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Dr. Edward Thorp Card Counting Theory

How Card Counting Was Invented

Dr Edward Thorp received his PhD from U of C in 1958 and was a professor of mathematics from 1956 to 1977. In 1977 he began teaching mathematics and finance and during the 60’s would use his background in mathematics with probability and statics to exploit pricing anomalies in securities. Thorp is credited as the first mathematician to develop a card counting system for blackjack and was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

Edward Thorp published his first blackjack book in 1962 called Beat The Dealer. After years of research based on the Kelly criterion Thorp was able create a strategy for the game of blackjack which took the standard house edge of 5% and in turn gave the player a 1% edge over the house. His theory meant players would need to mimic the dealer in their play and never go bust and was the most influential change in blackjack history.

His research stemmed from the IBM 704 created by Roger Baldwin and would devise a theory for the game based on the probabilities of winning. During his research he began to create card counting systems that would allow a player to significantly reduce the house edge, and be able to make informed choices at the table. The IBM 704 was used as a teaching aid to improve his odds.

Once Thorp felt his theory was sound he took it to Vegas and was backed by a gambler named Manny Kimmel. His first visit to Reno was a success. Thorp’s blackjack theory would win him $11,000 in the first few days. Just like today’s casinos, big winners at the tables draw not only the attention of the gamblers around them but also the casino security team, and Thorp was no exception. Once he caught the attention from security he was quickly thrown out of the casino.

His stay in Vegas would land him a celebrity among other blackjack enthusiasts and would push him to write and publish the book Beat The Dealer. The book was an instant success as it was one of the few blackjack theories that could be used by any player at any table. The original book hit the New York  times best seller list and would eventually go on to sell more than 700,000 copies across the globe.

He would later take a team with him to Vegas and apply a system to both the blackjack and roulette tables. His wife Shannon was one of the members of his team and both teams would do exceptionally well at exploiting the weaknesses in the games.  Thorp’s roulette team was the first to use a computer aid in the casino that simulated different probabilities, outcomes along with the odds.

Beat The Dealer was responsible for how the casinos changed the game of blackjack. Prior to Thorp’s book, dealers would shuffle and deal the game by hand using the standard 52 deck of cards. After the release of his book, the casinos would replace the single deck with a four deck, and would add a shoe to shuffle the cards. This would change the probabilities in Thorp’s original book but the overall principle would remain the same.

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