Why Is It Called Blackjack?

blackjack 21

Source: Pixabay

You already know how to play Blackjack in a casino, but have you ever wondered where the name comes from? There's actually an intriguing story behind the word Blackjack. Read on, and you'll have a fun anecdote to impress your friends next time you play together.

The history of blackjack

For some reason, historians have always paid more attention to wars, plagues, and kings and queens than to card games. Sadly, that means that we don't know too much about where blackjack first started. Some people think it can be traced all the way back to Ancient Rome, while others believe it originated later in Europe. One thing's for sure, card games have been with us for a very long time! Given that the goal of blackjack is to reach 21 points, it should come as no surprise that early versions of the game were known as Twenty-One. In fact, the first time we can see a reference to a card game called Twenty-One is in a story by Miguel Cervantes, Spain's most famous author, written in 1601 or 1602. The story, Rinconcete y Cortadillo, talks about card cheats playing a game called Veintiuna, which linguists will know is Spanish for twenty-one. It suggests that, at this time, the game was already well-known and popular around the Iberian peninsula. Of course, we don't know if this early version was anything like the online blackjack we play today, but Veintiuna was popular enough to spread. It caught on in France, where the name was translated to Vingt-Un. Today, though, the French and Spanish also know it as blackjack. So what happened?

Vingt-Un crosses the pond

Here's where things get interesting. Europeans took Vingt-Un to America during the 19th century, and it first became popular around the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. Prospectors used card games to relax after spending their days hoping to strike it lucky, and Vingt-Un soon caught on. A common urban legend says that the name "blackjack" started as a way of promoting the game, thanks to the Jack of Spades (literally a black jack) being a special bonus card. However, this isn't true. Thierry Depaulis, a French historian who specializes in card games (what an amazing job!), has debunked this story. Cute as it sounds, the name blackjack has nothing to do with the jack itself.

blackjack table

Source: Pixabay

A mineral mystery

The truth lies, along with the prospectors' dreams, under the ground. At the time that Vingt-Un became popular, the word "blackjack" was already used in the West as a nickname for the mineral zincblende. It's not particularly valuable in and of itself, but prospectors had learned to look out for zincblende, as it's often found near silver or gold deposits. As such, the word "blackjack" was already associated with wealth. Find yourself a piece of blackjack, and you were on your way to making your fortune. The earliest blackjack casinos were in the Old West and frequented by prospectors. It seems likely that the mineral's nickname was attached to the card game, thanks to its association with money and striking it lucky. If you're wondering why the mineral was known as blackjack in the first place, then you're out of luck - that's a question whose answer is lost to time!

Cards throughout time

Of course, blackjack isn't the only card game with an intriguing name and a mysterious history. There are a number of urban legends about the origins of gin rummy, and when it comes to poker, nobody seems to have a clue! What is clear is that these games have stood the test of time for a reason. A game like blackjack is as simple and enjoyable now as it was for the prospectors in the Gold Rush, or for the card cheats in the days of Cervantes. The name might change, but don't expect blackjack to go anywhere.

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