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The History of Blackjack

Well, I have no playing tips or essential betting information here, ladies and gentlemen, so please just sit back and relax while we explore the origins of the ace of all card games. Gambling is almost as old as man, and the forerunners of modern playing cards are about half as old as human civilization itself.

Anthropologists have speculated that gambling began when some societies became able to move away from a total reliance upon subsistence agriculture and build cities. When humans began to own wealth over and above what they needed just to stay alive, gambling became possible without players risking their own starvation.

To trace the beginnings of blackjack, we should first of all go back to the origin of the cards themselves, because the structure of the pack of cards shaped the rules and development of the game.

Playing cards have been around for about three thousand years, but it is generally agreed that the modern deck of four suits with fifty-two cards first appeared in 14 th century Mameluke Egypt, and not 17 th century France as is often claimed.

What really clinches the case for the Mamelukes’ status as originator of the modern pack is that in the Mameluke pack there are numbered cards, and then three royal cards which each carry a numerical value of ten (king, deputy king, and under-deputy king which corroborate to the modern King, Queen and Jack).

By the way, if you really want to see this for yourself, the Okapi Sarayi museum in Istanbul, Turkey exhibits a complete set of Mameluke playing cards which have been dated to the early 15 th century!

It seems most probable that the concept of paper playing cards migrated from ancient China to Egypt via Iran. It is not known whether the Mameluke cards were then brought from Egypt to France but it is a remarkable coincidence that the first historical records of playing cards in France (which closely resemble the modern deck) do date from the 15 th century.

Our first record of the complete modern deck with the suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades is in France from the year 1480, but of course the Mamelukes were practically there already. Likewise, the first version of the blackjack game also appeared in France; we know that it was played in French casinos during the 18 th century.

In France the game was known, not very originally, as “twenty-one”. Around that time it was brought to North America by French colonists and the game spread after its introduction into areas such as Quebec and Louisiana across all of modern day Canada and the U.S.A. where it acquired its modern name of “blackjack”. This name came from the odds structure that was commonly applied at the time.

A “natural blackjack” (twenty-one achieved with the first two cards) which was comprised of an ace of spades and a jack of spades was paid out with $10 for every $1 bet by the winning player, massively higher odds than the $3 for every $2 bet for other blackjacks.

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