Blackjack has been a popular card game for centuries, so whether you’re newly interested in it or have been playing for years, you’re in good company.
But why is it so popular? How did it even come about? We often hear these questions and thoughts from players, no matter their experience level. That’s why we’ve decided to explore the history of blackjack. There’s an interesting story behind its origins and popularity that every player should know to better appreciate the game they get to enjoy today.
Many agree that the exact origins of blackjack are not all that clear. However, Britannica notes that the card game is most certainly related to several French and Italian gambling games. If you look even further, you’ll find the first mention of this type of game in the novel Rinconete y Cortadillo, written by Miguel de Cervantes in the early 17th century.
It’s important to note that in the book, blackjack was known as veintiuna, which is Spanish for twenty-one. Later, when it spread to French regions, it earned the French version of the name, vingt-et-un. Then, even though it was first known in Britain around the late 1700s by the same name, it eventually developed its own British name, pontoon, by World War I. It is believed this name change was due to a soldier’s mispronunciation of the French name.
All these naming conventions, of course, refer to the fact that the objective of the game is to get a total card value as close to 21 as possible, or at least higher than the value of cards the dealer has. If a player’s hand equals 21 on the first two cards, that is called a natural or a blackjack.
That last term was created by prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush in America in the late 1800s. At that time, blackjack referred to the mineral zincblende, which was typically found among gold and silver deposits. According to Thierry Depaulis’ book Dawson’s Game: Blackjack and the Klondike, this had such a positive connotation that it was eventually transferred to the card game’s top bonus hand and the name of the game itself.
But how did blackjack manage to jump across all these regions and earn its various names?
How Blackjack Became Popular
If we consider that the earliest mentions of blackjack were in the 17th century, it’s no surprise how it traveled around Europe. While it may have first been cited in a Spanish book, Europe back then was highly engaged with trade, exploration, and colonialism. It was the perfect time for people to swap knowledge—including details about card games—across and between countries. As a result, blackjack traveled around Spain, France, Italy, and Britain under each respective language’s word for 21. That was likely the case for several other nearby countries and even for certain countries outside of Europe, including America. When the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus accidentally reached the Caribbean and soon after colonized it, the rest of America followed.
Many agree that as part of this overall colonization, the French colonists in the 18th century introduced blackjack to America. However, the biggest push behind the interest in the game was Eleanor Dumont. A native French woman with significant talent in dealing cards, Eleanor immigrated to Nevada City, where she opened up a gambling parlor known as Vingt-et-Un.
The parlor was a huge draw for many who were more than willing to travel far and wide to see a female dealer, which would have been rare and unusual in those times. From there, blackjack spread all around the world and, in the process, became a card game staple.
Why It Remains a Well-Known Game
There’s a good reason why blackjack spread around the world, and a key part of that is how straightforward it is to play. The dealer deals cards to all the players, and when you receive yours, you determine whether to go with the Hit or Stand strategy. If you go with a Hit strategy, you request an extra card. If you go with a Stand strategy, you hold onto the cards you originally had and end your turn. This is often determined by what hand the dealer has. For instance, if the dealer has a good hand, you’ll want to Hit if your hand has a total score between 10 and 16, but you’ll want to Stand if you already have a score of 17 or higher. It’s a simple enough decision-making process that appeals to countless people who wish to try their luck with card games.
On top of that, the game is very rewarding. For one, it’s a social game that allows you to get together with people online or offline and enjoy the challenge of an accessible game and good talk with other players. However, more importantly, it’s a card game that typically offers a 3:2 payout. That’s a wonderful return, netting you three dollars for every two you bet. And if you get a card score of exactly 21, you win the game automatically. What’s more, online blackjack tends to accept low bets, making the game relatively low risk for those just starting out.
All in all, blackjack is a card game with an extensive history that shows just how immense its popularity was. It spread throughout Europe all the way to America and eventually around the world. While its name occasionally changed throughout that process, it remained the same accessible card game players worldwide now regularly enjoy.