It might surprise you to know that Blackjack is often cited as a card game that Napoleon Bonaparte had a particular fondness for.
Much like in his exhaustive preparations for the battlefield, Napoleon came up with his own riveting tactics for playing Blackjack, a game that he considered to be one of intrinsic strategy and skill.
The Wild Origins of Blackjack
Despite no hard evidence to suggest the exact date and location of the inception of Blackjack, or of the variations that preceded it, it is widely believed that it first made an appearance in Italy during the 1700s.
It is also believed that this card game was first played as Vingt-et-un in French casinos of the 18th century, however the first written traces of Blackjack date back to 1605, when a Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes, wrote about it in his novel Don Quixote.
Following the first wisps of circulation of this table game and its riveting gameplay, the original variant of Blackjack spread across Europe and, eventually, carved out its space in the world as one of the most popular card games in existence.
Interesting Facts about Blackjack
Napoleon’s cheating habit
Napoleon’s fondness for Blackjack stemmed from the way in which ‘it afforded him an opportunity of cheating’.
His cheating habit, however, was not implemented for the sole purpose of winning. According to the French diplomat Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Napoleon cheated because ‘his pride could not endure that he should lose in a game’.
In lieu of this, this French commander would often choose opponents who were of lesser rank than him, particularly when playing a game of Blackjack, thus guaranteeing a win against individuals whom he considered to be inferior.
Blackjack’s popularity among soldiers
Blackjack has long been considered to be one of the most popular card games among soldiers of lesser rank.
It is believed that Napoleon’s soldiers would play Blackjack to such a degree that this French commander was forced to forbid them from engaging in it at all, lest it impinged on their sleep patterns and preparation for upcoming battles.
Blackjack played by Napoleon’s jailers
Historical references also suggest that Napoleon Bonaparte enjoyed playing this French card game to such a degree that, following his loss at Waterloo and his subsequent exile on Saint Helena, he taught vingt-et-un to his jailers who, in turn, preferred the American variant of the game: Blackjack.
Influence of Ancient Rome
The origins of Blackjack are widely debated to this day, however there is evidence to suggest that this table game is deeply entwined with influences dating back to Ancient Rome.
Historical documents suggest that gambling was a particularly favorite activity of early Romans who had their own version of our modern concept of a Blackjack game: This consisted of wooden blocks with numbers engraved onto them.
Considering that the first ever casino opened its doors in Venice in 1638, it would not be unlikely to fathom that the brilliant minds of Ancient Rome could have been behind the creation of this fan-favorite table game.
Private sessions held at Napoleon’s abode
Napoleon would habitually hold private sessions at his private residence during which he would organize various rounds of Blackjack table game sessions.
During this period of time, this game was very popular with the French Elite and was a particular favorite of the royal court.
There are various speculations regarding the original French variant of modern Blackjack: Vingt-et-un. It is believed that, during the early days of its introduction into society, this card game was considered to be a very private game enjoyed solely by the wealthy.
If this was indeed the case, then the inception of Blackjack could date back even further than what is widely believed to be true.
The Evolution of Blackjack
‘Vingt-et-Un’: The Forerunner to Blackjack
Also known as Vingt-et-un and Pontoon, Blackjack is the American name for this card game that has been popularized around the world.
In its original form, Vingt-et-un (translated as ‘twenty and one’), was frequently enjoyed by some very notable figures throughout history, including such historical figures as Napoleon and King Louis XV of France.
The forerunner to our significantly more modern concept of Blackjack is still played in Monte Carlo, but the rules of the game have been significantly modernized.
‘Pontoon’: The Australian Pronunciation
‘Pontoon’ is another variant of Blackjack that precedes the modern version of the table game that we have grown accustomed to.
This variant was introduced during World War I by soldiers of English, Australian, and New Zealand descent.
‘Pontoon’ is an Australian slang expression that was born from a mistaken anglicized pronunciation of the shortened French term vingt-un: First pronounced as vontoon and then as pontoon.
Pontoon was a game that followed the same basic rules and concepts of modern Blackjack, with the exception of some variations. These exceptions included differences in payoffs on certain hands.
‘Blackjack’: The Modern Variation
There is no historical evidence to suggest that Pontoon was introduced to America by World War veterans, however this is very likely to be the case.
Following this, the table game underwent a radical change and, eventually, evolved into the modern version of Blackjack that we have grown accustomed to today.
Blackjack has been around for hundreds of years, and, today, is one of the most popular card games in the world.
This popularity can be attributed to the simple rules of the classic table game, as well as the countless ways in which, during a round of Blackjack, a player can pull off a winning combination and benefit from the potentially massive payouts that would ensue.
Blackjack: A Game of Strategy and Skill?
Able to sit at a Blackjack table for hours on end, Napoleon harbored quite a penchant for this classic table game: one that appears to be very simple but that can actually be quite complex.
Napoleon’s categorization of Blackjack as a game of strategy and skill is one that is not shared by everyone; however, it is not difficult to deduce the reason behind his categorization of this game as such.
In Blackjack, it is evident that the player’s decisions can have a deep impact on the outcome of the game.
Despite its recognition as a game that is partly based on chance, there are numerous strategies that one can adopt that would require both skill and cunning intuition in order to ultimately play to the gambler’s advantage.
Napoleon recognized the possibility of implementing such strategic tactics and often came up with his own strategies that were intended to lead him to the indisputable path of victory.
Other Prominent Figures in the History of Blackjack
In the next section of this article, we will be discussing some other well-known figures who, throughout history, have found themselves intricately entwined in between the chips of a classic Blackjack game.
Preceding Napoleon’s penchant for Blackjack, Julius Caesar is another historical figure who, it is widely believed, enjoyed devoting his time to a variation of this table game.
As we have previously mentioned, it is possible that influences of our modern conception of Blackjack could date back all the way to Ancient Rome.
There is evidence to suggest that gambling was a particularly favorite activity of the Ancient Romans, and Julius Caesar shared such a fondness for gambling, an activity that many would engage in to let off tension in between battles.
Eleanor Dumont, also known as Madame Mustache, was a notorious gambler in the 19th century, and was one of the first female professional players of Blackjack in the world.
Having been integrated into America, a game of Blackjack could be played at the gambling halls of New Orleans.
These gambling halls were ones that had been newly legalized in 1820, and it was at these halls that Eleanor Dumont became the popular figure that she is remembered as today.
Dumont was originally born in France in 1829, but had later immigrated to America, a land in which she learnt the many skills required of gamblers and casino dealers.
In addition to this, Dumont even established her own gambling hall that opened its doors in Nevada City.
She named her gambling hall ‘Vingt-et-Un', a name that would bring players from all corners of the world to Nevada City for the chance to play a game with Eleanor Dumont.
Bryce Carlson is one of the most respected and well-known writers of Blackjack.
His book Blackjack for Blood was originally published in 1992 and is one of the most important books about Blackjack that, if you are a serious player of this table game, you should most definitely look into eventually reading.
During the 1970s, Bryce Carlson was often found in casinos befriending other players and using them to learn more tips and tricks to add to his ever-growing arsenal.
The intention of gaining such knowledge was to improve his gambling skills substantially.
From different strategies, and team play, to card counting, Carlson learnt all that there was to know about Blackjack.
This deep dedication and acquired knowledge enabled Carlson to have a long career: over 40 years of playing Blackjack.
In 1996, online gambling started to become popular, and many online casinos were beginning to become established. In reaction to this, Carlson would gather a group of Blackjack professionals from all corners of the globe and join them in their riveting gameplays.
In his most popular book, Blackjack for Blood, Carlson writes about the ‘Advanced Omega II System’, a strategy involving card counting that this professional Blackjack player claimed could boost your winning chances and, potentially, aid you win big.
Following the release of his book, and the warm reception that it received, Carlson developed a computer program that he named ‘Omega II Blackjack Machine’. The goal of this machine was to aid other Blackjack players to come up with their own personalized strategies that would potentially increase their chances of winning substantially.
Born in 1948, Arnold Snyder is a very well-known gambling author and high-stakes professional gambler.
Snyder started his Blackjack gambling journey from very humble beginnings: Stumbling across strategic Blackjack books and, despite having a limited bankroll and not being able to bet much at all, integrating them into his own Blackjack gaming rounds.
Following this, he quickly rose to success, and his popularity increased exponentially.
Today, his name can be found in the Blackjack Hall of Fame of 2002 in San Diego’s Barona Casino, and he remains one of the most prominent figures of Blackjack to this day.
In addition to being an avid player of this classic table game, Snyder has also written numerous books in which he reveals plenty of his highly innovative Blackjack strategies and techniques.
Among these, you can find famous works such as Blackjack Formula and Blackbelt in Blackjack.
Arnold Snyder’s innovations in professional gambling techniques are fascinating, and we highly encourage you to read more about this famous Blackjack master and his unique gambling strategies.
Having withstood the test of time, it is evident that Blackjack is one of the most loved table games around the world, enabling players to enjoy a riveting gameplay with simple rules and multiple opportunities to win big.
From the traditional tables at the casinos of 18th century Italy, to the virtual screens of our modern devices, Blackjack's history is one that is both intricate and deeply fascinating.
Napoleon’s love for such a game is one that is shared by many across the globe, ensuring that this legendary game will continue to evolve among players who habitually battle for victory using both traditional and significantly more modern renditions of Blackjack.
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