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History of Blackjack: Everything You Need to Know

There’s never been a more popular table game at the casino than Blackjack—the No. 1 “banking” game in the world. A banking game means it’s you versus the house, who is represented by the Dealer. Blackjack, as we know it, is the American version of this global game. In other parts of the world, they play Vingt-Et-Un (French for “Twenty-One”), or Pontoon. Each game has slightly different rules, but the basic goal is the same: Try to get closer to 21 points than the Dealer.

Knowing more about the history of the game will help you boss the tables when you play online Blackjack at Café Casino. We’ll look at the origins of Blackjack, how the game has changed over the years, and how one very smart man figured out how to beat the casino.

The Beginning

Not only did famed Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes write Don Quixote, he’s also credited for providing the oldest documented explanation of Blackjack. In 1601-02, Cervantes included the short story “Rinconete y Cortadillo” in his greater work Novelas Ejemplares. Two of the main characters in this story are card cheats who beat Blackjack by using a fixed deck. The game wasn’t called Blackjack back then; Cervantes referred to it as ventiuna (“Twenty-One” in Spanish). According to the story’s explanation, the goal of ventiuna was to get a score as close to 21 as possible, without going over. Just like in today’s Blackjack games, Aces were worth 1 or 11 points.

In the 1800s, the game we recognize as Blackjack made its way to the US, but failed to generate interest at first. To help popularize the game, a bonus payout was introduced: Any hand that contained an Ace and a Jack of either Spades or Clubs (i.e., a black Jack) earned the player a 10/1 jackpot. The bonus worked. Blackjack spread like wildfire throughout the States, and while the 10/1 bonus was eventually dropped, the name “Blackjack” stuck.

Now when you go to the casino, you’ll see all sorts of Blackjack variants. At Café Casino, you can play Single Deck, Double Deck, Classic Blackjack, Zappit, Perfect Pairs, and even European Blackjack – the kind Cervantes would have played hundreds of years ago in Spain, with a few modern touches thrown in.

Edward O. Thorp and the 10-Count System

Over the years, Blackjack players got better at making the right decisions when it came to hitting, standing and so forth. But it wasn’t until the Computer Age before the optimal Blackjack strategy (known as the basic strategy) was figured out. And once the basic strategy was in place, sharp players realized that, by paying attention to the cards that had been dealt, they could deviate from that strategy and turn the house edge in their favor.

Edward O. Thorp was the most important of these Blackjack pioneers. A math professor who got his start at MIT in 1959, Thorp had special access to some of the best computers of his time – including the IBM 704, which had more number-crunching power than just about any other machine. Thorp used this computer to further his Blackjack studies, then tested out his theories at the local tables in Reno and Lake Tahoe before giving Las Vegas a try.

It didn’t take long before Thorp’s success became widely known. In 1966, Thorp published Beat the Dealer, where he revealed some of his “card counting” secrets. Blackjack was, and still often is, dealt without shuffling the cards every time between hands, so by counting how many cards of a certain type had been seen before the next shuffle, Thorp could make the appropriate bets and make the game profitable in the long run.

One of the card counting systems Thorp revealed in Beat the Dealer was the 10-Count System. You start your count at zero; then, with every 10-value card (Tens through Kings) that you see, you subtract nine, and with every other card, you add four. When you use the 10-Count System, you continue to follow the basic Blackjack strategy, but the higher your count goes into positive territory, the larger bets you should make, and once you reach zero or below, you should bet the minimum.

Although the 10-Count is a simple card-counting system for Blackjack, it’s hardly talked about these days. That’s partly because it becomes less effective the more decks there are in the shoe, and partly because more mathematically sound systems (like the Hi-Lo) have taken its place. But if you can wrap your head around the 10-Count System, you’re well on your way to conquering Blackjack – at the live casino, that is.

How Modern Technology Has Changed Blackjack

That’s assuming you can find a Blackjack table that you can beat. As more and more players in the 1960s and beyond started beating the game, casinos fought back. You rarely see Single Deck Blackjack in a live setting anymore; six decks is now the standard, making it harder to beat the Blackjack odds. And it wasn’t long before automatic shuffling machines (ASMs) and continuous shuffling machines (CSMs) were introduced, taking away the opportunity to count cards in between shuffles. Even if you do manage to find a game you can beat, thanks to modern cameras and networking technology, chances are you will quickly be recognized, identified, and barred from playing Blackjack at the casinos. That’s what eventually happened to Thorp, despite all the disguises he would wear to sneak in.

Why Online Blackjack Is So Popular

This is one of the big reasons why so many people are playing real money Blackjack online these days, including right here at Café Casino. You won’t be able to count cards, since they’re automatically shuffled between every hand, but you can still use the basic Blackjack strategy to whittle the house edge down to roughly 0.64% for the standard six-deck game. And you can even play Single Deck Blackjack at Café, with a tiny house edge of around 0.17%. Try all the Blackjack games at Café for free, see which ones you like the most, then switch to real money games when you’re ready. There’s always a Blackjack table open for you at Café Casino – no funny disguises required.

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