Black Jack Card Game History

Black Jack is a very popular card game on any casino floor. Black Jack is a relatively simple game to play. In a single or double deck game, the dealer shuffles a deck of playing cards and one player cuts the deck. Before the first card is dealt, the dealer will 'burn' (discard) the top card and then begin to deal one card at a time per player (including themselves) starting from their left. Each player sitting at the table gets dealt a total of 2 cards face down. The dealer's second card (at most tables) will be dealt face up. The object of the game is to get a total sum of 21 (an Ace with a Ten or Face card) or as close to 21 as possible without 'busting' (going over 21). If the player's hand is not that high, they can opt to 'hit' (request an additional card or cards), or 'stay' (keep the hand that they have). If a player is dealt a sum of 10 or 11, they may also opt to 'double down' (place their hand face up and double their wager). When a player 'doubles down', they are dealt only one more card faced down. Since Black Jack is played against the dealer; the player's goal is to achieve a higher hand than the dealer. To keep the game going smoothly small number counting skills should be exercised. Not only is Black Jack popular in casinos, it is also a popular card game to play at home with your family and friends, on a hand held game, at an online casino, or even using software on your computer. Playing for fun chips can help to enhance your strategy, betting and counting skills.

Black Jack is played using a deck(s) of playing cards. A single deck of playing cards consists of 52 cards. This doesn't count the 2 Jokers that are normally included since Jokers are not used in Black Jack. It is believed that playing cards were invented in China around 900 A.D. when the Chinese began shuffling paper money into various combinations. The decks of cards used today were originally referred to as the "French Pack". It is simply amazing as to the various games that have already been invented and played using a deck of playing cards.

The game of Black Jack was probably derived from other French games such as "Chemin de Fer" and "French Ferme" which translates to something like "Iron Way" and "Firm French". Black Jack itself originated in French casinos around 1700. In French it is called "Vingt-et-Un" which translates to "Twenty-and-A". The name Black Jack was fitting because if a player got a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards dealt to them, the player won an additional amount. Black Jack has been a popular game in the United States since the 1800's and continues to be popular today.

In 1956, Roger Baldwin wrote "The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack". This paper was published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. It was the first recognized effort to apply mathematics to Black Jack. Using probability, statistics and calculators, Baldwin wrote of different ways to substantially reduce the house advantage. This paper consisted of 10 fairly mathematical pages. Although entitled "Optimum Strategy", the theory still needed a computer to refine the system, thus making it not such an "Optimum Strategy" during it's time.

In 1962, picking up where Baldwin left off, Professor Edward O. Thorp (sometimes referred to as "The Einstein of Black Jack") refined the basic strategy and developed the first card counting techniques. In 1963, he published his techniques in a book called "Beat the Dealer". This book became so popular for a week that it made the New York Times 'Best Seller' list. Casinos were so affected by "Beat the Dealer" that they began to change the game rules unfavorably, making it more difficult for players to win. This resulted in a loss of income, thus forcing the casinos to revert back to the original rules. However, the casinos made further changes to increase their odds. Casinos introduced multiple decks, card shuffling machines, frequent shuffling (when not necessary), and other changes. These changes and the fact that Thorp's "Ten Count" system was not very easy to understand, let alone master, once again restored the edge to acceptable odds for the casino.

Stanford Wong continued to be the guru of Black Jack, picking up the torch from Thorp. His book, "Professional Blackjack", distills extensive computer simulation and is a bible to both beginner and expert players.

Julian Braun, an IBM employee (at that time), was also a major contributor to Black Jack history. Using thousands of lines of computer code and hours of simulation on IBM mainframes, Braun came up with the basic strategy and a number of techniques for counting cards. The second edition of "Beat the Dealer" used his conclusions, as did "Playing Black Jack as a Business" by Lawrence Revere.

In 1977, five computers were built into the shoes of Ken Uston's playing team. This team won over a hundred thousand dollars in a very short time as they had predicted. However, one of the computers was confiscated and handed over to the FBI. The computer used public information on Black Jack, so the FBI had decided that it was not a cheating device. In 1981, Sixty-Minutes featured Ken on their show and helped lead a successful and legal challenge to prevent casinos in Atlantic City from barring card counters. Ken's book, "The Big Player", details this story about his Black Jack exploits.

Black Jack became even more popular after the Academy award winning movie "Rain Man" starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman played the autistic brother of Cruise, a failing exotic car dealer. Realizing that his autistic brother has the ability to memorize the cards, Cruise takes him to Las Vegas and uses his skills to get him out of his financial difficulties. Of course, this was only a movie and we all know that movies are not always what they're cracked up to be. Memorizing cards (as depicted in the movie) is not the same as 'card counting'. Nonetheless, several players rushed out to learn/refine their skills and get to the Black Jack tables. I was amongst that group of players.

Remembering parts of what I had seen in "Rain Man", I got a little excited to give Black Jack a try. I watched a video about how to play Black Jack. In this video, I saw the chart below. I proceeded to memorize the chart for my upcoming excursion to Reno. As you can see, the chart below isn't about counting cards. Maybe counting cards is integrated into the making of the chart, but being a very amateur player, I saw it merely an easy to memorize assistant. Having memorized it, practicing at home with a single deck of cards and playing on a handheld video game, my confidence grew and I felt that I was ready to give it a try when I reached Reno.

  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 D D D D D D H H H H
11 D D D D D D D H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
17-20 S S S S S S S S S S


H = Hit
D = Double Down
S = Stay
T = Ten or Face Card

The top row reflects the dealer's top card and the left column reflects your hand.

The time had come for me to now test my skills. I walked into the Cal Neva Hotel and Casino, then sat down at a $5 table. Not wanting to spend all my money or even thinking that I'd bet big, I asked the dealer to change $30. I began to play; my stack of chips would rise and fall, rise and fall but never deplete. During the course of my play, a high roller sitting at 3rd base started placing wagers for me. As nothing like this had ever happened to me before, I kept the stacks of chips separate. Never deviating from the chart implanted in my mind, I kept playing. Two hours later, and getting a little antsy to head to other casinos; I announced my last hand - which I won. I left the table with $40 from my own money and $325 from the bets that were placed for me. It may not be a massive win, but for the amount of time at that table, my investment and keeping to the plan, I walked away a winner!

You can find several different variations of charts (as the one that I had used) on the Internet, books and instructional videos. For me, I was lucky using the chart above. By all means, using a chart does not mean that you will win. Likewise, learning to count cards does not mean that you will win. Use of these methods may help to increase your odds and strategy. Having a little luck on the side wouldn't hurt either.

Black Jack has also entered the online gambling world. Online casino software platforms already have Black Jack variations in addition to the original Black Jack that we already know and play. Most Microgaming Viper casinos offer Atlantic City Black Jack, Double Exposure Black Jack, European Black Jack, Multi-hand Black Jack, Spanish Black Jack, Super Fun 21, Vegas Downtown Black Jack, Vegas Strip Black Jack, and their progressive 777 Black Jack. Most Playtech Casinos offer Black Jack, Live Black Jack, Black Jack Surrender, and Black Jack Switch. Of course, there are other online casino software platforms that also have their variations of Black Jack. You can expect something a little different in each game from different software platforms.

Black Jack has not been introduced at Gone Gambling, but I keep expecting that they will eventually add it to their suite of games. I could also imagine what they'd call the game… "One-eyed Onions", "Onion Jack", "Onions 21". As you know, 'Onions' are Gone Gambling's theme. Gone Gambling has a creative and unique way of bringing the onions on their games to life while providing hours of fun for their members.


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