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The Ace of Spades: How Blackjack Got its Name

Mar 26, 2014

blackjack-name-260314I am Black Jack

If you’re a fan of gambling you’ll know what blackjack is; but do you know how the famous game got its name?

Blackjack is a world renowned card game and anyone who gambles or visits casinos knows what it is; hell even if you’ve never done either of these things chances are you know what blackjack is, or will have at least heard of it.

Blackjack is one of the simplest casino games to play; each player is dealt two cards and you all play against the dealer trying to reach 21. Players can request additional cards if the two dealt are not as close to 21 as they’d like to be. Go over 21 and you lose, if the dealer goes over then everyone still in the hand wins.

So how did the game start, and what kind of a name is blackjack? This article takes a look and the blackjack history, how it began and of course how it got its name.

The origin of the game

As with quite a few popular casino games, the history of blackjack is not particularly straight-forward and the specific origin is often disputed. There are a few popular theories attributed to the game. Many scholars believe that blackjack was derived from French games such as French Ferme, a derivative of baccarat, and Chemin de fer both of which have similar elements.

However, the generally accepted consensus is that it derived from another French game known as vingt-et-un, which literally translates as twenty-and-one; given the nature of blackjack, this idea seems most probable.

Vingt-et-un began appearing in French casinos in the early 1700’s, but it would be arriving in America for another century. Once it had arrived, under the name Twenty-One, the game began to gain a small following; but it wasn’t until it became known as blackjack that it started getting the same attention which it still enjoys now.

Blackjack: The name

So how did the game of twenty-one become known as it is today, by the name of Blackjack?

Famous Card Counters

• Ken Uston

• Al Francesco

• Edward O. Thorp

• Tommy Hyland

Once The United States got over some of those annoying anti-gambling policies, and Nevada led the way in the legalization of gambling, the game was offered at the first American casinos. However, patrons were reluctant to play the game and casino operators had to come up with some smart strategies to help with the gains popularity.

To attract more players to bet at the blackjack tables, managers and owners of gambling houses thought of ways to give bonus payouts to the winners. One example is the ‘blackjack bonus’, which had a ten-to-one payout – your stake come back tenfold if you win – when the player gets an ace of spades and any black jack. The black jacks are the jack of spades and the jack of clubs.

The popularity of the game increased rapidly and players would refer to the tables as blackjack tables, even after the ten-to-one bonuses had stopped being offered; the name stuck and Twenty-One became Blackjack. In today’s game the rules have changed a bit and any ace card and any of the tens, jacks, queens and kings can give a player blackjack.

Beating the dealer: Card counting

You can’t really have an article about blackjack and not mention the card counting system; it just wouldn’t be right.

Card counting is a casino card game strategy used to determine whether the next hand is likely to give a probable advantage to the player or to the dealer. Card counters are a class of advantage players, who attempt to decrease the inherent casino house edge by keeping a running tally of all high and low valued cards seen by the player. I’m sure you’ve seen rain man, so you get the idea.

Counting cards allows players to bet more with less risk, but doing so puts them in risk of repercussions at the hands of the casino. Casinos don’t like having their advantage taken away from them and although it’s not against the law to use such a system when playing, if you’re caught you’ll be escorted out – at the very least.

It has been known for people to get seriously beaten once their behavior has been detected, usually in a casino backroom or basement; but yeah they probably just walked into a door, right?

Be careful if you want to take on the casinos and count cards.

So to summarize, the famous game is probably the product of a few different French card games which merged together into Twenty-One; which then went through a series of promotional casino odds offerings, to increase popularity, and finally became named after one of them; and after all that, modern Blackjack was born.

If you’re a fan of the game you needn’t look too far to enjoy playing a hand, as literally every single casino worldwide will offer the game, and although they don’t still have a ten-to-one payout most places will still give you a good incentive with a three-to-two payout.

No wonder, with its simplicity and with giving the players a good advantage, blackjack became and remains popular in many gambling houses and casinos.


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