The Blackjack In Blackjack Bonanza
Jul 10, 2014
Blackjack hasn’t always simply meant the card game we all know and love.
It is all but impossible these days in the early part of the 21st century to be able to hear the word “Blackjack” and not instantly think of glamorous casinos filled with dinner jacket wearing James Bond types, sitting at immaculate tables staffed by servile croupiers and stern but polite pit bosses, all surrounded by women in dresses slightly more expensive than their entire education and set to a sound track of slot machines.
This association is of course entirely the product of popular cultures representation and portrayal of the card game from smokey western saloons to the high stakes tables of Las Vegas. There’s a certain sophistication lent to blackjack that hasn’t necessarily rubbed off on Poker, and whilst it’ll never be baccarat, blackjack is rarely associated with accusations of cheating and then a shootout between players.
Obviously this has a lot to do with the nature of the game. Winning at blackjack involves beating the dealer not your fellow players, and the straight forward nature of the one-on-one adversarial dynamic allows it to avoid the connotations of suspicion and bluff that are part and parcel of poker’s reputation and portrayal.
But blackjack hasn’t always meant the card game, and indeed the card game wasn’t always called blackjack so perhaps we might have a look at the other notable uses of the word and how they might add to the significance of the Blackjack Bonanza’s title. It’s the name of the game but that doesn’t mean its value is merely that of face value definition.
Lost In The Mists Of Time
The actual origins of the term are a little lost in the mists of time but there is clear reference to a blackjack in the 1590s when it was used to denote a tar-coated leather jug for beer, leaving just about everyone wondering how bad the alternatives must have been for people to start thinking covering liquid containers in tar was a good idea.
In the 1700s the name became synonymous with not a card game but perhaps the most notorious pirate of his era. John “Calico Jack” Rackham whose fearsome reputation meant his short career was seared into maritime memory and the history books. His flag, or jack, was black and depicted a skull and crossed cutlasses which became all but defacto pirate uniform.
Only at sea between 1718 and 1720 the stories of his victories are legend and his flag struck terror into the hearts of his victims so that frequently they surrendered as soon as his flag was sighted, prior to any fighting. Such was the reputation of the black jack. Rackham himself became more famous perhaps for having two female pirates amongst his crew.
Equal opportunities aside, at the time females with sword and pistol swinging from the rigging were seen as quite a scandal, which is impressive considering they were already pirates. The black jack flag might have been renamed the jolly roger in a bastardization of french, but the image is still essentially that created by this most ruthless of pirates.
Cold War Comes To An End
By the 1890s a blackjack had become a small leather item of weaponry filled with something solid and dense used to adjust people’s attitudes to consciousness by swift application to the back of the head. Often seen in old gangster movies as the tool of choice for knocking out security guards, this easily concealed weapon still finds use even today in various forms, and it is reputed to be one of the many unofficial weapons sanctioned to be carried by law enforcement.
Whilst these days the blackjack strategy of use as a weapon has been made slightly obsolete by pistol whipping, the practicality is likely to help it retain longevity. It was in 1890 that for the first time the term blackjack was applied to the game of cards that hitherto had been known as twenty-one and played across much of Europe for a couple of centuries.
Oddly the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary refers to black jack as being the caramel or burnt sugar that was used to colour wines, spirits and ground coffee, leading us all to question how bad coffee has to look before you decide to add burnt sugar to it. This term has become obsolete we are informed which given we didn’t know about it is probably just as well.
Perhaps the latest use of blackjack as a unique object identifier came courtesy of NATO when they used it to denote the Tupolev TU-160 a strategic bomber and missile platform of soviet construction from late 1980s. The world’s heaviest bomber (a record it still holds) this hugely capable aircraft had barely entered service in 1987 when the cold war it was built for ended.