Due to the fact that the game was called 21 before being renamed to Blackjack, there’s a widespread opinion that it evolved from the French game Vingt-et-un.
The History of Blackjack in France?
Vingt-et-un (French for 21) was a French (possibly Spanish) card game referenced in many historical documents. The game most likely evolved from simpler variations known as Quinze (French for 15) or the Italian game Sette e Mezzo (seven and a half).
Most notably, Vingt-et-un was referenced in Miguel de Cervantes’ book (of Don Quixote fame) Novelas Ejemplares, where the two main characters were gamblers and cheats trying to con casinos in Seville. Rinconete and Cortadillo were playing a game called veintiuna (Spanish for 21), where the main goal was to reach 21. The novel also described that the ace is valued either 1 or 11, which is why most historians consider veintiuna to be blackjack’s spiritual predecessor.
Other experts consider it to stem from French card game Chemin de Fer (French Ferme) which was quite popular in French casinos in the XVIII century. Some believe that blackjack originated in ancient Rome where Romans played a similar game with wooden blocks. The Romans were notorious gamblers, but due to the lack of proof originating from that time, this theory can’t be confirmed.
The Extraordinary Rise of Vingt-Et-Un
Since its introduction to French casinos in the 1700s, Vingt-et-un became incredibly popular, probably due to the fact that unlike roulette, it relied on skill rather than luck.
This allowed many skilled players to sit at tables and actually win some money, frequently defeating the casino. In just a short time, Vingt-et-un tables across France were flooded with players who loved nothing more than to play a hand or two at the game every day.
In the beginning, players had the option to either Hit or Stand which gave them the feeling of being in control. After dominating Europe for years, the new exciting casino game made its way to America in the 1800s. The first legalized games in America appeared at the beginning of the XIX century in New Orleans, and from there, 21 found its way all across the country.
Vingt-et-un was popular in America even before the first legalized casino games arrived at the scene in 1820. At the beginning of the 1800s, Eleanore Dumont banked and dealt 21 to anyone interested in Nevada City. She was quite adept at the game but drew a number of players and cheaters. Since the game wasn’t legal, there wasn’t much money to be made.
More than a century later, casinos across the country started offering a lucrative payout for hands with an ace of spades and a black jack – this popular bet was called blackjack and over time, the name caught on, replacing 21.