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History Of Playing Blackjack For Real Money

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Nowadays, blackjack is one of the biggest casino games out there. Alongside slots and roulette, it comprises what I (and others) often like to refer to as the holy trinity of casino games. In physical casinos, thanks to high rollers, it has become the most profitable casino game of all time despite the fact that it’s the only one that can be objectively beaten with certain techniques involving card counting. And, sites  have shown us, the game isn’t slacking at all in the online department either, being one of the most popular forms of online gambling, with gigantic revenues in its live divisions. But you might be surprised to learn that blackjack wasn’t always the casino game we all know and love. A long time ago it wasn’t even played for money!

Now, before we continue, it’s very important to note that the origins of blackjack are pretty murky. We’re talking about events that transpired more than 300 years ago, and that nobody really cared to record. Numerous sources claim that the origins of the game have been lost to history – I’ve read several books, such as the brilliant “The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book”, which state with utmost certainty that historians have absolutely no idea where blackjack originates from. That much is true, as without a proper historical record (which we lack) we’re unable to say anything with utmost certainty… But we’ve got a good enough crumb trail to follow.

Keep in mind that the game “blackjack” wasn’t used to formally call the already existing game until all the way in the 20th century, when the game was popularized in illegal American casinos. Waaaaaay back in the 1700s, when blackjack’s earliest prototype was conceived, it was an ordinary card game known as ving-et-un (lit. “Wait, there’s more”), which was immensely popular in France and was actually one of Napoleon’s most beloved card games. Keep in mind that French 18th century casinos weren’t like casinos today – in those, you could gamble on practically any game you like, with the casino profiting by taking 5% of the profits of the “banker”.

For example, say I’m very good at ving-et-un. I can bring a deck of cards to a casino and challenge players for money, and for every 100 franks I win I need to pay 5 franks to the casino for the privilege of, essentially, renting out their space for my gambling purposes. As a result, quite a lot of traditional French games (not only ving-et-un, but also roulette and baccarat, among others), started to gradually become staples of French casinos. And while the way casinos operated changed, the games did not.

The rest isn’t hard to figure out. Casinos continued to spread across France, and later – across Europe, bringing the French games along with them. Blackjack went through several different names (the most popular of which being “21”) until settling on its current one thanks to a promotion that American casinos ran in the 20th century where you could double your winnings if you managed to win with a 21 featuring an ace and a black Jack. But that’s a story for another time!

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Ankur Shah

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