Out of all the figures throughout blackjack history, nobody is more famous than Edward O. Thorp. In fact, Thorp is credited with inventing the modern card counting system that blackjack pros have used to make huge profits. Seeing as how Thorp is such an important figure in the game of blackjack, let’s take an in-depth look at his accomplishments.
A True Innovator
Like so many blackjack legends that would follow, Edward Thorp’s journey began at MIT. Only Thorp wasn’t busy recruiting a team of card counters because casinos didn’t even realize that successful card counting was possible. Instead, the UCLA graduate was teaching mathematics at MIT, and studying the game of blackjack on the side.
By the time Thorp began applying his mathematical ability to blackjack, strategy for the game was very basic. Most players were clueless about basic blackjack strategy, and were surrendering around a 5% edge to the house. There were also people who were attempting to count cards at the time, which is why Thorp can’t be called the inventor of this activity; however, their rudimentary counting methods were no comparison to what Thorp would bring to the table.
The professor was able to devise a near-flawless way to count cards that could potentially give players a 1% edge over the house. Going further, he figured out that, when players kept track of dealt cards, they could make educated guesses on when to profitably increase bets.
Turning Knowledge into Profits
Armed with his card counting theory, Thorp partnered up with an engineer named Claude Elwood Shannon, and the two traveled to Las Vegas to put these theories into practice. The results were a resounding success because Shannon and Thorp made thousands of dollars in profit each time they visited Sin City; by today’s monetary standards, they were racking up $50k or more every weekend.
Beat the Dealer
While Thorp created the most innovative and successful card counting methods of his time, it meant nothing until other people learned of his work. So Thorp wrote the timeless Beat the Dealer book, which detailed how players could successfully count cards and beat the casinos in blackjack. After being published in 1962, this book became an instant classic, and spawned the counting careers of thousands of players. Suddenly casinos were forced to take precautions against all of the counters out there.
What’s truly amazing about Beat the Dealer is that people still use it as a reference today. Sure card counting methods have been slightly refined since this day, but little has changed, and people still point to Thorp’s work for beginning card counters.