Online blackjack history begins with the history of the game itself, off line. Unfortunately, the origin of the game is quite vague and no one person can be credited with the invention of blackjack. A widely agreed upon theory is that the game originated in French casinos around 1700 A.D. and evolved from a game called Vingt Et Un which is French for 21.
The Possible Origins of Blackjack
The rules of Vingt Et Un are very similar to the rules of the blackjack game we know today with a few significant differences. The goal of the game is to reach a total of 21 but unlike modern blackjack, bets were made after every round, more like a poker game. The dealer also had the ability to double down whereas in today’s game of blackjack the dealer does not make any decisions and plays their hand according to a strict set of rules and the dealer’s hand will be played exactly the same way every time.
Vingt Et Un was not the only game played at that time with similarities to the game of blackjack that we know today. Many card games were played in a number of different countries that all had some similarities. There are many different games in which the goal is to reach a certain total. In blackjack and Vingt Et Un the magic number is 21. In Baccarat the number the players are trying to reach is 9.
The Italian game of Seven and a Half is often mentioned when discussing the history of blackjack although its rules are more similar to that of Baccarat. In Seven and a Half if a player exceeds seven a half points they are “busted” and it is believed that the blackjack term “bust” is derived from this game. Another Italian game called Thirty-One has similarities to blackjack although the goal is to reach a total of 31 and the game is played starting with 3 cards rather than 2. In Russia they play a game called Ochko which means “The Hole.” The game of Pontoon and the Spanish game Veintiuna also have similarities to modern blackjack.
Blackjack Migrates from Europe to North America
As is the case with many other card games, when people from various countries immigrated to the United States they brought their card games with them. Blackjack first made its way to America in the early 1800’s. Although gambling was legal in the old west from 1850 until 1910 blackjack was not very popular in those days and Faro was the card game of choice in the gambling halls.
Gambling was legalised in the state of Nevada in 1931 and although it was perfectly legal to walk into a casino in Las Vegas and play blackjack, blackjack was an unpopular game at that time. People believed that the game could not be beat because players were required to hit, and possibly bust, before the dealer played their hand. The casinos at that time were run by mobsters and many casinos were dishonest and actually cheated at various games to increase revenue which didn’t help blackjack become any more popular.
Eventually the general public became very aware of the dishonest games and by the late 1950s and early 1960s the gaming commission started cracking down and putting dishonest casinos out of business. In addition to cleaning up the game of blackjack in Las Vegas very liberal rules that were favourable to the players helped the game catch on and gain popularity.
Card Counting Helps Fuel the Popularity of Blackjack
Another significant factor that helped Blackjack to gain a great deal of popularity was a book that was published in 1962 by Dr. Edward O. Thorp entitled “Beat the Dealer.” This book introduced proper basic strategy along with a card counting technique that gave the players a statistical advantage over the casinos.
At this time, a skilled counter with an adequate bankroll was easily able to fleece the casinos for substantial sums of money. Many casinos would deal single deck games and deal all of the cards all the way down to the bottom of the deck. In this situation a counter knows exactly what cards are left and it’s very easy to make winning bets. Other rules like being able to double down on any two cards, early surrender, splitting aces multiple times and hitting them multiple times and other rules made winning at blackjack very easy for a skilled player.
As word got out that the game can actually be beaten, it became more and more popular. Countless books were published with various methods of winning at blackjack. The fact that the game was beatable, an abundance of liberal rules that were favourable to the players, and the hundreds of authors working hard to publish their “systems” brought a lot of attention to the game and greatly increased its popularity.
The Casinos Start to Wise up
Casinos are in business to make money and once the counters became a big enough problem casinos started taking countermeasures to make it more difficult for skilled players to make easy money. Some of the easiest changes to make were to deal multiple decks and not deal the entire deck but leave about 40% of the cards unseen. If you can’t see the cards, you can’t count them and keeping such a high percentage of the cards out of play makes counting nearly useless.
Other rules that once favoured the player were gone and things became much more strict. Some casinos no longer allowed splitting Aces at all and allowed double downs only on 11. The surrender option was removed as were many of the bonuses that were once used to entice people to play a game that was once unpopular.
Eventually the rules eased up a little and rules as strict as not being able to split Aces were no longer enforced but to this day you can only split Aces once and you are not allowed to hit split Aces. Many casinos allow players to double only on 10 or 11 but many will allow doubling on any two cards and the rules have been getting more liberal once again because there is a lot of competition and casinos can lure players to their establishments with more favourable rules.
The Rise of Online Blackjack
As the Internet began gaining popularity back in the 1990’s a new world of potential customers became available to the casinos. Online, casinos could reach players that they would have never been able to reach before. Players that don’t live near a casino and might only be able to play once or twice per year on a vacation would be able to play every day if they wanted to. There was a lot of potential and it didn’t take long for online casinos to spring up to take advantage of this opportunity. After the first online Casino opened, Internet gaming rapidly became a multi-billion dollar industry.
The first online casino was the Gaming Club which opened in 1997. The company is based in South Africa and is still in operation today. In fact they operate several casinos under the Belle Rock Entertainment Group.
From the beginning there were those who tried to ban online gaming but despite the efforts of a variety of groups and politicians casinos rapidly began popping up all over the Internet. Today players have their choice of hundreds of casinos with each one offering dozens of different games including slots, video poker, roulette, craps, and many others including blackjack. Blackjack has been one of the most popular off-line casino games in the world since the early 1960s and with the rise of online gambling it has become one of the top games for the Internet casinos as well.
The online casinos today have technology and software that is far superior to that of the first Internet casinos. Today’s games are fast paced and exciting. The graphics and sound effects available make you feel as if you are playing in an actual casino. The amount of competition among the various online casinos can also be beneficial to the players. Many online blackjack games offer very liberal rules and many online casinos offer substantial sign-up bonuses to entice players to play in their casino. Online blackjack and online casinos in general are growing and getting more popular making it easier for anyone who wants to, to get in on the action.