Blackjack is widely thought to have evolved from the French card games of chemin de fer (which translates to 'railroad' in English), and French Ferme (which translates as 'Firm French'). The game vingt-et-un (twenty & one) first appeared in French casinos around the start of the 18th century, and was being played in North America by the 19th century.
Whilst vingt-et-un, or twenty-one sounds like it would be very similar to todays' variations of blackjack games, it was actually quite different. It was played similar to poker, with cards being dealt to each player in rounds, with betting after each round.
The Italian card game, Seven & a Half and the Spanish game, One & Thirty probably also contributed to the modern blackjack variants, and were amongst the first games to incorporate 'busting' when a player's cards exceeded a target total.
When the game was first introduced to American gambling halls in the early 20th century, it was not very popular. In order to attract new business, bonus payouts of 10-1 were offered when a player received the Jack and Ace of spades - hence the name 'Blackjack' was born.
The Evolution of Blackjack Gambling
In the 1950's mathematicians published statistical research papers that showed gamblers how they could play blackjack in a way to drastically reduce the house edge. Professor Edward Thorp, who is often referred to as the 'Einstein of Blackjack' refined these strategies and developed the first card counting techniques in his 1963 book - "Beat the Dealer". The book was so popular it made the New York Times best seller list and actually prompted casinos to change their blackjack rules and procedures to combat the influx of perfect players.
At first the rule changes were quite drastic, but very unpopular and did not last long. Then more subtle changes appeared, such as multiple decks being introduced, along with shuffling machines and procedures to limit the effectiveness of known card counters, such as more frequent shuffling and only allowing certain players to bet regular, small amounts.
The infamous MIT blackjack team hit casinos with more sophisticated card counting techniques from 1979 through to the 1990s, making millions and earning themselves notoriety in casinos from Atlantic City to Monaco. Andy Bloch of Full Tilt Poker fame was a part of the MIT team that worked in groups using strategies that were not technically cheating, but most definitely against the spirit of fair competition. Their methods have been detailed in documentaries and the book 'Bringing down the house' and involved using disguises, distraction, diversion and preying on inexperienced dealers to shift the house odds in their favor, something that is impossible online.
Since the 1960's blackjack has remained the number one card game in casinos around the world. These days there are many different variations of the game available to play, the most popular in casinos being European rules, Vegas strip rules, Spanish blackjack and single deck blackjack.
Following the 21st century poker boom and associated televised tournaments, blackjack has also evolved into a made-for-TV sport. Elimination blackjack tournaments pit players against one another playing with tournament chips, rather than playing for money agains the house. Betting strategies involve secret bets and elimination hands and the player with the most chips after a set number of hands wins the tournament.
However you like to play blackjack, it's always guaranteed to be fun and give you a good chance of walking away a winner.