Page 22 - Southern California Gaming Guide •  April 2020
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  by Gus C. Pappas Considered the game of chance with the lowest edge for the house, Blackjack is the most researched, written about game in the world. There are more books, more Internet websites, more products, more training, more experts, more theories and mathematical studies on Blackjack than any other game in the world. Blackjack has created controversies and earned many a good player “a bundle.” Hundreds of people self-style themselves as“Blackjack experts” selling winning systems and training players to win, win, win! Welcome to the wild world of Blackjack! Blackjack History Also known as twenty-one and pontoon, Blackjack was originally known as “vingt-et-un,” (literally, “twenty- and-one” in French), and was played in French casinos around 1700. It is thought to have originated from other French card games, “chemin de fer” and “French Ferme.” The game is called Blackjack because if a player got a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards (spade being black), the player won a Blackjack and an extra prize amount. Blackjack has been played in the U.S. since the 1800’s. Gambling was legal in the old West from the 1850’s to 1910. From 1910 to 1931 it was a felony in Nevada to operate a gambling game. But in 1931, Nevada re-legalized casino gambling, and Blackjack became one of the primary games of chance, along with roulette, poker and craps. The Game The object of Blackjack is to beat the dealer’s hand. The difference between Blackjack and other casino games is that Blackjack’s odds are not constant from one hand to the next. They change depending upon the cards that were played on previous hands. If you were playing in a single deck game and four Aces were played, what is the chance of getting a Blackjack on the next hand? It would be zero because there are no more Aces left in the undealt cards. The point is that unlike the roulette ball or dice, the cards do have a memory and the odds are not constant from one hand to the next. Another factor that separates Blackjack from other casino games is that players must make a playing decision after they make their bet. This decision will either increase or decrease their chance of winning the hand. Therefore, the level of playing skills for a Blackjack player very much influences his chance of winning. So why play Blackjack? Because Blackjack is beatable for the above reasons and it gives skillful players the best shot at winning. Applying Mathematical Strategy The first recognized effort to apply mathematics to Blackjack was in 1956. Roger R. Baldwin, Wilbert E Cantoy, Herbert Malsel, and James P. McDermott wrote a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association titled“The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack.” These pioneers used probability and statistics theory to substantially reduce the house advantage by laying out a set of recommendations for the play of Blackjack. These recommendations were very close to today’s basic strategy. The following year, they published a manual for the public with this system of play, but it attracted little interest until Professor Edward O. Thorp saw the paper and understood that there were parts of the game that had been missed. In 1962, Dr. Thorp published his now famous book, Beat the Dealer, which contained a simple yet profound message that decks of cards have memory. Each hand is dependent on the makeup of the deck at that time and by paying attention to the cards already played, the player can almost predict what will be appearing in the deck next. With the help of a computer, Thorp performed a statistical analysis called the “Monte Carlo simulation” and discovered that 10’s and Aces remaining in the deck put the player at an advantage, while 5’s and 6’s being left in the deck put the dealer at an advantage, and card counting was born. If a player could keep track of the cards left in the deck, she could decide how to bet on each hand. Even though Thorp’s “Ten Count” method wasn’t easy to master, and many people didn’t understand it, Blackjack still surged in popularity due to Thorp’s book and all the media attention it generated. Julian Braun’s thousands of lines of computer code and hours of Blackjack simulations on IBM mainframe computers resulted in The Basic Strategy, and a number of card counting techniques. Braun’s conclusions were used in the second edition of Beat the Dealer, and later in Lawrence Revere’s 1977 book, Playing Blackjack as a Business. Ken Uston used five computers built into the shoes of members of his playing team in 1977. They won over $100,000.00 in a very short time, but one of the computers was confiscated and sent to the FBI. It was decided that the computer used public information on Blackjack playing and was not a cheating device. You may have seen this story in a  PAGE 22 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GAMING GUIDE APRIL 2020 

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