Counting to 21


Blackjack, or 21, is a game that has become synonymous with the idea of a high-flyer swooping into glitzy casinos and dominating the tables, all with a vodka martini in hand. We’ve seen it happen on TV and in movies, but the reality is that blackjack players tend to be cool, calm and collected with an understated approach to the game. This composed attitude to table games appeals to players who enjoy the cerebral workout and satisfying payout that comes with it over the glamour of a loud and obvious win. Here we’ll look further into why blackjack continues to prove so popular both at casinos and with home players.

Why Blackjack?

Blackjack is a game that uniquely blends strategy and opportunity to create a seamlessly enjoyable card game that can be picked up by almost anyone. It’s not necessary to have lots of experience playing cards before you sit down to blackjack; you simply need a head for numbers and an interest in the format of the game.

Once you start playing, it becomes obvious how the apparent simplicity of the game is deceptive. Whilst you don’t need to keep track of which suits are being played, you do need to concentrate on which numbers and ‘face cards’ have already come up. This is especially true if there are multiple decks in play. The aim of blackjack is to beat the dealer, and this game will certainly keep you on your toes whilst you attempt to do just that. There are several ways in which you can beat the dealer: get 21 points on your first two cards, finish with a score higher than the dealer’s (though less than 21), or cause the dealer’s hand to bust (exceed 21). Take it from us, it’s certainly harder than it sounds!

The History of a Game

Blackjack originated in Europe under the name 21; it’s been around since at least the 1600s, and maybe even longer, so it certainly has staying power. Once it arrived in the US, the name changed to blackjack due to the interest in a certain hand: either black Jack plus the Ace of Spades. This hand would then be rewarded with 10-to-1 odds on the player’s bet by some casinos. Although the bonus eventually fell away, the name stuck and is still with us today. A ‘blackjack’ hand now refers to one ace plus either a ten or face card.

The 1950s saw a surge in interest for the game after the publication of a key text on blackjack strategy in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. This continued on into the 60s and beyond as people started to use the theories outlined by the authors to play, and win the game. These days, most people have probably heard of the MIT Blackjack Team whose story has been told both in a book, Bringing Down the House, and several films including 21 and The Last Casino. In this tale, a group of MIT students enjoy a runaway success when they hit the blackjack tables of Las Vegas with a (seemingly) foolproof format for team play.

A New Age

There are many variants of blackjack now available in casinos all over the world, but perhaps the biggest change to the game has come with computer games and the internet. Most recently, providers like SkyVegas have brought blackjack out of the casino and into the living room, onto the morning commute and away from its aloof reputation. The game is now an accessible and fun addition to the roster of casual gaming options available for you during your precious downtime.

Rather than having to brave the casino, you can brush up on your skills from the comfort of your own home as there are plenty of options to choose from. Not only does this take away some of the pressure, but it’s also been a great opportunity to develop the game further for a whole new type of player. Because blackjack has such a simplistic structure right at the heart of it, it makes it easier to play around with the game and introduce different themes and special plays. This, in turn, ensures that the game is constantly evolving and remains interesting.