The first mathematician to develop and test theories strictly related to gambling, Dr. Edward Thorp is also the inaugural member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
The achievement Dr. Thorp is most noted for is his development of effective “card counting” techniques. Dr. Thorp believed that casino Blackjack tables could be beaten by a well designed method of card counting.
Relying on an early computer, Dr. Thorp wrote programs that would build and test models of his theory. What he discovered was the best way of tracking the content of a deck of cards as a game progressed, and greatly increasing the player’s chances of winning based on that knowledge.
Unlike many scientists, Dr. Thorp went outside of his laboratory environment and actually put his theory to work. In the early 1960s, and with the backing of a known organized crime associate, he visited Las Vegas and used his method for winning Blackjack. At the end of his trial Dr. Thorp had won over eleven thousand dollars, and a sour reputation with most of the casinos he had visited. In fact, his remarkable success had drawn enough attention from the various pit bosses and security teams that the doctor was expelled from numerous casinos in a single evening.
Word of his success got around quickly and by 1962 the doctor authored his first book, “Beat the Dealer” which laid out the method for successfully counting cards in the casino environment. The book was a bestseller and caused some casinos to adjust their Blackjack techniques – for example, most casinos today will shuffle a deck long before the game draws to a close as surefire method of counteracting any player’s card counting efforts.
What was truly remarkable about Dr. Thorp’s work at the time was that it was published without the usual scientific scrutiny of his mathematical peers. He also put himself at risk of physical harm by testing and publishing his theories. The organized crime world had long been involved in the world of gambling, and to print a manual itemizing how the casinos could easily be defeated did not make many “mobsters” happy with the good doctor.
Dr. Thorp did not end his writing career with “Beat the Dealer” however, he has since published “Elementary Probability” in 1977, “Beat the Market: A Scientific Stock Market System”, and “The Mathematics of Gambling” in 1985.
Since his successful foray into the world of gambling, Dr. Thorp has turned his attention and studies towards the stock market. Relying again on the theories behind probability and statistics, he has created two successful financial ventures. First was the Princeton/Newport Partners that yielded remarkable returns for investors, and today he operates Edward O. Thorp and Associates, another investment fund with an average twenty percent return!
Card counting is still making headlines and attracting media attention. To date there have been many films, documentaries, television programs, books, articles and news stories dedicated to an examination of the numerous methods that mathematicians and gamblers use to track and count cards in Blackjack.