The first mention of a from the history of blackjack came from a Spanish dictionary dating back to 1611. Blackjack, the American card game where players try to reach 21, was originally known as Ventiuno. In 1613, Miguel de Cervantes mentioned this game in one of his novellas. While Cervantes is famous for writing Don Quixote, one of the most influential works of literature in the world, he was also an avid gambler. In fact, many of his famous characters were cheats and miscreants.
While Cervantes’ novel was written about two characters in the Spanish province of Seville trying to cheat at the game that would later become blackjack, other countries like France also picked up a variant of the game in the 18th century.
When Ventiuno became popular in France, it was known as Vingt-Un. The game would be known by that name as it traveled through the rest of Europe, becoming popular in Britain and Germany by the second half of the 18th century.
Upon arrival in America in the 1800s, the popular card game went through another name change. This time the name was changed from the French Vingt-Un to its current name of blackjack. Common folklore holds that blackjack got its American name when casinos were trying to increase the game’s popularity.
Casinos would payout 10 times more than usual if the player’s hand consisted of an ace of spades and a “black” jack. While this is a cute story, there’s no evidence to back it up, and blackjack likely received its name a different way. The game increased in popularity during the Gold Rush and was a popular pastime among prospectors.
Sphalerite, a mineral known to indicate if gold or silver ore deposits were nearby, was nicknamed blackjack by miners thanks to its color. It’s suggested by scholars that the top bonus in the original game was referred to by players as blackjack, leading to the game itself taking on that name. Blackjack has many variants because the game has such a long history and has been played in so many countries.
If you’re in a casino, you may be perplexed when a dealer is offering a blackjack variant you’ve never heard of. Luckily, many alternatives are easy to understand if you already know how to play blackjack, so you’ll be able to fit right in and play at the table.
How American Blackjack Works
Real money blackjack is played differently around the world, but we’ll describe the US rules a little bit before moving on to blackjack’s other popular variants.
In the US, each player and the dealer are dealt two cards at the start of the hand. One of the dealer’s cards is face up and one is face down. The values of numbered cards are as shown. Face cards like jacks, queens, or kings have a value of 10, and aces have a value of one or 11.
Players draw cards until they bust. You bust if your sum exceeds 21. Your sum will be different depending on whether the ace is high or low.
Let’s say you have an original hand of a five and a six, meaning your sum is 11. Then, you draw an ace. If the ace were to be high, your sum would be 22 and a bust. But because aces can be high or low, your sum is now 12. You draw a five, then decide to hold because you don’t want to risk busting.
While busting means you automatically lose, you still want to draw enough cards to get close to 21 without going over. Once you and other players finish drawing, it’s the dealer’s turn. The dealer will hit until he reaches 17.
A blackjack is when a player receives an ace and a card with a value of 10. The player will win if he receives a blackjack, but the dealer will not. And the player loses if he busts, even if the dealer busts, too.
If the player has a higher sum than the dealer without going over 21, the player wins. If the dealer and player end up with the same sum, then the bet is a push, and all stakes are returned.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of simply placing wagers on blackjack games, you may be interested in spicing up your game with side wagers. In a designated area next to the box for the main wager, you’ll find a box where you can make a side wager at most blackjack tables.
Some games will require the blackjack wager to equal or exceed the side bet wager, so you won’t be able to make a huge side bet without betting just as much on the actual game itself.
While blackjack is known to have a relatively low house edge compared to many other table games, side bets aren’t as great for the player value-wise. Side bets have a worse house edge than the game of blackjack does, but they’re still a fun way to add extra flavor to a regular game of blackjack.
1 – Spanish 21
Spanish 21 has a few key differences from regular blackjack.
If you’ve been frustrated by hitting 21 at the same time as the dealer in regular blackjack, you’ll appreciate Spanish 21. The game pays out 3:2 any time a player hits a blackjack. Many venues offer late surrender in Spanish 21. If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, players can surrender and get half their stake back.
Spanish 21 and blackjack both have the dealer dealing two cards to themself to start the game. However, a key difference is if the dealer receives a visible ace in their hand, they’ll peak under the hole card to see if they have a blackjack.
If the dealer is dealt a blackjack, they’ll automatically win and the round is over (except if a player also hits a blackjack, then the player wins and gets paid 3:2).
2 – European Blackjack
The form of blackjack from which the American game evolved, European Blackjack, has a few rule differences from its American counterpart. European Blackjack is played with six decks while American Blackjack can be played with anywhere from one to eight decks.
In European Blackjack, the dealer will only get one face-up card to start the game. The dealer won’t deal himself the second card until the player has finished their hand. Compared to Spanish 21, European Blackjack doesn’t allow the dealer to check for blackjack if his face-up card is an ace.
This prevents the player from being able to double down as easily as other blackjack games since the player doesn’t know if the dealer has a blackjack until the game is over.
3 – Pontoon
Pontoon can be played amongst a group of people without a dealer. At the beginning of the game, no player will be the dealer. Then, the first player to draw a jack will become the banker, which is another way of saying “dealer.”
The combination of an ace and a face card, or a 10, is known as a pontoon. Like blackjack, a pontoon is the best possible hand to receive in the game. Unlike blackjack, pontoon’s next best hand is known as a five-card trick.
A five-card trick is any hand that has five cards in it but has a sum of less than 21. A five-card trick will beat a hand of three or four cards, even if the hand has a higher sum than the five-card trick. The banker will always win in pontoon if he has a hand equal to the players. Pontoon gives the banker a bigger advantage than the dealer has in American blackjack.
4 – Perfect Pairs
One of the most popular blackjack variants, Perfect Pairs is played all around the world. Playing perfect pairs is like playing a regular hand of blackjack but automatically includes a side bet. The side bet is whether the player will be dealt a pair as their first two cards.
There are three types of perfect pairs in the game:
- Two cards with the same number value. For example, two nines or two kings
- Two cards with the same number value and color, like an ace of spades and an ace of clubs
- A perfect pair where the two cards are identical with the same value and suit
We hope this shed some light on blackjack history and provided you with information of the different variations of blackjack that are popular. What is your favorite variant of blackjack? Let us know in the comments.