We know more about the modern/recent history of blackjack than any other part of its history. The modern history of blackjack was a time filled with amazing advances, big names and of course trouble. Due to blackjacks vast history we have divided the article into sections ranging from 1950 to 1970 and then 1970 up to today.
The Age of Systems
One might describe the modern history of Blackjack as the age of systems, where players would spend numerous hours developing a system, trying to figure out the perfect strategy. Some of history’s most die-hard Blackjack players that have developed their own winning strategies include names such as: Benjamin F. “System Smitty” Smith, Jess Marcum, Jack Newton, Manny Kimmel, Glenn Fraikin, Greasy John, Mel Horowitz and Joe Bernstein. So advanced were the players skills that some of these players even had wealthy investors that sponsored them. Then there were other players that spent their time developing an entirely different skill set, these players trained day and night to memorize card decks as they were played at the table and as soon as a deck neared its end these players would bet large sums of money ensuring that they would win, it didn’t take long for the dealer to realize what was going on, it was then that dealers started shuffling the decks. Thanks to the mathematical backing of our modern day the way we play Blackjack has changed.
The Horsemen’s Strategy
Playing Blackjack to Win, was the first book to offer a compelling card counting system that not only had mathematical backing but also a basic strategy, the authors were nicknamed “The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen” were more commonly known as: Wilbert Cantey, Roger Baldwin, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott. The book however was spiral bound and published by a small publisher, in this case the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” was more than just metaphorical because despite the title it didn’t contain any concrete winning strategy at best a player would break even, but to do the book some justice it was quite spot on with its basic strategy.
On the other hand a book that did in fact reel in instant fame for its author was Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One. The author Edward Thorp was an easy going assistant mathematics professor that used computer simulations in his free time to develop a winning Blackjack. Thorp travelled to Sin City itself to test his system against the world’s best casinos, to say the least the experiment was a huge success. In the time it took casinos to realize that the system was no hoax and that it did in fact work a multitude of players had already visited Las Vegas armed with the book, which is no surprise seeing as how the newspapers and magazines covered the story as soon as it came out. Casinos retaliated by changing the rules to flip the odds back in their favour.
Beat the Dealer had a powerful critic i.e. John Scarne. Scarne was at the time a gambling big shot, and his hostility towards Thorp was mainly due to these two things, first he applauded the work done by Mickey MacDougall whom by the way was Scarne’s enemy and secondly Thorp dared to criticize Scarne’s published Blackjack analysis, it is no wonder Scarne was so upset. When the casino retaliated by changing the rules, casino regulars decided to stay away, this was even more unacceptable than player beating the house by means of using Thorps book. The casinos then opted for a new course and had a meeting with John Scarne, after which Scarne challenged Thorp to a Blackjack freeze-out-match and the prize $100,000 winner takes the pot.
Thorp on the other hand was not so easily conned, he was well aware of the fact that John Scarne was a world-famous sleight of hand artists, suspecting that Scarne would rig the game Thorp did not accept Scarn’s challenge instead he had a counter challenge of his own, the counter challenge was directed at any Las Vegas Casino the only conditions made by Thorp was that the stakes be lowered and that the cards would be dealt directly from the Blackjack table and not from a dealers hand, suffice to say none of the casinos accepted the challenge. On the flip side however, although Thorps system worked it was very complicated which of course was good news for the casino. The system required that the user have an outstanding memory as well as fast and accurate math capabilities, meaning not every Tom, Dick and Harry could use it, in the long run it ended up being very profitable for casinos. Later on Harvey Dubner devised a much simpler version of Thorp’s system, today it is better known as the Hi-Lo Count.
Playing Blackjack as a Business
In addition to the above mentioned the second edition of Beat the Dealer also featured an easier version of Dubner’s count, due to its simplicity players were sceptical of the system. Then Lawrence Revere appeared on the scene, this former pit boss, which was now a card counter used Thorp’s comment about the true count conversion, and turned it into a fully functional system with some help from Julian Braun who handled all of the computer work. The book published by Revere in 1969 i.e. Playing Blackjack as a Business was much more forthcoming instead of explaining the mathematical theory to players, it took a different approach and explained how to learn the art of card counting in such a way that even the average Joe could understand, suffice to say it changed everything again.