Table Talk: the little-known history of some of the most popular table games

It’s hard to walk into a casino and not be impressed – dazzled even – by the bright lights, the music blaring out of machines and the amount of technology that’s been crammed into one place all in the name of having a punt. Any modern casino worth its salt regularly updates its gaming machines, bringing in the latest and greatest casino games in order to appeal to guests.

But, what about the stalwarts? The ever faithful table games which, still hugely popular have their rightful place slap bang in the middle of the gaming floor. From film to real life, games such as blackjack, roulette and more still have all the glamour and appeal of a casino that, somehow, a highly innovative slot game just can’t seem to muster.

There’s history there too. In fact, many of the table games you see in day in day out – of that’s how much time you spend in a casino, of course – have been around for a very long time. Some even predate our modern idea of a casino itself. If that sounds just a little too far fetched for a Friday afternoon, here’s a very short history lesson (we promise!) on some of the best loved casino table games.

Blackjack

Blackjack at its core is an easy game to play. Picture: Thinkstock
Now, this really is an old game. Blackjack, in its most basic form is first mentioned in the works of Miguel de Cervantes, which were published around 1601 – there was a reference to the gam of ‘veintiuna’ or twenty-one that leads many to believe that the card game was played in the home city of the writer, Seville, around this time.

While this would have been an undoubtedly more rudimentary version of the blackjack we know and love today, the rules described in the works are largely the same: players look to get 21 with two or more cards without going any higher than that total figure. Also similar to today’s game was the role of aces, which could be a one or 11 depending on what the player needed for that hand.

As far as how ‘twenty-one’ came to be known as blackjack, it’s related to a payout system instigated by US casinos. A bonus is rewarded to players when they get an ace and a jack of spades or clubs, hence a ‘blackjack’. The name stuck and here we are.

Find out more about blackjack here.

Roulette

Play roulette like a pro
One early account from 1796 Paris described roulette, or ‘little wheel’ being played in much the same fashion as it is today. Similar to today’s American Roulette wheel, the original spinner had two spaces for the house that were marked 0 and 00. The single 0 was later dropped by European casinos in order to make themselves more competitive, and that’s the current European roulette game as we now it today.

Interestingly, there’s a lottery or bingo connection to roulette too. The game is thought to originate from an Italian game known as Biribi which saw players bet on a number draw. It’s thought that the wheel was created to be a part of the draw and has remained largely unchanged.

The only thing that has seen some development is the betting grid that you’ll find on a roulette table. This has changed to offer different bets as the game has developed.

Find out more about roulette here.

Baccarat

Baccarat palette holding a winning 9
You may not know loads about baccarat, and that’s fair enough, but one thing that should grab your attention is that its one of the oldest games in the world. Of course, in those days it was largely associated with nobility and members of royalty.

That fact is likely why the game is still favoured by – or offered to – VIP gamblers at high or no limit tables. Of course, as the game has developed it has become more popular among players of all limits. This is particularly true of online casinos, at which you can probably find a fair few low limit variations to get started.

As this is a history lesson – stay with us – we have to look at the game’s background, but in fact there’s not a whole lot know about it. Some think it dates back as far as the 15th century and originates from Italy, but it is in France in later centuries that it really picked up. While you’ll find baccarat in most casinos nowadays it’s a sure thing if you head to Macau or other Asian markets, as they love the game.

Find out more about baccarat here.

Craps

Man holding dice at craps table, close-up
We’ve saved the best, certainly in terms of age, until last. Many consider craps’ origins to date back even further than those of baccarat, which as it’s a dice game is fairly easy to understand. It’s thought that it was originally called Hazard, a game that is even referred to in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

As befits it’s title however, Hazard was notoriously difficult – we don’t know if the hazard came from the actual playing of the game or the amount of money that you lost – and so it eventually fell out of favour, only to return in a simplified format as craps. Today that game is among the most popular in US casinos.

Find out more about craps here.

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