As with many casino and card games, no one knows exactly when and where Blackjack was first invented. It was most likely a refined version of the French games "Chemin de Fer" and "French Ferme". What we do know, however, is that it was introduced in French casinos in around 1700, when it was known as "Vingt-et-Un" ("Twenty one"). The name Blackjack was in the making when a player got an extra prize, a jackpot, as a result of the first two cards being the Jack and Ace of Spades. In USA the game was launched in the 19th century and was first mentioned in "American Hoyle" in 1887. Initially it was played in private circles but found its way to the gambling houses of Evansville, Indiana in around 1910.
The first Blackjack strategy guide, "The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack", was published by Roger Baldwin in 1956. He used statistics and probability calculations to find the best way to reduce the house's advantage. The guide, which was 10 pages long and consisted of mathematical calculations, was published in the "Journal of the American Statistical Association". It was hard to come up with an optimal strategy without the help of a computer, however.
Professor Edward O. Thorp took over where Roger Baldwin left off. He took these strategies and developed them, making them more correct. Thorp also took it one step further and introduced the first card counting techniques. Unfortunately the technique he came up with, "Ten Count", was so hard to grasp that it never caught on with the general public. In 1963 Thorp acquired the nickname "The Einstein of Blackjack" when he compiled his thoughts, strategies and card-counting strategies in a book, "Beat the Dealer". The book was so popular that it was on the New York Times's bestseller list for a week. It also made the casinos so nervous that they started changing their rules. But this backfired on them as the public stopped gambling as a result, so they had to change them back. They did, however, try to tip the odds in their favour by using more decks of cards, automatic shufflers and different shuffling techniques.
A number of other people followed in Thorp's footsteps and used computers to make further, more exact calculations in Blackjack. Stanford Wong, who was the new guru after Thorp, published "Professional Blackjack" which became a bible for beginners and experts alike. Julian Braun, who was an IBM employee, spent many hours on IBM's main frame computers performing simulations of Blackjack hands. His conclusions, and his ideas on card-counting, later appeared in the second edition of "Beat the Dealer" and "Playing Blackjack as a Business" by Lawrence Revere.
In 1977 Ken Uston put together a team of Blackjack players. They used five small computers that were concealed in their shoes. With the help of these computers, the team's knowledge and collected data, they won more than a hundred thousand dollars in just a short time. One of the computers, however, was confiscated by the FBI but as the information used was already known, the computers could not be officially classified as fraudulent. Ken Uston became known as Mr Blackjack after appearing on the American TV programme "60 minutes" in 1981 and successfully sued casinos in Atlantic City for banning card counters. You can read about Ken Uston and his story in his book "The Big Player".