It is not quite possible to trace the provenance of a game that was played across various cultures at the same time. But we have to start from somewhere. Blackjack is played in many versions now. Its older English version was known as 21 which was translated from its French counterpart Vingt-et-Un.
The term traced its history in Spain. Don Quixote’s famous author Miguel De Cervantes was the first author to include the term in his book as far as the recorded history of the game is concerned. Cervantes earned his reputation as a gambler. He also included his trysts as a gambler in his works. His series of twelve short novels, Novelas Ejemplares’ include a character who is a gambler too. The protagonist of Rinconete y Cortadillo is a renowned card cheat in the Andalusian city of Seville.
The protagonist is very masterful in cheating at a card game named Veintiuna which translates to 21 in English. The novel also mentions that the purpose of the game is to reach the number 21 in card values and aces are valued at either 1 or 11, depending on what the players established before starting the game. The game is played with Bajara which is a special kind of deck in Spanish.
The novellas were written between 1600 to 1602 AD. It implied that Blackjack was being played in Castille much before the beginning of the 17th century. Different versions of the game were implied to have been played in France and Spain.
The first mention of the game was recorded to appear in France in 1768 and in Britain in the latter decades of the 18th century. The first appearance of Blackjack, as it is known today, is marked at 1800 with the name Vingt-et-Un.
It is the same time when Vingt-Un was introduced by the Europeans in the USA. Recorded history reflects on a template of Ving-et-Un rule games published in 1825 which was similar to its English counterpart published in 1800. Later, an American variant of the game was developed and it was rightfully named Blackjack in 1899.
There is a myth that goes around in the USA about the introduction of 21 as a card game. Gambling houses wanted players to come and play the game and they offered bonuses to attract gamblers. The bonus payout depended on the contingency of a player getting either an ace of spades and a blackjack which could either be a jack of spades or a jack of clubs. This hand was then known as blackjack which is now identified as the natural. The legacy of the bonus payout was significant in naming the game as Blackjack.
French authority on the history of card games Thierry Depaulis believes this to be just a myth. According to him, Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 to 1899 was responsible for giving the American variant the name Blackjack. He believed so because blackjack is also ascribed to the mineral zincblende.
An interesting incident has been etched in the history of blackjack when six students of MIT beat the dealer by counting cards and improving their odds in 1979.