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History of Blackjack

When casino games become as popular as Blackjack, there always seems to be an investigative desire to know more about the game – like where it came from and getting to know the men responsible for bringing Blackjack to the fore of immense popularity in present day casinos. So let’s get started! In this section, “Origins of the game”, we’ll go all the way back to the beginning and discover where exactly Blackjack came from. As you may already know, Blackjack is often referred to as 21. This is not only because 21 is the target players need to reach (or come as close as possible to) to win, but this figure also has a lot to do with the history of the game. It’s believed that Blackjack first surfaced in a book by Miguel de Cervantes who wrote Ronconete y Cortadillo and Don Quixote that was written between 1601 and 1602. The former is a book about gamblers who cheated in Seville and is the short story we’ll be discussing in reference to Blackjack. In Ronconete y Cortadillo, Cervantes mentions a game that was played where the objective was to reach 21. He also discusses details such as the importance of not exceeding 21 as well as the Ace values 1 and 11. Similarly, this game discussed by Cervantes, was called Veintiuna in his book, which is Spanish for 21. From Spain, Blackjack made its way to France. It was given the name Vingt-et-Un, meaning 21. Vingt-et-Un was introduced into French casinos in the early 1700’s and this is where its popularity grew immensely. It’s probably due to this popularity in France, that many believe this is where the game originated, but this is not completely true. Strangely enough, Blackjack was not as popular in the United States as it was in France. It didn’t seem to take-off as easily as it did in France and to counter-act its slow progression and expansion, in 1931 American casinos in Nevada started introducing a special bet that allowed players to take advantage of a 10 to 1 payout. This is how the payout worked: if a player got a 21 that consisted of a Blackjack which is an Ace of Spades coupled with either a Jack of Clubs or a Jack of Spades, he/she would then receive a payout of 10 to 1 – which was the best payout a player could possibly receive. After this bet was introduced, the game continued to grow in popularity until it was offered in every casino around the United States. The combination mentioned above ‘a Blackjack’ is precisely how the game got its current name. Stanford WongStanford Wong is the nickname of John Ferguson who started his Blackjack endeavors in 1964. At the time, he was also teaching finance at a state University in San Francisco and studying for his Ph. D in finance. Wong skipped staff meetings to visit casinos and practice his gambling strategies like Wonging which is an advantage technique in Blackjack where players keep a close eye on the cards at play in a game, but only start making bets when the round becomes profitable. Blackjack players who Wong will place bets when the round is in favour of the players and then step out of the round as soon as players are at a disadvantage. Casinos began to wisen up to players who were applying Wonging to their game and started displaying table signs that said “No Mid-Shoe Entry”. This means that players were no longer allowed to enter a round of Blackjack at any point. Players could only start playing from the beginning of a round, else they would have to wait until that round ended and a new one began. This policy is still used in casinos today. Wong has been the consultant for various Blackjack writers and researchers such as Don Schlesinger and Ian Andersen. He too has authored many great gambling books, his most famous book being Professional Blackjack, which is still published today. Wong is also the owner of a computer program called Blackjack Analyzer which is software that has the ability to work out what the odds are for a player when engaging in a round of Blackjack. Wong became known as a Blackjack expert and has enjoyed much fame in so far as appearing on TV numerous times and owning his own publishing house called Pi Yee Press based in Las Vegas. Wong also dabbled a little in the game of Craps and believed that players could Wong on dice, which could control the outcome of the dice when thrown. However, Wonging on the dice has caused some skepticism amongst gambling experts and it is a debatable issue whether Wonging works with Craps. None-the-less, Wong’s primary focus and specialty is on the game of Blackjack and that is where most of his recognition comes from. Stanford Wong, or John Ferguson currently lives in la Jolla California with his wife and has two grown children who are both highly educated and also married. Edward O ThorpBorn on the 14th August, 1932 – Edward Oakley Thorp is a genius when it comes to mathematics and physics. He received his PhD from the University of California in 1958 and from 1959 to 1982; Thorp was a professor at various universities: M. I. T, New Mexico State University and the University of California. Whilst he was a math buff, Thorp had an even greater passion and talent – in his spare time, Thorp used to visit casinos and practice his gambling strategies. One of his strategies was Card Counting. He has been awarded much credit for being the founder of the Card counting strategy; however, Roger Baldwin was the original inventor of Card Counting in the game of Blackjack. Because Thorp was a scientist at heart, his persistent visits to casinos was in aid of trying out and perfecting his techniques before publishing them in his various books that he later wrote, mainly on different Blackjack strategies. Thorp, together with his friend Claude Shannon and Manny Kimmel (who had connections with the mob), went and spent an entire weekend in Las Vegas practicing Thorp’s Blackjack strategies and putting their potential to rake-in the winnings, to the test. In a single weekend, Thorp won a staggering $11 000, proving that his strategies were indeed viable.   Generally, this type of winning spree is scarce and it caught the attention of casino management who then set security onto Thorp and his friends. They were expelled from not only that particular casino, but others in which they won copious amounts of money. Due to expulsion from most casinos in Las Vegas, Thorp resorted to wearing disguises to get into casinos just so that he could continue practicing his strategies and obviously enjoy the payouts he received which he saw, rightfully, as his rewards for his hard work. This, however, wasn’t the end of his story – Thorp was dabbling with IBM 704 and using it as a research method to calculate the odds of winning when used in conjunction with his Blackjack theories. He then taught himself how to use a program called Fortrain which assisted in providing the necessary equations for his theoretical research based on the player’s chances of winning if they adopt his strategies. Currently, Thorp applies his theories and strategies of beating the odds, to stock market endeavors. This has become yet another of his impressive accomplishments. Ken Uston and Keith TaftKen UstonKen Uston was born on the 12th of January 1935 in New York City. He grew up and became famous for being a Blackjack player, author and strategist. He was also part of a famous Blackjack team that was originally started by Al Francesco who was a professional gambler. Francesco elected Uston to be a chief member of his Blackjack card counting team in 1983. Uston later went on to write a book called The Big Player which is all about how he shared his card counting and other gambling tricks with the members of Al Francesco’s Blackjack team. After the book was published the team was banned from all casinos in Las Vegas. In 1978 Uston began his own Blackjack team in Atlantic City, but eventually he was banned from the gambling capital and soon, all casinos no matter where they were. Uston developed an intense interest in Video games, especially Space Invaders due to its counting shot technique and he applied it to his gambling strategies. Once he had mastered these strategies Uston wrote more books, but this time based on video games and computers. He died in 1987 at the age of 52 due to cardiac arrest. Keith TaftKeith Taft was an expert physicist. He received his Masters Degree and started working with electronics and computers. His expertise in the fields of physics and technology made him highly regarded in the world of Blackjack, especially when he created computer software that could beat the House. In 1969 Taft went to Reno and couldn’t resist playing a hand at Blackjack after receiving complementary coupons. After doing a little reading on the game, Taft decided to give it a bash and ended up winning the round and making a $3. 50 profit. This was enough to tweak his interests in the game for some time to come. After returning to his home town, Taft started doing research on the game of Blackjack and read the book Beat the Dealer written by Edward Thorp. When Taft discovered that players could beat the House by using card counting techniques he became even more intrigued as he was a Physicist and thus a natural when it came to numbers. Taft later returned to casinos and playing Blackjack. He had a lot of luck with Blackjack, but also quite a bit of bad luck and eventually decided to create software that could beat the House. After much success with his software designed to help gamblers beat the House and his fascination for card counting techniques, Taft died in 2006, but his work lives on in the world of Blackjack.

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