The History of Blackjack and Card Counting
Card counting has been somewhat of an epidemic towards casinos. Somewhere at this very moment, there is a casino locked in battle with a suspected card counter. The battle is fierce between the card counter and casino workers who are trying furiously to identify the card counter, by looking through surveillance camera or perhaps by flipping through a notebook of common card counters who have attend to that casino previously. Casino management often are stuck in the dilema between letting a player who is suspected of card counting to continue to play in the casino, or whether to tell him or her to leave the place. Furthermore, if they do decide to let him continue to play in the casino, often the casino management will employ tactics and tricks to minimise the winning potential of the card counter. However, as a well trained card counter, it is not unlikely that he or she will have the capability to return the tricks.
We know that card counting is not a new thing in the casino world. But what is its history? Why do people choose to do it? Despite the widespread activity, why is it that casinos would not just simply change its rules and regulation to avoid this phenomena altogether?
In the Beginning
The game of blackjack has its origins from France and Spain, where it was known as “Vingt-un” or “Vingt-et-un” which carries the meaning “21”. The predecessor of blackjack are the French game of “Quinze” and the Italian game of “Sette e Mezzo”, or, going back even further, the Spanish game of “Trente-un”, which was invented in the 1440s by a priest and an author Miguel de Cervantes, as recorded in a 1570 text. These games had eventually developed into the globally renowned game of “Blackjack”.
What all these games have in common is that they all involve cards with values and a goal of drawing as close to a certain value, without going bust. Some of them included a twist in that it contained Aces, which could either be a one or an eleven. Blackjack quickly became well received in Europe as it was one of the first few games which requires not only luck, but also some sort of skill, as the player have to make a decision of whether or not to hit or stand. Perhaps this characteristic of the game had portrayed it into something which game power to the player, causing it to be well-liked.
The game of “Blackjack” which was popular in Europe at an early stage, had quickly spread to the Amereca, with it being barely legal at the early stage. Somewhere along the way, an attractive payout was offered for the player who received an ace of spades and a black jack.
However, when the game arrives at America, the Americans began to introduce new elements towards it. For example, the Americans had decided that the game will now allow to see the dealer’s upcard before the player makes a decision whether to hit or to stand. Secondly, it was also introduced into the game that the players will have to abide by a mandatory patter, which was established by the house of hitting on a 16 and standing on a 17.
The popular game of blackjack was legalised in America around the 1820s in New Orleans. Later on in 1931 in Nevada, something known as the house-banked blackjack was introduced. Once it was legalised, the dire need to establish game standards, rules and regulations in place to control the game could finally begin to be met and enforced.
It wasn’t for another 30 years that card counting was birthed into the world of blackjack. Although, in those 30 years, it is quite certain that there were players who tried to invent with some tips and tricks to better themselves at the game, many of them are reference by those who came after them and explored facets of the game after them. Some of the known ones who contributed to the art of blackjack included Jess Marcum who was kicked outby many casinos, Baldwin, Cantey, Maisel, McDermott who jointly wrote a book called Playing Blackjack to Win, making obvious references to basic strategies which are aimed at keeping track at the playcards and some tricks to tilt the odds in favour of the players. This book however did not capture much attention.
Then Came Thorp
Edward O. Thorp, conducted experiments on whether keeping track of cards in a blackjack game could really benefit the player over the game. He arrived at the conclusion whereby with some basic mental gymnastics, the player could gain a clear advantage over the game. He devised a “ten-count system” whereby a player starts with two numbers in their heads – 16 and 36 and as the cards are decked out the player will count backwords, divigin the numbers to arrive at a Thorp Ration. His conclusions were eventually recorded in the book known as Beat the Dealer, published in 1962 – this marked the birth of card counting.
His book – Beat the Dealer was very popular and well received, landing on the New York Bestseller List. No doubt many players who had read the book, would hit the casinos to give it a try. At that time, it flooded the casinos and as a result, Vegas ducked.
Beat the Dealer, Round Two
As the book hit the public, the casinos were so affected that they had to make many changes in the rules and gameplay of blackjack. For example, single deck games became two and four deck games. At the same time, the casinos were benefitting from the influx of players who had read the book and had to increase the number of blackjack tables in the casino.
Following Thorp’s invention, computer scientist Harvey Dubney, then introduced a counting system which is now known as the popular Hi-Lo Count System. This system was recorded in thorp’s second edition of Beat the Dealer, which was published in 1996. This modified system gave players a way to determine their advantage quickly and easily, even as the number of decks in the shoe swelled.
The Griffin Agency
At around this time, the casinos were constantly trying to balance between benefitting from the influx of players as a result of the two publications, but also trying not to let too much of their wealth slipped off to the players who had truly mastered the art of card counting. As a result, casinos were employing all kinds of strategies to deal with the situation.
A private detective name Robert Griffin from Las Vegas, had saw an opportunity in this. He compiled a book with pictures and information about all suspected card counters, and hawked his book in regularly updated subscription form to every casino in town. Needless to say this made him successful as casinos were jumping onto it to try to oust all suspected card counter.
After Griffin, there are countless many others who attempt to capitalized on the rise of the card counting phenomena, all of which led to today’s situation.
The State of Things Today
The game is just as beatable as ever. It is nothing but possible for a person to have a career in card counting today, despite all of the so-called security measures which are put in place by the casinos. Casinos tend not to demand much from people who are supposedly there to stop the card counters. The game can still be beaten, this is so even if a player is caught by one casino, he or she may simply head on to the next casino to try their luck.
So go out and become part of the game knowing how it has come to be and where it is going. Write the next chapter in the illustrious history of blackjack. Happy EV hunting!