiana. Acceptance was slow, and to stimulate interest, in 1912 operators offered to pay 3 to 2 for any count of 21 in the first two cards, and 10 to 1 if the 21 consisted of the ace of spades and either the jack of spades or the jack of clubs. This hand was called, of course, blackjack. The 10-to-l payoff was soon eliminated, but the term remained, first as the name of any two-card 21 hand, and subsequently as the name of the game itself, although twenty-one would have been more appropriate.

By 1919, tables covered with green baize and emblazoned in gold letters announcing “Blackjack Pays Odds of 3 to 2” were being manufactured in Chicago and appeared in gambling halls throughout the country. The popularity of the game grew slowly until gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, and blackjack soon became the third-most-successful game, outstripping faro, but trailing both roulette and craps. Because of the prohibitive casino edge of 5.26% in roulette, discouraged players drifted away from the game, and by 1948 blackjack had become the second-biggest casino moneymaker.