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The history of blackjack and why it is so popular

Few recreational activities truly stand the test of time, with public interest rarely remaining the same for too long.

However, some popular pastimes date back hundreds of years and are still going strong today.

Blackjack certainly falls into this category, with historians reporting that a written reference to the game was made by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in the early 1600s.

Subsequent mentions of the game were recorded in Spain and France, with the first official records of the game of blackjack being found in this country in 1768.

Blackjack rules then appeared in Great Britain in 1800, and the game quickly crossed the Atlantic to the United States.

Blackjack continued to grow in popularity after that, becoming an important part of traditional casino venues in the US and Europe.

In 1956, Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott published an article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association titled ‘Optimal Strategy in Blackjack’.

This was the first mathematically optimal blackjack strategy and became the basis of future efforts to profit from this game.

Their work has caused quite a stir among researchers, most notably when it was put to the test by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor of Mathematics Edward O Thorp.

He tested their strategy on a university IBM computer and found it to be accurate ‘within a few hundredths of a percentage point’.

Thorp then formulated the first card counting strategy and used it to great effect in several Las Vegas casinos.

His work has inspired many players to follow in his footsteps, with the infamous blackjack team MIT being one of the most notable examples.

The advent of the online blackjack game around the turn of this century saw a new wave of players trying to apply the perfect strategy in the game.

Fast forward to this day and blackjack remains one of the most popular recreational activities around, with millions regularly playing online and in land-based locations.

Types of blackjack

Blackjack’s appeal largely stems from its simplicity, with each variation requiring the player to land close to a total of 21 with your cards without exceeding that number.

If the player gets closer to 21 than the dealer or the dealer is dealt, the player wins the hand. Like simple games, it’s hard to find something to beat blackjack.

There are several different types of blackjack, each of which involves players making a series of decisions after being dealt their starting hand.

American-style blackjack is the most commonly played variant of the game and is usually played with up to eight decks in land-based casinos.

Hit or stand – you decide! – Image via Pexels

This version is classified as a ‘hole card game’, allowing the dealer to test blackjack on an Ace and 10, thereby saving the player a possible side bet loss later on.

In contrast, in the European version of the game, the dealer receives a second card after the player’s hand has been completed.

Another rule unique to this variation is that if the dealer gets a wild blackjack, it beats any other 21-value hand. The player can also only double the number of hands that have a value of nine, 10 or 11.

Other popular variations include Vegas Strip blackjack and Multihand blackjack, each with subtle rule differences that set them apart from the American and European versions.

Why is blackjack so popular?

As mentioned earlier, blackjack is popular because it is so easy to understand. However, there are many other reasons that contribute to the success of the game.

Most importantly, blackjack offers players the best chance of consistently making profits when compared to other casino games.

Every casino operator builds an edge on every game, which effectively ensures that their business will be profitable for a long time.

The house edge does not prevent a player from winning, but it does ensure that the casino can keep its head above the water.

Lowering the edge the casino holds will improve your chances of winning and this can be easily achieved in blackjack.

Using the perfect basic strategy reduces the house edge to just 0.5 percent, thus greatly increasing your chances of winning.

This factor leads to another reason why blackjack has stood the test of time as a mainstream recreational activity – it’s a game of skill.

While games like roulette and slots rely entirely on luck, blackjack players have an element of control over their fate in each hand.

A player’s decisions in a game directly affect the outcome – choosing the right moment to make certain moves is in your hands.

Another important factor in the popularity of blackjack is its fast-paced nature. While poker games can take hours to complete, you know the outcome of a blackjack game in seconds.

Blackjack is also an affordable game to play. Whether you are a newbie or an advanced player, there are tables available to suit your budget.

The social nature of blackjack has also kept it in vogue, with the game providing the perfect platform to interact with others at the table.

It can be a great way for friends and family to socialize, by visiting a land-based casino together or getting together in a digital environment.

The last word

Despite being around for hundreds of years, there’s no denying blackjack’s status as a popular recreational activity.

Its fortunes have clearly been helped in recent years by a shift to online play, which has introduced the game to a new audience.

With online games becoming increasingly popular in recent times, the game of blackjack is unlikely to wane in popularity in the coming years.

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