Edward Thorp

Edward Oakley Thorp is often regarded as the father of card counting and the wearable computer. He is also an academician, hedge fund manager, author and one of the world’s best known blackjack player. Thorp was born on 14, August 1932 in Chicago, Illinois. The math’s professor received his doctorate degree in mathematics from University of California, LA in 1958. He worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) between 1959 and 1961 and taught mathematics at the New Mexico State University from 1962 to 1965. During his years at MIT, Thorp together with Claude Shanoon created an “Advantage play computing device” that is worn on the wrist. The device was originally created to beat roulette; it was designed to react to the tapping of the foot. Once it received this signal, it responded by sending an audible sound through the user’s earpiece.

Edward Thorp, the Brilliant Casino Gambler
Thorp got into the amazing world of casino gambling in the early 60’s through a family friend called Claude Shannon. He immediately got interested in blackjack after undertaking a series of plays. Thorp was convinced that he could find a mathematical way to gain an upper hand in the blackjack table. He began working on his schematic by studying the game conclusively in a systematic way. He used an old IBM704 computer belonging to the university where he taught to simulate billions of blackjack hands. Thorp also studied FORTRAN programming on the sidelines of his work. He used FORTRAN to program the equations that he come up with to develop his theoretical model on the chances of turning around the game of blackjack to his advantage. The calculations Thorp created accounted for card variations that remained standing after the hands were dealt.

Thorp’s blackjack gaming theory was based on the Kelly Criterion. He observed that smaller cards bore greater advantage for the dealer when they left the deck. When this happened, the advantage moved to the player, which meant the player’s bet should be higher. The other observation he made indicated that larger cards were highly beneficial to the player because once they left the deck, the advantage shifted right into the hands of dealer or house. This move meant a player should bet a lower amount of money. According to Thorp’s tacit observations and calculations, a keen player could hive an advantage play of between 1 percent to 5 percent over and above that of the house. The outcome of the research improved Thorp’s odds of winning, especially at the tail end of the card deck which was not being reshuffled after a new deal.

Edward Thorp’s Casino Successes
Thorp took his new flawless card counting knowledge into the casino boardrooms and would return home with huge loads of cash. He practiced his theory in Las Vegas and Reno, Lake Tahoe winning $11,000 in his first weekend of play. The more he kept winning, the more barbs and allegations were thrown at him at every opportunity that he was a cheat. Casino managers were forced to keep a close eye on him by studying his video tapes and watching his every move. However, it soon became difficult for casino managers to establish if Thorp was cheating or not because there was no evidence of that. The casinos began asking him to leave because of his lucky streaks.

Thanks to Thorp’s insights and forays in the casino gaming industry, Blackjack is today regarded as one of the games that offers players the greatest odds of winning. Part of the reason is because a move made by the player affects the final outcome of play; this factor makes blackjack a game of both chances and skill. For instance, if you play your cards perfectly like a pro, in a casino with partial rules, you can bring down the house edge to as low as 0.8%. Besides blackjack, Thorp also found winning ways in the game of baccarat by incorporating his proven theories of probability. This table game proved a big success to the professor because the game prohibits early reshuffling of the deck. secondly, since players do not handle the cards physically; there was a little chance for player’s to be declared cheats by the casino management.

The Effect of Edward Thorp’s Counting System
In 1962, Thorp wrote his bestselling book “Beat the Dealer”. The book which was published by Random House became an instant hit and sold more than 700,000 copies. Inside the book, Thorp explained his “Ten Count System” for counting cards. In 1966, he published the second edition of this book. The book delved deeper into explaining the intricacies of the system. Many people who had read or heard about Thorp’s book became even more eager to try their luck at the casino. However, many casinos began co-opting Thorp’s card counting techniques to make painstaking amends in their systems. The Casinos also devised a technique for reshuffling the deck much sooner in order to hinder the successes of the card counters who were looking to tap into Thorp’s meticulous revelations.

Some casino houses went further and began using several decks or shoe instead of the initial single deck to make card counting difficult. Besides Thorp’s card counting system, there were other blackjack card counting systems that come out, but all these strategies owed their successes to the ground work done by Thorp in the 60’s. Thorp also developed the “Thorp Count” a highly accurate and successful technique for counting pips in backgammon. Backgammon is an old board game that involves a combination of playing strategies and luck using a dice. The strategy is well explained in the book “Advanced Backgammon” published in 1984 by Bill Robertie, a legendary backgammon champion.

Thorp also applied his genius in statistics and probabilities on the stock market. Through his study, he exploited the weaknesses in the securities market and was able to make a big fortune out of it. Thorp reported that his personal investments made an annual yield of 20% between 1969 and 1998. In 2002, Thorp along with 7 other people was inducted as a pioneer Blackjack Hall of Famer. His blackjack strategy was recognized for exploring the mathematics behind blackjack and releasing moves that improved the player’s odds of winning. The strategy intuitively, instructed the player when to split, hit or double by comparing the player’s hand to that of the dealer’s up card. Thorp is currently the president of a Newport Beach, CA based Edward O. Thorp & Associates.