History of Card Counting

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Back in the 1960’s a mathematics professor by the name of Edward O. Thorpe realized that blackjack was different than most other gambling games. In most games such as roulette, craps, slot machines and poker, past events did not have any bearing on future events and therefore did not affect the odds of future events. .

The same cannot be said about blackjack, a game where every past event has an effect on the odds of the event that will follow. This means that in every round of blackjack there can be different odds than the previous round.

The reason for this is that cards that were used in previous rounds did not get shuffled back into the deck but were removed from play and will not be available in the next round. For example if a 10 card was dealt during the last round, there is now one less 10 card in the deck which affects the odds.

There were many gamblers before Thorpe that came to a similar realization but none of them was ever able to turn their knowledge into a system that takes advantage of this phenomenon in a practical way that will aid the player to win.

Thorpe, who was also an amateur blackjack player, knew that high cards favor the player and low cards favor the dealer and if he would be able to track which cards have been played and removed from the deck, he would be able to work out which cards remain in play.

If there are many high cards left in the deck then the player has an advantage over the dealer and should raise their bets according to how much of an advantage they have.

Thorpe used MIT’s super-computer the IBM 704, which at the time was the most powerful computer in the world, to investigate the probability of winning. He based his blackjack game theory on the Kelly Criterion which is a formula for calculating the optimal bet size for a series of bets.

In addition Thorpe developed a card counting technique that was described in great detail in his 1962 book Beat the Dealer. His card counting technique was based on the realization that when the deck is low on 5’s the player has more of an advantage than when the deck is loaded with 5’s.

The system was called the “Five Count” and it instructed players to keep track of how 5’s were dealt in order to calculate how many 5’s are still in play in relation to all the remaining cards. The fewer 5’s are in the deck, the more favorable it is to the player and the player should raise their bets accordingly.

Thorpe later revised his “Five Count” to a “Ten Count” and many other game theorists invented many other cards counting techniques. Some have even made use of Thorpe’s original “Five Count” by upgrading it to an “Ace/Five Count” where both aces and 5’s are counted. The player has a positive deck when it has few 5’s and many aces still in play.

As card counters became more sophisticated so did the casinos. Card counters started to work in teams so casinos improved their security to allow for better monitoring of players’ actions. In recent years most casinos started using special software that measures betting patterns and can alert the casino if a player is showing signs of card counting.

Due to the fact that casinos are private businesses, they have the right to refuse service to anyone they choose to. The casinos would often ban players from coming into their casino and pass on their details to other casinos. Nowadays most Las Vegas casinos share a database of known card counters.

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