Blackjack Counters

This is part 2 of our seven part series on blackjack card counting, looking at some of the famous blackjack counters who have influenced and revolutionized the industry. In particular we focus this article on the grandfather of blackjack counting, Ed Throrp. For the list of all articles please click here.

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Through the media, books and films, the secret world of blackjack card counters has now become not only glamorized, but also familiar to many in the mainstream. But blackjack card counting is a relatively new phenomenon in a game that has existed for centuries. Stories still abound of old time professionals being able to gain an advantage from a single deck, but even if these were true, the techniques they used are unclear.

By memory alone, it is not impossible for a trained person to remember previous cards in a single deck, without using a specific system as such. But since the introduction of multi-decks in the game of blackjack, as an attempt to curb blackjack counters, an ability to memorize cards could not work. The only reliable way to gain an edge over the house is and remains to be blackjack card counting.

The first card counters

Before Thorp’s book, which would revolutionize the game a number of players used their own systems to cause havoc in the Nevada’s casinos. These were people such as Jess Marcum, who many say used the first proper count system based on points. Another of the covert blackjack counters was Joe Bernstein. He was first mentioned in a book in 1961 as a professional counter. Even prior to this, the book by James McDermott, Wilbert Cantey, Roger Baldwin & Herbert Maisel called “Playing Blackjack to Win”, not only featured the Basic Strategy for blackjack, but also one of the first crude methods of counting.

Modern history of the Blackjack card counters

Prior to the popularity of card counting, many of the casinos played blackjack from a single deck. This was until the storm of publicity surrounding Ed Thorp’s book called “Beat the Dealer”, which was published in 1962. This really started what we know as card-counting today.

It comes as no surprise that Thorp has a strong mathematical background, having obtained a Phd in Mathematics and an MA in Physics. After obtaining his mathematics doctorate at UCLA in 1958, he then went on to teach the subject at UCLA, MIT, NMSU and UC Irvine.

While being lecturing at MIT in his post as professor of mathematics, he was to meet Claude Shannon. During many visits together to the casinos throughout Las Vegas they attempted to hone their skills at blackjack and also roulette. These two even bought together their joint knowledge in designing a wearable computer so they could practically test their theories. After much positive results for his theories, he set about to write the book which contained the first solid system for card counting.

Ed Thorp’s historic book

Within this book he spelled out the Ten count system that was based around the current single deck game of blackjack. Unfortunately this was an extremely difficult strategy to implement within the casino environment, but the fact alone that players realized it was possible to gain an advantage over the casinos was enough to cause a major revolution in the game.

Because of the number of new players heading to Nevada armed with this new knowledge, the casinos attempted to change the rules for blackjack. This met with a swift backlash from the blackjack playing public. They simply refused to take part in the new game version, which forced the casinos to back-peddle and revert to the former rules. But the casinos didn’t take Thorp’s book lying down. In an attempt to curb the potential profits from card counting they stopped dealer one deck hand shuffling and implemented multi-deck play where cards would be dealt straight from a blackjack shoe. Later, players learned to accept these changes and instead adapt their play.

Later developments by Thorp

Even though many players had managed to use Thorp’s earlier strategy, he decided to publish a more simplified version of the system, which he unveiled in his revised 1966 print of his previous book, Beat the Dealer. Here he explained the High-Low system for counting. This has been designed in conjunction with a computer programmer named Julian Braun, using a variation on a system by Harvey Dubner, and represented an easier counting system and one that could also be used with multi-deck dealing.

Thorp later on went onto continued success in blackjack and other fields writing books on how to beat the markets and also writing for the Gambling times for many successive years. He is not surprisingly a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

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To view our complete series on counting cards, use the links below:

Part 1- How to Count Blackjack Cards- An Introduction on the subject of card counting.
Part 2- Blackjack Counters- The history of card counting & its main founder, Ed Thorp.
Part 3- Counting blackjack cards- Other famous professionals who followed after Thorp.
Part 4- How to count in blackjack- Explanation of Thorp’s 10-count blackjack system.
Part 5- Hi Lo Blackjack- The Hi-Lo system of counting explained in detail.
Part 6- How to count cards in blackjack- The easiest complete system for card counting called the KO strategy.
Part 7- Blackjack counting card- The Hi-Opt I system for blackjack card counting.

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