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History of Blackjack

How Card Counting Was Created in Blackjack

Blackjack is still the most widely played casino game in the United States and across the globe. The game can go by a number of different names including Twenty One (21), Pontoon, and Vingt-et-un although the original version of the game was referred to as 21. Blackjack dates as far back as the early 17th century where it was commonly played in Spain, under the Spanish 21 version.

The game 21 quickly became popular across Europe, but had difficulty with the American casino players. For this reason, the casinos began introducing bonus bets to players, to peak their curiosity in the game. When the dealers began paying players 10:1 on a hand consisting of an Ace and a “black jack”, the game quickly changed from 21 to Blackjack . Over the years the bonus payout was removed, and instead replaced with a different pay table based on the house edge and a player’s odds and wagers. The pay table is still in use today, although varies depending on which casino you play at. How a hand is declared a blackjack also changed. In the early days, a player was required to hold an Ace and a black jack, however in today’s game its common for a player to hit blackjack when holding any ten value card and an Ace. This of course give’s a player more opportunities at the table.

Although American players were late in taking to Blackjack, Nevada would hold out a bit longer. It wasn’t until 1931 when Nevada would legalize gambling that blackjack  became the most predominantly played game at the casinos. During the mid 50’s a man by the name of Roger Baldwin published a paper in the Journal of American Statistical Association which was the first paper to apply theory and mathematics to the game. Titled “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack”, Baldwin disclosed multiple ways and betting strategies that would help a player reduce the house edge and of course increase their expected value. The only downside to Baldwin’s theory was it made use of a computer for players to use the “optimal strategy”, thus making it nearly impossible for anyone to take advantage of. Following Baldwin was  Professor Edward O Thorp, who’s been credited as the man who created “card counting”.

 In 1962, Thorp picked up where Baldwin left off and published a book titled “Beat the Dealer” which took Baldwin’s theories and advanced them to create the original card counting system and the first successful mathematical book published to bring down the house edge from 5% to a staggering 1%. The book was released and became an instant hit. So much so, that it hit the best seller list in the New York Times during ’63 and quickly gained the attention of the casinos. 

It was Thorp’s book that initiated the changes to the game. The casinos quickly changed the rules of the game but without success. Players refused to play the new casino rules and as a result, the game changed back to the original that Thorp used in his book. This time around, one change would still take place. The dealer hand-dealt games would be placed with a shoe and four decks instead of one. Related articles - How to play Blackjack - Chinese Blackjack - Vegas Strip blackjack


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