Card games, like everything in life, have gone through their own evolution. No one knows for certain when and where blackjack was first played, however, many card games of the past have similar tracks to blackjack and can give us a good idea of it's trace through history.
In France in the early to mid 17th century, a game called vingt-un or vingt-et-un was one of the first twenty-one games. Just as in blackjack, the objective of this game was to get 21 without busting. Initially, this game was not banked by the casinos and was a private game. Players took turns as the dealers, banking the game. If played in casinos, the casino would take a percentage of the dealer's winnings.
Here are some of the rules of vingt-et-un
1. Only the dealer could double
2. If a dealer had 21 (Natural) players paid him triple
3. A player could bet on each round of Vingt Et Un
4. An Ace was counted as 1 or 11
5. If a player has a Natural, it is paid as 2: 1
Historian Rev. Ed. S. Taylor in “The History of Playing Cards said that vingt-et-un became popular in the mid eighteenth century and was played by notables such as Mademe Du Barry, a mistress of Louis XV and also played by the Emperor Napoleon.
A predecessor to vingt-un, quinze was another French game of Spanish origin. The goal of quinze was to reach 15. Again, this game was not banked by the house, but by the player who dealt the cards. There were many similarities to blackjack, but 1 big difference was that if a player busted with more than 15, he was not required to declare the bust. He could wait for the dealer to finish playing. The players that busted before the dealer, did not lose their bets.
There were a few aspects to this game that made it interesting psychologically. First the dealer did not have to play by house rules and second, the players did not have to declare a bust. As a result, it was quite often the case that players would try to hide a strong or weak hand. Aristocratic players were even known to wear masks to cover their emotions.
Sette e Mezzo
Sette e Mezzo or seven and a half, was an Italian game that was played in the 17th century. Similar to vingt-un and blackjack, the goal was to score 7 with without going bust. This game was played with a 40 card deck, a deck where all 8's, 9's and 10's were removed. In Spain and parts of Italy they often used a Latin-qualified 40-card pack, with suits of Coins, Cups, Clubs and Swords.
This game was different to quinze in that players who busted before the dealer could not keep their bets. In that the dealer was not tied to play by house rules, part of the game again was psychological where the players would try to trick the dealer into making poor strategic moves.
In Italy, it was popular to play this game during the Christmas time.
This is just a brief review of the history precedenting Blackjack, the most popular card game today. It has been played in one form or another another through the previous 4 centuries or more.