The origin of the game Blackjack is still
in dispute to this day, but can be traced back to several European card
games. The French “Vingt-Un” (21), “Trente et Quarente” (20 and
30), “Chemin de Fer” (Railroad); Spanish “One and Thirty”; and
Italian “Baccara” and “Seven and a Half” all have some similarity
to modern Blackjack. Blackjack came to the United States in the 19th
Gambling was legal in the Western part of the United States from the
1850’s to 1910. From 1910 to 1931 gambling was illegal in Nevada. In
1931 Nevada legalized casino gambling and Blackjack became very popular.
The most common type of Blackjack game was played with one or two decks.
In 1956, Roger Baldwin published a paper in the Journal of the American
Statistical Association titled “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack”.
The paper explained how to reduce the “House”, or casino, advantage
based upon probability and statistics. The strategy outlined proved
confusing for non-mathematicians.
In 1962, Edward O. Thorp, a Mathematics Professor at New Mexico State
University published “Beat the Dealer”. Dr. Thorp used an IBM 704
computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computation
Center to refine the strategy in Edward Thorp’s paper. He also developed
the first card counting techniques. In 1963, “Beat the Dealer” spent
one week on the New York Times bestseller list.
Due to the popularity of Dr. Thorp’s
book, there was a huge increase in the amount of Blackjack players at
casinos trying to implement his strategy. This caused some consternation
among casinos. Many casinos changed their Blackjack rules fearing losses
from people using Thorp’s system. This caused a noteable backlash among
Blackjack players and a huge dropoff in the amount of people playing
Blackjack. The casinos subsequently changed their rules back. Thorp’s
book ended up making money for casinos, as it increased the amount of
Blackjack being played. His system, however, was hard to understand and
difficult for players to implement.
One of the most important contributors to modern Blackjack strategy was
Julian Braun. Mr Braun was an IBM employee who improved Dr. Thorp’s code
and ran simulations on IBM mainframes. His updated strategies and card
counting techniques were included in the second edition of “Beat the
Dealer” and numerous later books.
The work by Thorp, Braun and others transformed Blackjack from a
little-played game stuck in the corner of most casinos into the most
popular casino table game in the US today.
The name Blackjack comes from the “natural” hand winner of the early
version of the game. If a player was dealt a Jack and Ace of Spades in his
initial two card hand, he was an automatic winner and was payed a bonus.
In modern Blackjack, any Ace combined with any ten value card (excepting
after a Split) counts as a “natural” Blackjack.