How Blackjack evolved in the US

Blackjack is a particularly popular game with players in the USA where it has a very long history going back to the French revolution that saw many people leaving France and heading to the USA in 1789 as immigrants seeking a new life. Blackjack had the name ‘21’ which was a direct translation of ‘Vingt et un’ that was the name of the game in France where the game is said to have its origins in the French royal court.

Blackjack rapidly became the game of choice and was played with enormous stakes in US casinos at that time especially as a result of huge bonuses offered to pull in the players by the casinos themselves. The game was unregulated by the government of the day giving rise to criminal elements and big money making opportunities in the then ‘shady’ world of casino gambling.

The 19th century saw gambling banned officially in the USA and in 1931 when it was legalized by the state of Nevada, people flocked to the casinos that appeared out of nowhere in a very short time. Blackjack became the most popular casino game yet again as it was a fast and simple game to play and was accessible to all players no matter their mathematical capabilities.


The Mathematical Approach to Blackjack

It was in the 20th Century that mathematicians and gambling strategists saw opportunities to create a number of ‘systems’ in Blackjack games making it a game where many people looked to make a lot of money by learning to count cards, apply certain strategies and tactics to win massive amounts of money. Movies have been made about the game, many books written and the game of Blackjack is still under scrutiny by people who believe that they can discover a foolproof way to beat the dealer and make their fortunes.

The first really important and carefully researched Blackjack book ‘Playing Blackjack to Win’ was published in 1957 by the player Roger Baldwin who set out to show that players were able through counting cards to adopt a winning strategy in the game.

The book was rather difficult for the average player to understand but it opened the floodgates for more research to be done in the realm of card counting. It was Edward Thorp who really made card counting understandable for the average Blackjack player and for that reason his book ‘Beat the Dealer’ remains very famous and has led to people saying that Thorp was the ‘father of card counting’.

Not until the 1980’s did the game evolve even further with Ken Uston creating the concept of team play in Blackjack, applying his principles in casinos and winning millions of dollars from them through team play coupled with card counting. He even won a court case against Atlantic City Casinos to allow card counting in house by Blackjack players.


Millionaire Blackjack Students

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT Blackjack team of six brilliant students took the game of Blackjack to new heights with special card counting tactics employed by the team in Las Vegas casinos in the 1990s winning millions of dollars in the process.

The MIT Blackjack team started out quite simply as a school club which passed the time playing Blackjack after a heavy day of studies. However, the students applied their mathematical brilliance to the concept of card counting which was seen as an interesting challenge between the guys on the team. They realized that a lot of money could be made and new members were invited to join the club if they were able to pass the stiff entrance test! The strategy was perfected and the MIT team took on Las Vegas casinos winning what is thought to be around $4 million during the 1990’s.

The team was highly organized at the Blackjack tables with each member having a role to play that was adhered to employing the Hi-Lo system of card counting in particular, amongst other card counting tactics.


Techniques described

The techniques that were used are described by the author and former MIT Blackjack team member Ben Mezrich in the book ‘Bringing Down the House’ and also in the blockbuster movie 21. The actual research by the MIT Blackjack team began as early as 1979 however the big bucks were won in the 1990s in a ‘tour de force’ that shocked the casino owners.

The principle tactics used by the MIT Blackjack team were for one person referred to as ‘The Counter’ to sit at the table counting cards and placing tiny bets in order to look insignificant to the dealer. As soon as a score was deemed big enough to merit a large bet ‘the counter’ gave a special private signal to a team member to increase his bet.

This team player would play the role of the rich business man who didn’t care about money and was called the ‘Big Player’ by the team, joining the Blackjack table when he got the sign that the time was right. Every team member acted out his own role separately however he was part of a highly trained team that worked like clockwork.


Banned from casinos

Over time the tactics were filmed by security cameras set up all over Las Vegas Casinos and the MIT players were banned from playing anywhere because of their card counting activities.

Their reputation was so widespread that they were able to tour and give lectures about their tactics to players who were interested and to write books and make the famous film 21. Blackjack gained even more recognition and flourishes everywhere on the planet today.