If there is one activity humans have engaged in since the dawn of civilisation is playing games. Growing crops and congregating in urban environments didn’t just create a surplus of food. The time devoted to hunting and gathering shortened, meaning humans had to find activities to fill their days. One way was by challenging other people through games. Table game may be abundant now, in online casinos for example, but their beginnings were much more humble.
The first board games
Even before they could write, the ancients had board games. The first items we have evidence of are dice. Dice provide the random results needed to drive a huge range of games. One of the first was found in a 5,000-year-old burial mound in Başur Höyük, Turkey. Here 49 painted stones were discovered, making up the oldest board game pieces so far. Similar items have been discovered throughout the Fertile Crescent centring on the Tigris or Euphrates rivers in the Middle East, and of course, Ancient Egypt.
Ancient yet modern table games
Possibly the oldest game that is still played today is called The Royal Game of Ur. Using black and white pieces, markers, and dice, it first appeared in the ancient city of Ur in Iraq. A set from 2650 BC was discovered there, as well as in Tutankhamen’s tomb. It is still played in modern India, making it the longest-running game we know.
Not long later (2000 BC) Backgammon was invented, eventually making its way around most of the world. Another popular game followed later, beginning as Chaturanga, an ancient Indian game played in the Gupta Empire. Around 700 AD it travelled to Europe where it is now more commonly known as chess.
Betting on table games
A form of chess is mentioned in conjunction with betting in the Ramayana. This ancient text was written in the fifth century, but evidence for betting is much older. Many believe that as long as there have been table games, there has been betting. However, the first tangible evidence we have comes from civilisations as diverse as the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Within these societies, dice games were very popular.
On the other side of the planet, playing cards emerged in China around the 9th century. The precise games played then, no one knows. A few hundred years later, in the opulent drawing rooms of the European aristocracy, many of the card games we still play in casinos like were born. One of the earliest was Baccarat, followed by a precursor to Blackjack called ventiuna in Spain. This point is debated amongst some scholars who argue it actually originated from trente-un or even quinze from France.
Wherever it came from, the name Blackjack is a purely American one, linked to promotions run by Nevada based casinos in the 1930s. Again, casinos are synonymous with places like Las Vegas and raj.bet but started in 17th century Italy, many in Venice, before spreading throughout Europe and across the world.
In many ways, the history of table games mirrors the history of modern humankind itself. Many believe humans have been engaged in games since we invented farming and domesticated animals. Others argue it probably began earlier. Whenever we did first feel the need to beat others in a game or bet on outcomes, table games have a long distinguished history, and thanks to the internet an even brighter future.