Casino Games History or How People Have Learnt to Count Cards; part 1

The dream of capoting a casino is as old as the notion “casino” itself. Every gambler wants to win. Every other invents his own “system”. Every hundredth attempts to carefully analyze the game. And only the few of millions succeed.

The most famous achievement in the sphere of “system” game against the casino was the so called “card counting” at blackjack – mathematically based methods of game allowing to get some advantage over the casino. The casinos, surely, knows about the existence of “counters” and are trying to oppose them – from changing the rules to banning the game. Sometimes even exceeding the limits of reason and legality. In fact, all the history of the blackjack is the struggle between the gamblers and the casino which is more clever.

More than half a century passed since the first attempts of beating the casinos in blackjack, based not on the marked cards and intuition. There has been a peck of salt eaten since then, but the struggle is still going on….

Mammoth.

Probably the first person in history who applied mathematic analysis to the game blackjack was Jess Marcum (originally Marcovitch) was born on 30th December 1919.

It happened at the turn of 1949 and 1950, when Jess, being an excellent mathematician and physicist-theorist got to Las Vegas. Then his mathematic flair prompted him that most possibly not everything depends on intuition in blackjack.

Marcum started analyzing blackjack. First, the uniqueness of his attempt is that he performed absolutely all calculations with his pen on the paper, on principle without using any technologies whatever weak they might be at that time. Second he had found the solution!

Jess manually developed what is now called basic strategy and counting systems ten years before someone else has done that. He counted that theoretically he had an advantage over the casino of about 3% -under the conditions of that time it was quite real. Moreover, Markum had been playing blackjack in all known to him casinos- both in the USA and abroad. His name appeared on the pages of the newspapers as an example of “lucky man” who managed to hit the jackpot.

Jess Markum also went down to history as probably the first man thrown out from the casino because of cards. Though at that time casinos did not understand that such system existed. Jess lived in Las Vegas for about a year. The casino owners exchanged the information when they gathered at the general meeting. And they were terrified. After that Markum was not admitted at all Vegas casinos. He went to Reno. The same story- in half a year after unbelievable “luck” the casino owners started making inquiries about the incredible gambler. Then other states and cities. Then Cuba, the Bahamas. Nobody knows how much money he has won during that time. One thing is known for sure- in fact, Jess Markum started the war between the gamblers and casinos in blackjack, that is still going on and getting more and more strained.

He did not share his calculations with anyone, and completely gave up playing against casino after a wide public publication of blackjack methods by other authors.

Jess Markum died in 1992, at the age of 72.

The four of Neanderthals.

The next effort of great influence on the blackjack math was made in 1956 by the group of four mathematicians- Roger Baldwin, Wilbert E. Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott.

These people had never played in casino before, having spent a great number of m/hr, they created basic strategy of playing blackjack according to the most popular at that time rules and published it together with the calculation methods in the specialized math journal for statisticians – Journal of the American Statistical Association entitled “The Optimum Strategy In Blackjack”.

They made several slight mistakes in calculations which is nothing serious taking into account their enormous contribution. A year later they issued a small book Playing Blackjack to Win, which is now a bibliography rarity.

In fact their book and the article did not spark much furor, and remained almost without attention regardless of their innovative approach. However, the word almost turned out to be the key for all the gambling industry, as someone did paid close attention to the research of the excellent four.

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