Casino BlackJack History

The origin of Black Jack is still being disputed, but it’s believed to have derived from other French games such as “chemin de fer” and “French Ferme”. Black Jack appeared in French casinos around the 1700, where it was called “vingt-et-un” (“twenty one”), and has been played in the U.S. since the 1800’s. The game of Black Jack got its name from the following rule – if a player got a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two he was additionally rewarded.

Nevada was the first state to legalize casino gambling in 1931 and it was there that Black Jack gradually became one of the offered to gamblers.

Until about the 1960s players were, for the most part, not aware of the basic strategy for blackjack. Each player used a different combination of superstitious beliefs about how the hand should be played, combined with strategic plans he may have mastered through his own experience. Naturally, the casinos reaped tremendous per capita profits from the blackjack tables.

The first recognized effort to apply mathematics to Black Jack was recorded in 1956, when Roger Baldwin published a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association entitled “The Optimum Strategy in Black Jack”. It was an attempt to use probability and statistics theory to reduce the house advantage. However, the paper was mathematical and did not enjoy much publicity.

The 1962 was the year of a major change. Professor Edward O. Thorp refined the above described basic strategy and developed the first card counting techniques. He published his results in “Beat the Dealer”, a book that became so popular that it was on The New York Times bestseller list for a week in 1963. The book scared the casinos. A number of casinos changed their blackjack rules, giving themselves an even greater advantage than they had previously enjoyed. People protested by refusing to play the game with the unfavorable rules. Responding to the profit decline, casinos quickly reverted back to the original rules.

In fact the popularity of Thorp’s book turned out to be a boon for the casinos. The blackjack tables attracted scores of people who were convinced they could “beat the dealer.” Still, black jack players kept losing at nearly the same rate at which they had been losing before “Beat the Dealer” was published. The truth was that Thorp’s “Ten-Count” method wasn’t easy to master and many people didn’t really understand it anyway, and those few who could understand it did not put in the time or effort needed to master it. Casino profits mounted.

The next obstacle that the houses encountered came with the application of computers, which could perform million-hand Black Jack simulations and produce sophisticated game strategies. In the early 1970’s many scientists, mathematicians, university professors, and other intellectuals began writing books on the game, and several even developed systems of their own. HIOPT I became one of the most powerful and popular point-counting strategies at that time. The HI-OPT I and the Revere Advanced Plus Minus Strategy had a great impact on casino profits and rules and were used to the greatest advantage by professional players.

The casinos once again became afraid that scientific, computer-devised systems would have harmful effect on their potential profits. Many casinos changed their games from single deck to multiple-deck games in the 1970’s to counteract the computer strategies.

A living legend of the period indeed worth mentioning was Ken Uston, who used five computers that were built into the shoes of members of his playing team in 1977. The gamblers won over a hundred thousand dollars in a very short time, but one of the computers was confiscated and sent to the FBI. The FBI experts concluded that the computer used public information on Black Jack playing and was not a cheating device. As a result of his astounding success, Uston was barred from at least seven of the major Las Vegas casinos and sued them for violating his civil rights. He was found dead in a rented apartment in Paris in 1987, the cause of death remaining undetermined.

With Uston’s success a new era in casino blackjack commenced. The casinos became alarmed at the huge sums of money players in teams could win at their tables. The pattern was quite simple: one player would signal when the deck was favorable and then the “red player” would come and wager five hundred or a thousand dollars. Some of the casinos, which were already implementing four deck games, started introducing five-deck games; others went to six- and even eight-deck games. What made the game more complicated still was the fact that, not only were most casinos using multiple decks, but most of them were also cutting off one and a half or two decks, that is, they were not dealing all the cards out of the shoe.

Presently, the casinos are willing to experiment with multiple decks and with cutting off a lot of cards while monitoring the amount of profit. Some casinos which have noticed a drop off in the number of players have gone back to more single-deck tables. Others have introduced more favorable rules in order to attract more play while retaining the same number of decks. At the present time, black jack playing conditions in most Nevada casinos are very tough, particularly for the newcomer.

A bunch of professional players are still winning at the game. There are several ways to do so. One of them is to use more powerful winning strategies such as the HI-OPT II, which was published in 1976. Other professional players manage to increase their bet range in multiple-deck games, since in a multiple deck game the casino is not as concerned with the bet range as it is in single and double-deck games. Yet, another option is to bribe a dealer with large tips. A “friendly” dealer can raise the player’s chances dramatically by way of various tricks. Many experts agree that it adds a foul taste to the game, but, as they say, all is fair in love, war and blackjack.

Speaking about the future of casino blackjack, Stanley Roberts remarks that the expansion of casino gambling into other US states, and the increased competition among the houses is likely to insure gamblers a better deal at the black jack tables. The point is that the casinos will always have to give players a chance to win. On the other hand, as “necessity is the mother of invention” more powerful black jack strategies are sure to appear.