Casino Games and Mathematics – Part 2

Thorp managed to find out that owners of gambling houses gave their officials rather strict directions with regard to the strategies which they should stick to in the game with visitors Brettspiele. Control over fulfillment of these directions had its initial aim to prevent from a frame-up of a croupier with the rest of the gamblers, a chance of which could not be excluded. Assigned for a croupier strict rules determining his game strategy really substantially reduced a probability of such a frame-up, but on the other hand, allowed an “advanced” gambler to rather adequately reveal the essence of this strategy and effectively oppose it. For unlike a croupier a gambler needn’t show the first of the received cards, as well as isn’t enchained by any strict rules as regards his strategy, that is why flexibly changing his behavior he can confuse a croupier. For example, Thorp found out that practically in all gambling houses of Nevada State croupiers were strictly ordered to keep away from a widow in case the amount of points in his cards exceeded or was equal to 17, and a player, from our mathematician’s point of view did not have to miss an opportunity to make use of the knowledge of even some aspects of a croupier’s strategy for achievement of his aims. Thus, those advantages which had an official of a gambling house from the start (as we already know, he is not obliged to open his cards at the end of the game), can be compensated to a certain degree for the knowledge of a player about the strategic “tunnel vision” of a croupier.

Besides, as has been mentioned, Thorp, while building his strategy presumed that cards were not often shuffled, in particular, if after finishing of a regular game there were still cards left in a pack, a croupier did not collect the thrown-away by the gamblers cards but dealt them anew (and the next game was played), and only after complete exhaustion of a pack, an official of a gambling house collected all the cards, thoroughly shuffled them and a new “cycle” began. Naturally, if a gambler had a good memory he could change his strategy depending on the knowledge of the cards which had gone out of the game, and what cards could still be counted upon. It is important to remember that a croupier himself who was to strictly follow the directions of the casino’s owners practically without changing his strategy!

Thorp set himself a task to formulate the rules which would allow him to calculate probabilities of taking out one or another card out of an incomplete pack. Knowing these probabilities a gambler could already with reasonable assurance draw cards from the widow without being too much afraid of “a pip out”, and besides, on the basis of the knowledge of some aspects of a croupier’s strategy to make suppositions about those cards which he had, and other gamblers as well. Naturally, as a gambler was to make a decision with regard to a widow very quickly, the sought rules for calculation of probabilities were to be rather simple for a gambler to be able to use them “in mind” with the help of neither a calculator, nor a pen and paper (even if we suppose that a gambler will be given a chance to do calculation on paper, it will certainly arise suspicion). Edward Thorp managed to solve this mathematical problem having created rather simple algorithms for calculation of probabilities of taking out of one or another card from a pack, and using them to build a strategy of the game of twenty-one which would not be very complicated, allowing a gambler to considerably increase his chances of winning!

As the Hungarian mathematician A.Reni states after a few days of presenting his report on the obtained results at the meeting of the American Maths Society in 1960 in Washington “Thorp received from a businessman a letter with a check for 1 thousand dollars intended for checking of a winning strategy in practice. Thorp accepted the check and having learnt the formulated by him rules left for Nevada to try his discovery. The trial went well: less than after two hours Thorp won 17 thousand dollars.

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