BlackJack originated in French casinos around 1700 where it was called “vingt-et-un” (“twenty-and-one”) and has been played in the U.S. since the 1800’s. BlackJack is named as such because if a player got a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards (Spade being the color black of course), the player was additionally remunerated.
The game was christened ‘Blackjack’ because if a player held a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards, the player was paid out extra. So with Spades being black and Jack being a vital card – Blackjack was born!
Gambling was legal out West from the 1850’s to 1910, at which time Nevada made it a felony to operate a gambling game. In 1931, Nevada re-legalized casino gambling where BlackJack became one of the primary games of chance offered to gamblers. As some of you may recall, 1978 was the year casino gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The first recognized effort to apply mathematics to BlackJack was recorded in 1956, when Roger Baldwin published a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association entitled “The Optimum Strategy in BlackJack”. In 1962 Professor Edward O. Thorp refined basic strategy and developed the first card counting techniques. He published his results in a book that became so popular that for a week in 1963 it was on the New York Times best-seller list “Beat the Dealer”.
Because of this book a number of casinos changed their blackjack rules, giving themselves an even greater advantage than they had previously enjoyed. But this didn’t last for long, because people protested by refusing to play the game with the unfavorable rules, casinos quickly responded by going back to the original rules.
Over the next few years, more books and more systems devoted to winning blackjack were published in fact some proposed to provide enough information to allow the reader to live off the profits of their efforts, publications such as Lawrence Revere’s “Playing Blackjack As A Business” and Stanley Roberts’ also helped to share the wealth with his winning systems in his book “Winning Blackjack”. Soon blackjack began to compete with craps as the most popular casino game in the state of Nevada.
In the 1970’s computers which could perform a million-hand BlackJack simulations allowed players to produce sophisticated game strategies and many scientists, mathematicians, university professors, and other intellectuals began writing books on the game. Soon it became evident that Casinos were afraid that scientific, computer-devised systems would have harmful effect on their potential profits, and many changed their games from single deck to multiple-deck games in the 1970’s to counteract the computer strategies.
A living legend of the period indeed worth mentioning was Ken Uston, who used five computers that were built into the shoes of members of his playing team in 1977. The gamblers won over a hundred thousand dollars in a very short time, but one of the computers was confiscated and sent to the FBI. The FBI experts concluded that the computer used public information on BlackJack playing and was not a cheating device. As a result of his astounding success, Uston was barred from at least seven of the major Las Vegas casinos and sued them for violating his civil rights. He was found dead in a rented apartment in Paris in 1987, the cause of death remaining undetermined.