History of 21: Blackjack Then and Now

Where did Blackjack come fromThe history of 21, or Blackjack as it’s more commonly known, isn’t entirely clear. It’s become one of the most popular games at land-based casinos – and more recently, online casinos – but no one seems to know for sure the answer to one simple question. Where did blackjack come from?

Many historians have a different opinion on the true history of 21. Some say it was born in Spain prior to the 1600’s, while the majority are of the opinion that the game originated in France during the 1700’s. Take a look at the following theories and see what you think.

History of 21 – The Spanish Theory

The only evidence that supports the theory that blackjack was first played in Spain came from a book written at the start of the 17th century. The book was part of a series entitled “Novelas Ejemplares”, (or Exemplary Novels), penned by Miguel de Cervantes, a known gambler and famous author of “Don Quixote”.

In one of these books, “Rinconete y Cortadillo”, written between 1601 and 1602, Cervantes referenced a card game in which the object was to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. The game was called “Ventiuna” (Spanish for Twenty-One), and used a Spanish deck of cards known as baraja. Except for the exclusion of 8s and 9s, it was a standard 2-thru-Ace deck.

The main characters of the novel were a pair of gambling cheats who traveled Seville, in the historic Castilla region of Spain. Thus it can be implied that the true history of 21 dates back to at least the start of the 17th century, if not sooner.

It’s Spanish roots were likely another game known as Trente-Un, (or Thirty-One in Spanish). Similar to the Ventiuna rules noted in Cervantes’s book, Trente-Un required players to work towards a hand totaling 31 with a minimum of three cards.

History of 21 – Blackjack in France

The French version of the story is not a theory, but known fact – hence it’s wider acceptance in answering the question; where did blackjack come from? Around 1700, a game appeared in French casinos called Vingt-et-Un, (or Twenty-One in French). The rules were basically the same – achieve a hand closest to 21 without going over.

It’s believed that this game, which most closely resembles the blackjack games played in modern casinos, was derived from other, older French card games, such as French Ferme, Chemin de Fer (the original Baccarat), and Quinze, (same rules, but aiming for 15, not 21).

Blackjack Becomes Global Phenomenon

Over the years, as European exploration of other continents became more extensive, the history of 21 expanded along with them. It wasn’t a huge hit in the Americas – at least, not at first. Then in the 1930’s, newly legalized casinos in Nevada sought a way to attract more gamblers to the 21 tables.

Someone came up with the idea to offer a big bonus payout of 10-to-1 to any player who was dealt a natural hand containing the Ace of Spades and any Black Jack (club or spade). This hand was called a “Blackjack”, thus the new name was born, and it was attractive enough to get a lot of players interested.

The bonus payout was soon revoked, though. It was replaced with a lower bonus payout for any hand that totaled 21 in just two cards (Ace + 10 or Face Card). Such a hand was still referred to as a Blackjack, and the name has stuck ever since.

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