ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BLACKJACK
The first scientific and mathematically sound attempt to devise an optimal blackjack playing strategy was revealed in September 1956. Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott published a paper titled The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. This paper would become the foundation of all future sound efforts to beat the game of blackjack. Ed Thorp would use Baldwin’s hand calculations to verify the basic strategy and later publish (in 1962) his famous book Beat the Dealer, which would change the face of blackjack forever.
BLACKJACK HISTORY DATABASE PROJECT
The history of blackjack and card counting is filled with many colorful characters and interesting events. The Blackjack History Database1)This database is maintained by Michael Dalton – editor/publisher of the Blackjack Review Network. There are a few requirements to get in the database. The event must be historically significant and factual and/or the product (book, software, video, etc) was recommended in the Encyclopedia of Blackjack. There may be a few exceptions! In any case, report your event here. , found on BlackjackReview.com and BlackjackHistory.com, includes blackjack and card counting history and events, births and deaths, barrings and legal action, card counting team exploits, blackjack book and report publishing dates, casino openings and closings, etc.
Do you know of a historical blackjack event that is “not” in our database? Submit it today and be a part of history! Check our Research Notes for ideas. Want to promote your blackjack site or your own legacy? Then submit historical information such as accomplishments, publication dates, interview dates, births, barrings, wins, losses, legal actions, etc. Want to be inspired? Visit our home page daily for a historical “on this day” fact and/or gambling quote of the day.
- 1440: The earliest known reference to a possible forefather of blackjack was a Spanish game called “trente-un” (meaning “thirty-one”). The game was first mentioned in a sermon in 1440 by a famous Italian priest and monk, St. Bernardine of Siena.
- 1570: Trente-un was referenced by the sixteenth century Spanish novelist, Miguel de Cervantes, in a book titled A Comical History of Rinconete and Cortadillo. [ Scarne ]
- 1600s: A game called sette e mezzo or “seven-and-a-half” appeared in Italy that was similar to blackjack. The object of the game was to achieve a total closer to 7 1/2 than the dealer’s total, without going over 7 1/2.
- 1700s: The French played a game called “vingt-et-un” (meaning “twenty-one”) and was probably a variation of the game called trente-un. Many consider vingt-et-un as the predecessor of modern blackjack.
- 1800s: Thanks to French colonists after the French Revolution, vingt-et-un makes it ways across the Atlantic.
- c1820: Legalized and house-banked “twenty-one” games were available in New Orleans. Note that these games were not called “blackjack” yet.
- c1864: The American Hoyle of 1864, includes a game called Vingt-Un (twenty-one). The term “natural” is used to describe a hand consisting of an Ace and a 10-valued card dealt in the first two rounds. If the player receives a natural, he immediately exposes it and receives “double” the amount of his bet.
- c1905: In Robert Foster’s Complete Hoyle the game is called Vingt-et-Un and a “natural” is paid 2 to 1.
- 1910: According to Scarne, the earliest known banking game of twenty-one was seen in horse rooms in and around Evansville, Indiana. [ Scarne ]
- c1912: A game called “Black Jack” finally catches on sometime around this period. In Evansville, Indiana, players were paid off at 3 to 2 odds when they made a count of 21 with the first two cards. Also, a 10 to 1 bonus was given if they received an Ace of spades and Jack of spades or clubs. [ Scarne ]
- c1915: Blackjack was likely played in Nevada as a casino banked game.
- World War I: According to Scarne, private blackjack games were more popular than poker in the US Army and Marines. [ Scarne ]
- 1917: Printed signs began appearing above Twenty-One tables reading “Black Jack pays odds of 3 to 2″. [ Scarne ]
- Early 1919: A Chicago manufacturer of gambling equipment began selling green-felted tables announcing “Blackjack Pays Odds of 3 to 2“. [ Scarne ]
- 1920s: During the prohibition era, many illegal back-room blackjack games could be found in Detroit. [ 1976 Carlisle Gambling in America: An Informal History ]
- 1931: The Nevada State Senate passes a gambling bill called Assembly Bill 98, making it legal for casinos to offer house-banked blackjack.
- World War II: According to Scarne, the banking version of blackjack was played more than any other card game in the US military. [ Scarne ]
- 1948: According to Scarne, blackjack was second only to craps as the most popular in the casinos. [ Scarne ]
- 1949: Reports of an individual named Jess Marcum utilizing a point count system to beat the game of blackjack. [ blackjackforumonline.com/content/JessMarcumEarlyDaysofCardCounting.htm ]
- 1950: Casinos were operating openly in Louisiana. Establishments like Costello’s Beverly Club near New Orleans offered several gambling games including blackjack. [ 1963 Drzazga Wheels of Fortune 268-269 ]
- 1950s: Sharp players realized that the Aces were incredibly powerful in this game and many used a simple strategy of betting more when there were a lot of Aces left in the deck. [ 1961 Harold Smith I Want to Quit Winners 119 ]
- 1954: Lawrence Revere wrote that he developed a plus-minus type point count system where 9s,10s and Aces were -1, 8s were 0 and all other cards were +1. He did not know what his advantage was and only increased bets on high plus counts. [ 1980 Lawrence Revere Playing Blackjack as a Business 105 ]
- 1956: Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott publish the first accurate and sound blackjack playing strategy.
- c1957- 1962?: The insurance wager was probably added during this time period in Nevada casinos.
- 1958: The surrender option is introduced at the Continental Casino in the Philippines. [ 1977 Richard Epstein Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic 272 ]
- 1962: Mathematics professor Edward Thorp publishes the book Beat the Dealer – the first validated blackjack winning strategy (a ten-count). Almost instantly, blackjack becomes the most popular casino table game in Las Vegas. [ 2001 Thompson Gambling in America xiv ]
- 1963: Harvey Dubner publishes a paper on the first blackjack point count system (High-Low) which is used by many blackjack card counters today.
- 1978: Casino gaming begins in Atlantic City with the opening of Resorts International on Memorial Day weekend. Card counters would flock to the city to take advantage of very favorable blackjack rules.
- 1978: The first World Championship of Blackjack tournament is held at Del Webb’s Sahara Casino in Las Vegas. [ All In ]
- 1981: Charity blackjack games are given formal authorization in North Dakota. [ 2001 Thompson Gambling in America xvii ]
- 1982: Shuffle Master began offering automatic shuffle machines for blackjack.
- 1987: Congress passes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which gave tribes the right to build and regulate their own casinos. Thus, a major expansion of casino gambling in the United States began.
- 1996: In August, the first legal (no money) tournament site on the Internet opens. It was called Blackjack Time. [ Web Archive ]
- 1997: Max Rubin hosts the first annual Blackjack Ball – an exclusive invitation only event for professional and expert blackjack players.
- 2003: The first seven inductees into the Blackjack Hall of Fame were announced.
- 2016: Blackjack history database created on the Blackjack Review Network.
- 2020: The Blackjack Review Network registers the BlackjackHistory.com domain name.
The best (in my opinion) historical summary of the game of blackjack was written in 2006 by Arnold Snyder. You can find part of this material on Blackjack Forum Online and the complete material in Snyder’s book The Big Book of Blackjack. Much of the early history shown above is from Snyder’s research. Other good sources of information include:
- John Scarne’s New Complete Guide to Gambling has a good section on the history of blackjack.
- Loudon Ofton’s article on the Blackjack Apprenticeship site provides a short summary of blackjack history.
- The Blackjack Science site also has a interesting history of the game.
- The old CasinoObserver site had a very interesting summary of the history and origin of the game. [ ARCHIVED ]
- The BlackjackDoc site appears to also include a nice graphic timeline of blackjack history.
- Henry Tamburin’s article on the Legends of Blackjack provides a good historical account of those who have contributed to the knowledge of the game.
Legal Blackjack Games in the USA – Circa 1998
Originally published in the last issue of Blackjack Review magazine Vol 7 Issue 1
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