Blackjack was really only popularised by the changing attitude brought about be the huge amounts of publicity card counting received in the 1960s. This was due to a mathematician called Dr. Edward Oakley Thorp and his publication of ‘Beat the Dealer’. This book described how card counting could be used to give an advantage to the blackjack player rather than to the casino.
The growth of card counting following the publication of the book has been documented extensively in books, movies and documentaries. Suddenly people were making big money at blackjack and the casinos were losing out, much to the chagrin of the casinos.
Card counting monitors when the odds of winning a hand are in the favour of the player, and when this is encountered then the level of bets are increased. This behaviour was relatively easy for the casinos to spot, and the initial reaction was to re-deal the cards as soon as bets were increased. Naturally this slowed down the game, and it became boring. People stopped playing and the casinos lost even more money. Eventually re-dealing was abandoned, but the number of decks in a shoe was increased to two, four, six or even eight. For a while this was a compromise, but it was not long before the counters were able to cope with counting big shoes.
There followed a game of cat and mouse, where casinos took progressively sterner measures against the counters, and the counters learned ever more tricks to overcome these measures. Huge investments were made in security systems and face recognition software to identify counters and most of the successful ones were banned. Eventually it was a battle that was won by the casinos, which is not surprising given the huge wealth of the gambling corporations.
However the myth that money can be made from blackjack counting pervades, and is a major factor in maintaining the popularity of blackjack. There is a sign in the office of one casino manager that reads ‘Blackjack Card Counters Welcome Here’. This is not irony.
By Hollie Wilcox
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