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We can play all our favorite casino games even if we don’t know where they came from. But, for the curious amongst us, here is a short history lesson on the origins of blackjack.
You knew, of course, that people were playing blackjack in smoky back rooms, on deck riverboats, and in saloons long before Springbok Casino made all our blackjack variations available at our online casino! When did someone with a sly sense of humour devise this exceptional game?
No one knows for sure where playing cards came from but the conventional view is that they date back to China circa 900 A.D. People would combine paper money of different denominations in a random fashion that today we call “shuffling”. This is a lot easier with modern playing cards since they are all of a standard shape and size unless you’re a magician or illusionist who can change a playing card into a bird if that’s what you really want.
We also don’t know for sure how long before someone discovered shuffling did the Chinese have paper money and the notion of denominations. It reminds us of the funny bit Woody Allen wrote about the years of trial and error the Earl of Sandwich went through before, in a fit of raw genius, he invented the sandwich.
Marco Polo brought the idea of cards for games with him on his return to Europe from his sojourn in China. Playing cards reached Islamic artists who began the practice of adorning them with pictures of holy men. The Italians started making cards with the visages of Kings and Princes and other powerful men. The French replaced one of the men with the Queen.
The common deck of cards became standard sometime in the 1600’s. The British called the deck the French Pack.
The French invented a game called twenty one in the 1700’s. It began in French casinos and finally reached the shores of the United States in the 1800’s. The original French twenty one game was really quite a bit different than blackjack. The idea was to reach 21 points. The dealer had a lot of flexibility and would be paid off quite handsomely if he got a natural twenty one. The game was meant for a round table at which many players sat. The dealer dealt one card to each player and they bet amongst themselves as to who might reach 21 first. The game was still quite removed from the modern version which is as much fun to play at Springbok Casino as at any land based casino.
Blackjack still had a long evolutionary path to follow. The Italians had a game called seven and a half. The only cards used in this game were the 8’s, 9’s, 10’s, and face cards. The face cards were called half cards. The King of Diamonds was wild. Anyone who went over seven and a half lost automatically or so we think.
As in all areas, European competition created an opening for yet another variation on the French twenty one and the Italian seven and a half. In Spain they played a game called thirty one which was even more similar to modern blackjack but evolution is a slow process so nature still had work to do.
The game arrived in the United States to a deafening roar of unpopularity. Because so few people wanted to play twenty one, casinos started giving bonuses for certain hands. The most common hand was the King and Ace of spades which paid out at a 10-1 rate. Soon some casinos added the Jack and Ace of spades in the 10-1 payout class. Finally, with this development the game began in some casinos to be known as blackjack.
Today, of course, you don’t need a black jack to get the standard 3-2 payout for a natural blackjack. You can even get the bonus for a natural with red cards. And finally you don’t need a royal card to have a natural; even a 10 plus an ace with suffice.
At Springbok Casino, you'll find Pontoon - yet another variation on blackjack.
Once the casinos discovered that the game needed some sort of bonus to be popular amongst casino patrons, they began devising many such bonuses. Splitting cards, doubling down, insurance, and surrender are the most famous bonus actions a player can take.
One genius player devised a method of counting cards and applying his knowledge of statistics to the art of card counting. This has become the most famous way to beat the house and true card counters can beat the house if they are as good with statistics as they are with “simple” card counting.
In reality, card counting is not simple. However, so many players used one form or another of card counting that casinos soon realized that they could defeat the card counters by using more than one deck. At online casinos, players can use a strategy card in order to bring their chances of winning close to even with the house. In fact, intelligent play at blackjack makes the game so closely fought between the players and the house that you can play for a very long time and either win a little or lose a little.
Because of that, most of the players who truly love blackjack play it for the great challenge of knowing when to stand and when to hit. Springbok Casino has several versions of blackjack for everyone who relishes a challenge - check them out here.