The history of Blackjack and card counting

To this day, Blackjack remains one of the best-known and most-loved games, and you’re sure to find it played in any land-based casino, as well as online.

In theory, it’s one of the simplest to learn and play – but where did it originate? And what about the controversy surrounding card counters? Before you read on, if you want to race to 21, play a variety of Blackjack games on Paddy Power:

In the beginning

The origins of blackjack are widely disputed, but it comes about from games played in Spain and France. The first mention came in the 1600s of a Spanish game called ventiuna (Spanish for 21). It didn’t follow the rules of Blackjack, but there were clear similarities between the two. The Spanish also played a game called trente-un, or 31, with the premise of getting as close to this target as possible without going bust.

Elsewhere, in France, Vingt-et-un or Vingt-un was the game that made its way to casinos towards the end of the 17th century. It derived from two other French card games and soon became popular in Europe, due to the fact it required skill, as opposed to just luck. The French Colonists brought it over to North America, where it gained popularity and began to resemble the blackjack we know and love today. But it was still called ‘21’ when Nevada first made gambling legal in 1931.

The becoming of Blackjack

With legalised gambling in place, Blackjack become a quick favourite in casinos and the name was coined simply by coincidence. To attract more attention to the game, some casinos offered a special bet: a hand which contained the ace of spades as well as either of the black jacks would pay out 10/1 odds on the player’s bet. Of course, these rules no longer stand – but the name blackjack stuck.

The controversy of card counting

The strategy of card counting unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with the game of blackjack and has done since the 1950s.

In 1962, Edward O. Thorp released a book entitled Beat the Dealer, which effectively revealed ways in which to card count, with theories such as ‘first card counting techniques’ and ‘ten count system’. Understandably, the book received an overwhelming response, with his strategies sparking public interest to of course go out and beat the dealer! Only a few years later and Thorp released part two of his book, featuring the findings of computer scientist Harvey Dubner, who introduced a counting system, now known as the ‘hi-lo count’.

Of course, these days casinos are more vigilant and have technologically-advanced security measures in place to prevent it from happening and obviously reprimanding those that still do, or at least try to, card count – but it hasn’t always been so easy. The original way of catching card counters was via a book. Las Vegas Private Detective Robert Griffin was the instigator and compiled a book with pictures of and information on known or suspected card counters. This was handed out to numerous casinos and was also regularly updated, but proved a long-winded process.