Blackjack is based on the French card game “vingt-et-un,” which translates literally to “twenty-one.” In the 18th century, the game was popular.
The goal of the card game “vingt-et-un,” popular among aristocrats, is to score 21 points without going “bust.” In contrast to blackjack, however, hitting a natural is not required to achieve the best possible win. The primary goal was to improve the dealer’s score to continue playing. The dealer position is rotated among the players.
The most influential people in blackjack history
While serving in the military, Roger Baldwin, a gifted mathematician, became increasingly interested in the game of blackjack. His Columbia University master’s degree in mathematics, love of mathematics, and fascination with blackjack led him and some of his friends (Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott) to develop optimal strategies for leveraging a player advantage in the game of blackjack.
Their methods were described in an article titled “The Optimal Strategy in Blackjack,” which was made public (1956). It was a ground-breaking investigation into the game of blackjack that used tried-and-true methods for increasing one’s chances of beating the dealer. Soon after, they published their findings in a book titled “Playing Blackjack to Win with the Best Paying Online Casino” (1957). Even though its study broke new ground, the information it produced was notoriously difficult for most members of the general public to understand.
Edward O. Thorp, the late
Thorp, known as the “father” of card counting, is credited with the strategy. Card counting is based on the idea that if one keeps a running count of the cards dealt to both the player and the dealer, one can predict the final result by determining which cards remain in the shoe. Thorp is credited with coming up with this strategy.
Thorp published Beat the Dealer in 1962, and it quickly became the standard reference book for anyone looking to gain an advantage over gambling establishments.
As one might expect, casinos were not pleased with Thorp’s book on card counting, and some even attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to change the rules of the game to prohibit players from counting cards.
The casino responded by shuffling the cards at each table at random intervals throughout the evening’s play. This, however, worked a little too well for my liking. The gamblers became increasingly impatient as the time required to repeatedly reshuffle the cards increased.
As a result, casinos decided to use multiple decks in a single game, with each deck stored in a large shoe that could hold up to eight packs of cards or more. Unfortunately, they had a fundamental misunderstanding of Thorpe’s card-counting hypothesis. His strategies were so adaptable that they could be applied to either a single deck or multiple decks with equal ease. The player simply needed a little more time to find the best time to place large bets and capitalize on his advantage over the casino. Blackjack enthusiasts continued to rake in millions of dollars from the casino.
Following that, the casinos decided to train their dealers in the Thorpe method of card counting. This was done so that dealers and pit bosses could quickly identify card counters by paying close attention to the players’ betting patterns. It was only natural for a card counter to increase the size of his bets if he perceived that the table was tilting in his favor.
Ken Uston and Keith Taft are the gambling industry’s worst nightmares
Ken Uston and Taft formed a partnership and created a computer that could beat the house when playing blackjack. The computer, affectionately known as “George,” was worn as a belt around the player’s waist. Following that, the player would enter a series of signals that resembled morse code, and George would advise him on the best type of wager to make. Because George was so large, Taft had to control the device with his enormous toes to submit the necessary information. Taft and his son attempted to test the apparatus in 1972 but were only partially successful. Taft, Keith
When Intel released the first 8-bit microcomputer in 1976, Taft would be able to create an upgraded and significantly smaller version of George, which would be much better suited to concealing the device in a bustling casino setting. In 1976, Intel introduced the first 8-bit microcomputer. Taft’s revised version was given the name David (a reference to David and Goliath in the Old Testament).
Goliath would be defeated by David, who represents the player who has few resources but is tenacious in their pursuit of victory (the giant casinos, ominous and threatening). David had a distinct advantage because it was based on Thorp’s original card counting approach, but there was one critical difference: the amount of processing power required.
Thorp’s technique was prone to inherent imprecision because it was designed to be usable by the average player who performed mental arithmetic. The values of the cards were sorted into groups, and a running tally was kept based on the groups to which they belonged, which were determined by the order in which they were given. As a result, any cards with a value between 2 and 6 would be given a +1.
Any card with a value between 7 and 9 would be assigned a value of 0. Furthermore, the value of a ten, a face card, and an ace would be reduced to -1. Taft’s device, on the other hand, was capable of independently analyzing each card and producing the most accurate forecasts imaginable. These predictions were far more accurate than anything a human mind could achieve while playing blackjack mentally.
Taft and Uston formed a partnership. During a five-week run of blackjack games, Uston’s talented analytical mind, Taft’s brilliant micro-mechanical David, and a crew of signalers and computer operators led to a win of more than $100,000.
The casinos were enraged, accusing Uston and Taft’s team of cheating. The allegations were denied by the team. The FBI conducted an investigation and determined that the devices in question could not be considered cheating mechanisms. As a result, all charges brought against the defendants were dropped.
The casino responds with a counterattack
Using their extensive connections and substantial financial clout, the large casinos successfully advocated for a change in the law regarding the use of mechanical blackjack aids. It worked well. It is illegal for anyone at a Nevada licensed gaming facility to use, or possess with the intent to use, any equipment that aids in projecting the outcome of the game. Nevada Senate Bill 467, which was signed into law, included this provision.
The penalties for breaking the law were severe: a prison sentence of up to ten years and/or a fine of up to ten thousand dollars was possible for a first offense; incarceration was required for a second offense. Did Taft have the same ability as Uston when it came to blackjack? Almost definitely not. Regardless, Taft was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2004 for his significant contribution to the game’s “evolution.” Many of his contraptions are currently on display at the Blackjack Museum at the Barona Casino in California.
Stanford Wong has contributed to a brighter future
Stanford Wong, also known as John Ferguson under his pen name, is well-known for his 1975 publication of Professional Blackjack. He is widely regarded as the “Godfather” of the blackjack card game and devised a method to circumvent the Continuous Shuffle Machines or CSMs, that casinos had installed as one of many preventative measures against card counting as a profitable strategy in blackjack. He accomplished this by creating a system that randomly mixed the cards in the deck.
The strategy of placing bets at a blackjack table only after the player’s hand has improved and the dealer’s hand is more favorable to the player is known as “wonging.” When the game returns to being in the casino’s favor, the player will leave so that he can prepare for his next chance to make the most money.
Wong, like many of the players who came before him, has earned a place in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Furthermore, he is the reason that many casinos have etched the words “No Mid-Shoe Entry” on some of their blackjack tables. This ensures that new players cannot gamble until the first hand following any shuffle, regardless of whether the deck has been reshuffled.