Card Counting History

Some people posit that Card Counting was invented in the 1960’s, but that’s simply not possible. The game has been around for far too long for card counting to be a recent invention.

Eddie Thorp

If you do any research into card counting, you’ll most likely hit the name of Dr Edward Thorp, a learned mathematician. In 1962 he published a book called Beat the Dealer, in which he outlined a system of winning at Blackjack using a card counting method known as the Thorp ten count system. Because his method was published, he is often referred to as the inventor or Father of card counting, although this title is not entirely accurate.

His impact on the game of Blackjack was really to popularise the method, and to make casinos aware that people were using it to clean up at their tables. Consequently, many gambling establishments enacted methods of their own to counteract Thorp’s system, thus rendering it less useful.

From a punter’s perspective, rather than being the Father, Thorp is really the spoilsport who ruined it for everyone, since a method of winning at Blackjack that had been respectably used for literally centuries was now actively being watched for by casino staff.

Other Practitioners

Play Blackjack to Win was the title of a book that, while not nearly as well known, predates Thorp’s tell-all to me by 5 years, and outlines a similar strategy for beating blackjack through card counting. And it, itself, draws on the strategies gleaned from conversations with other professional card dealers of the era.

Team Sports

During the 1970s, a new kind of Card Counting came to the fore, involving teams of card counters. Casinos had begun to watch for players whose betting patterns implied counting, so a new strategy was required. Card counters began working in teams: a number of Counters, and a Player.

The Counters deployed themselves, one to a table on a casino’s blackjack floor, and would play modestly, never varying their bets, and thus not drawing attention while they counted cards.

When the deck looked right, the Counter would signal the roving Player, who would step up and play a few hands at high wagers before heading to the next primed table. Since the Player’s behaviour seemed eratic, it was much harder to spot the card counting, and in this way, teams did well.

Casino Retaliation

With more and more books on card counting around, casinos began to notice a dip in profits. Going into the 1970s and 80s, they began to develop their own countermeasures to deter card counting.

It’s important to note that there’s legal precedent to confirm that card counting is not illegal, provided the only equipment being used to facilitate it is your own brain. But casinos are Right of Admission – they can and will eject a player if they spot them card counting.

Techniques casinos use include engaging players in conversation to throw off their concentration, shuffling the deck before it gets to the end, shuffling if a player substantially increases their wager, and using varying degrees of facial recognition to identify (and eject) known card counters.