Blackjack: A Game With An Aristocratic History

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Blackjack players who sit down at one of the felt-covered half-moon tables at Mazatzal Casino, hoping to be dealt a face card with an ace, may not know it, but they are playing a card game with historic roots.

Romans once gambled using blocks of wood with numbers on them, so blackjack may have arisen in the age of Empire some 1,300 years ago.

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"What makes the game of blackjack fun? When everybody wins," said Laurie Cross, a blackjack dealer at the Mazatzal Casino. "We love to give money away here."

The Chinese are thought by many historians to have invented the playing card, which may have doubled as currency, after they invented paper.

Yet the four symbols on early European card decks -- ring, cup, sword and baton -- appear in the four-handed statues of India, so some historians make a case for cards originating in that country.

Where ever the playing card's origin, after John Guttenberg printed the first decks in 1440, card games gained popularity in Europe. As a gaming tool, cards allowed for flexibility -- play could be simple or complex.

Card games like baccarat and an Italian game known as 1 and 30 evolved around a "hand" that required a certain numeric total.

By the 18th century, French aristocrats played a game called vingt-et-un or 21. It consisted of rounds in which the players tried to achieve a score of 21. When the dealer scored the winning 21 he was paid at 3 to 1.

The game of 21 appeared in American gambling halls in 1910, but did not catch on until the halls created bonus payouts.

According to Mark Hirst's history of the game, the name "blackjack" came about when a player landed the ace of spades and jack of clubs or spades.

In modern times, blackjack players don't gamble their jewelry, wives or livestock as did Roman soldiers, the game is played in casinos with currency.

Blackjack tables are open at the Mazatzal Casino everyday from 10 a.m. until 1 a.m. for players to enjoy Push Your Luck, Shotgun 21, or regular blackjack.

Up to six players can play at each table.

Note: For complete rules of these games players should ask the dealer.

In the game of Push Your Luck, in addition to a player's regular bet, the player can make a maximum side bet of $25. If the player's hand matches the dealer's hand the player wins 10 times the bet.

"So, if your side bet is $10 you win $100, but your tie bet cannot exceed your regular bet," said card room supervisor Becka Williams.

The game of Shotgun 21 gives the player the option of playing two hands without having to double their bet.

"We've won best blackjack in the state of Arizona for the past two years in Casino Player's Magazine," Williams said.

Mazatzal offers player-friendly blackjack:

  • A $3 minimum bet table
  • Dealers stand on all hands of 17
  • Cards are dealt out of card holders called "shoes." There are four tables with 4-deck shoes and two tables with 6-deck shoes.

"I love playing blackjack because it seems like when there is one lucky person at a table, everybody starts to win," player Cheryl Aschbrenner said.

"It takes a different kind of skill to play blackjack than poker," said casino marketing director Farrell Thompson.

(Unlike poker, which is played against other players, blackjack is played against the house which can give players a chance for a higher payout.)

"In poker you can bluff, but with blackjack you are dealing with multiple decks of cards. You can be playing with players of varying skill levels and they might do something completely unorthodox that can just blow you away. It's part of the fun of the game, not knowing what is around the corner," Thompson said.

Cheryl Fangman, a dealer with 30 years of experience, said she likes dealing blackjack because "the game itself is fun, as are the players and the people I work with." But the game "mainly involves a lot of luck," she added.

Monday night tournaments are also offered at the Mazatzal Casino starting at 6 p.m. Registration begins Monday at 10 a.m.

The buy-in is $40.

Tournament players each receive a $10 complimentary dinner card.

Re-buys are $25.

"There is a 100 percent pay back on the buy-ins," Thompson said.

That means buy-in money all pays back to the players who win.

Tournaments give the casino a chance to show people how the game works which is something that can result in business down the line on regular play nights according to Thompson.

There are 21 hands to each round. The winner at each table of each round advances to the next level of tournament play.

First place winnings on Monday night tournament play varies with the number of participants and the amounts they are betting.

Note: These are not all of the blackjack tournament rules. Players may obtain complete rules from the Mazatzal Casino.

Weekly winners of the Monday night tournaments are invited to Mazatzal's Tournament of Champions, an event that happens twice a year.

"I like blackjack because it's exciting entertainment I can escape from reality with, but, within a budget," said Lanette Lamb, a frequent tournament player who has often gone home a winner.

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