Edwards Thorp

Few can claim to have invested the serious research into the game of Blackjack as can Edward Thorp. A professor of mathematics, he applied his skills at statistics to the much-loved game in the late 1950's and early 1960's and is considered one of the fathers of card counting. By some, he is considered the most important figure in the development of the techniques that allow advantage play.

When Thorp began working on the problem of increasing a Blackjack player's odds of winning, the house enjoyed an advantage of 5% in most cases. Thorp, using early computers, worked out a series of equations from which he developed the basis of card counting. His technique was suitable for the time, when casinos typically dealt each game from one deck which was not reshuffled between hands. Today, most casinos use a "shoe" containing several different decks, a practice that owes its origins to Thorp's insights.

No professor is content with their theories unless they have real world applications. To that end, Thorp made a trip to Nevada with $10,000 in his hand which had been donated by a professional gambler. His success proved the value of his theory. By the end of the weekend study, he had more than doubled the money, walking away with $11,000 in winnings.

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Thorp also has the distinction of likely being the first person removed from a casino by security for counting cards. His success at every table he visited was hard for the casinos to miss and he found himself being kicked out over and over again. The $11,000 in winnings would likely have been larger had the casinos not caught on. Thorp, however, was not so easily dissuaded.

Thorp continued to visit Las Vegas and to win big, oftentimes wearing a disguise to prevent the casino security and staff from recognizing the man who had evened the odds. In fact, with the casino practice at the time being to deal from one deck that was not reshuffled, Thorp was enjoying an approximate advantage of 1% over the casinos. Soon, he put his theory and methods into print, publishing the first book that imparted the secret of card counting to the world and changing the way casinos operate their Blackjack games forever.

His book was a best seller, with nearly 1,000,000 copies being sold in 1962. The New York Times Best Seller is still regarded as the book to have for those who are considering playing Blackjack at a high-roller level.

Thorp continued to beat the odds, working out a system for roulette that made use of a computer which could be worn on a person's body. The use of a wearable computer is prohibited in casinos today.

Thorp is currently a professor of mathematics at MIT and an inaugural member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. His work, while very lucrative and definitely off the beaten path for a scientist, is something he nonetheless regards as an academic exercise more than anything else.