Hitory of Blackjack and Card Counting

Although blackjack’s origins are still under debate, we feel that every player should know the history of the game. Many blackjack facts, especially card counting, fascinate people to this day. We bet that there’s at least one card counter in a casino somewhere. But how do they do it? And where did it all start?

With so many unanswered questions, we should delve deep into blackjack’s history to find the answers.

That’s why this article will explore it in detail and introduce readers to the origins of card counting. If that sounds like something you would read before heading off to a casino, you’re on the right page.

Let’s dive straight into it.

Origins of Blackjack

Even though many people believe that blackjack originated from games in France and Spain, it actually dates back to Roman times. It is believed that the Romans loved to gamble and played a game that involved wooden blocks with different numbers painted on them. 

The French aristocrats modified the game in the 17th century, initially calling it “Vingt-un” or “Vingt-et-un,” which means twenty-one.

What’s interesting is that every deal of the game had a name. So, for instance, the fourth’s deal was called Sympathy and Antipathy, and so on.

Naturally, the original game featured a couple of different variants depending on the location. The game’s popularity enabled its spread to North America in the 18th via French colonists. Some of the first instances of the game were noted in New Orleans in 1820 at legalized gaming halls.

As you can probably guess, the early forms of blackjack were different from what we know today. For example, only the dealer had the option of doubling.

Predecessor of Modern Blackjack

Pre-modern blackjack embraced the name 21 in France, Germany, and America. The game’s rules were similar to the blackjack version we know and play today. It featured a banker and a varied number of participants.

Blackjack IconThe players could place bets before or after the dealer dealt two face-down cards to each punter. Following this, they could examine their cards and ask for a third one from the banker.

The goal was to get 21 in total or as close to it as possible. Exceeding that number led to players losing their stakes. Those who got 21 from their first two cards had a “Natural Vingt-Et-Un” or a “Pontoon,” depending on the variant.

Although it all sounds quite familiar, modern blackjack went through additional changes over the years.

Modern Blackjack

What we know as modern blackjack today got its full form in Las Vegas casinos. At the beginning of the 20th century, the game was still called 21 in America, but it gradually took over the name blackjack in Nevada’s famous land-based casinos.

Casinos had to be resourceful in attracting new players, so they promoted their premises and games in creative ways. That’s why many venues offered additional payouts, including an extra bonus if a black jack (a jack of clubs or spades) came with the ace of spades. As the game got popular, the bonus games wore off, but the name stayed.

And that’s how one of the most popular casino games got its name. 

Beginnings of Card Counting

As we already mentioned, card counting is still taboo in many card-related games. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less prominent.

But how did it all start?

Let’s begin by mentioning the tale of Eleanore Dumont. She showed up in Nevada City in the mid-1800s and started operating the game of blackjack in land-based casinos. Dumont banked and dealt the cards to anyone who wanted to play and enjoyed much success from it.

Whether it was her card dealing skills or math talent, she was a true talent. People came from all over to play against Eleanore, as she represented a rare sight among card dealers.

However, card counting as a blackjack strategy came about in the 1960s. The approach was first used to determine whether the next card would advantage the player or the dealer.

Card counters tried to reverse the house edge, and they would do it by running a tally of both high and low valued cards.

Official Birth of Card Counting

What’s considered the official birth of card counting is the Edward O. Thorp strategy.

Throp was an MIT professor that made the mid-1900s computers run huge amounts of blackjack calculations. He used those calculations and earned tons of money in Las Vegas casinos.

He wrote a book, “Beat the Dealer,” in 1962, where he explained his system. Some consider this system to be the first known system of card counting.

The theory goes as follows — the player would have a mental tally of zero while the dealer shuffles, but while the cards are being dealt, they receive an allotted value to the count, irrespective of the hand they were in. It would go something like this:

  • A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 = +4
  • 10, jack, queen, king = -9

As you can tell, the calculation is rather simple. You either add a four or subtract a nine. If you start with a minimum bet, you would go higher if the count was positive and vice versa.

All the player needs to do is rely on this strategy and be quick on their feet. 

Attempt of Stopping Card Counting

During the peak of card counting in the 1960s and ‘70s, land-based casinos wanted to put a stop to this activity. Many players tried to cheat their way to big wins, and some dealers helped them get there. A private detective in Las Vegas saw an opportunity to cash in from such practices.

Robert Griffin developed an idea where he would collect the names and pictures of all known card counters. The casinos jumped at the opportunity to ban such players from their premises, and Griffin hawked his book in numerous venues across the state.

What’s more, casinos requested regular updates to the book and subscriptions to help them beat card counters.

Naturally, players took note of that and started changing their names and appearances to continue with their card counting practices.

So, the whole idea did not pan out very well, but it stuck for a while.

Blackjack and Card Counting Today

Over time, casinos have tried to put a stop to card counting. Various technology measures and surveillance experts helped for a while, but it is challenging to completely stop this technique.

Many diligent players can get away with it in a heartbeat without anyone noticing. That’s why casinos have stopped investing in expensive technology and experts.

Even if they catch card counters, plenty of other casinos will welcome them as new players.

However, beating the game is hard work, and not everyone can do it. If you want to take on card counting, you have to be smart about it. You will need to experiment and be prepared to get caught. That’s why you need to have a decent backup plan.

About the Author

Author Hi all! My name is Jayson Peter, and I am the Chief Editor here at Casino USA. I have always been a huge fan of casinos, but I noticed that there are not a lot of websites out there that discuss the gambling industry in enough detail, so that’s how the idea for CasinoUSA.com was born. With my extensive knowledge of the industry and the help of my team, I am ready to give you an insight into the exciting world of casino gambling in the United States.