The Origin of Twenty-One

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The casino game of Blackjack was introduced to the U.S. in the 19th century but it wasn’t until the middle of the twentieth century that a system was developed to beat the house in chemin de fer. This article is going to take a quick peak at the development of that system, Card Counting.

When gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1934, twenty-one screamed into popularity and was usually gambled on with one or 2 decks. Roger Baldwin wrote a dissertation in ‘56 which explained how to lower the casino advantage built on probability and performance history which was quite complicated for individuals who were not mathematicians.

In 1962, Dr. Edward O. Thorp utilized an IBM 704 computer to enhance the mathematical strategy in Baldwin’s dissertation and also created the 1st card counting strategies. Dr. Ed Thorp wrote a book called "Beat the Dealer" which illustrated card counting strategies and the tactics for reducing the house edge.

This created a massive growth in Blackjack players at the US betting houses who were attempting to put into practice Dr. Ed Thorp’s techniques, much to the consternation of the casinos. The technique was difficult to understand and hard to implement and therefore heightened the profits for the casinos as more and more people took to gambling on black jack.

However this huge increase in earnings wasn’t to continue as the gamblers became more refined and more insightful and the system was further improved. In the 1980’s a bunch of students from MIT made card counting a part of the regular vernacular. Since then the casinos have developed numerous methods to counteract card counters including (but not limited to), multiple decks, shoes, constant shuffle machines, and rumor has it, sophisticated computer software to scrutinize body language and detect "cheaters". While not against the law being discovered counting cards will get you barred from most brick and mortar casinos in vegas.

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