John Scarne - Card Sharpe Extraordinaire

John Scarne - Card Sharpe Extraordinaire

Wiki link to John Scarne

See the article on:THE HISTORY OF CARD COUNTING: below following the series of videos on Scarne or his methods.

greatest card magician

quick change act in front of penn and teller

card trick fooled penn and teller

scarnes aces: control 4 aces to top; then have a scored card at the bottom. the scoring puts a slight bend in the cards. when you cut the cards the four aces and the scored card are together.

real scarne and some slight of hand

mentalism effect with cards over the telephone

scarne mind reading trick; think of a name, month, and cut to a card

john scarne triple conincidence

john scarne triple conincidence


Ed Thorp is often credited as the father of card counting, and in many ways, he is the originator of what you might consider "modern" methods of counting cards. But Ed Thorp did not invent card counting, and he was not the first blackjack player to count cards in an attempt to get an advantage over the house.
Playing Blackjack to Win
In 1957, Playing Blackjack to Win was published. The book is important because it's the first published book about how to count cards in blackjack, five years before the famous Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorp. The book had a small print run and offered sixteen recommended strategy adjustments based on which cards had been exposed. The card counting method recommended in this book was a crude one and didn't increase the player's edge to a positive expectation, since it didn't include a recommendation to vary bet sizes based on the count.
Other Pre-Thorp Card Counters
Ed Thorp himself mentions multiple gambling "characters" with different systems for beating blackjack, some of whom used crude systems for counting cards. With colorful names like "System Smitty" and "Greasy John", these card counters' specific methods are lost to history, since Thorp doesn't go into great detail in Beat the Dealer regarding how they played, other than pointing out that they had a good approximate basic strategy and that Smitty was a progressive bettor.
Jess Marcum, a nuclear physicist for the Rand Corporation was a professional gambler who had figured out how to count cards as early as 1949, and who quit his job with the Rand Corporation in the 1950's to become a professional gambler and blackjack player.
Harold Smith Sr., the author of I Want to Quit Winners, also counted cards, and preferred to bet bigger when the deck was rich in aces. Smith's book was published in 1961, a year prior to the publication of Beat the Dealer. (Smith owned and operated a casino in Reno called Smith's Club in the 1930's.)
Edward Thorp's Beat the Dealer
But Thorp's book, Beat the Dealer, really was the first mathematically proven system for beating blackjack to become available, and he and his book almost single-handedly are responsible for a small cottage industry of professional gamblers today. Thorp became an overnight celebrity and put the fear of card counters into the hearts of casino owners for good. Thorp wasn't always well-respected and legendary though; he was the subject of much derision and skepticism after the publication of Beat the Dealer.
You can read more about the history of card counting in part two, Edward Thorp versus John Scarne.
This is part II of Blackjack Hero's History of Card Counting, and it relates the rivalry between John Scarne and Edward Thorp.
Believe it or not, Professor Edward O. Thorp's unbeatable winning blackjack system - which made him world-famous because of the ignorance about gambling of the national communications media and various mathematicians - is really not a system at all... The best thing this strategy can possibly do for the player is to cut down the house's favorable 5.9% to about 3.9%.
-John Scarne, Scarne's Guide to Casino Gambling
John Scarne
When Beat the Dealer was published in 1962, John Scarne was the most well-respected and best-known author in the USA who wrote about gambling and games. Scarne had been writing books about games since 1945. Scarne was often billed as "The World's Foremost Gambling Authority". He was a born showman and served as a consultant to casinos around the world, and testified before the Senate regarding gambling and organized crime, where he was a huge hit with the Senators as he entertained them with stories and card tricks.

Edward Thorp
Edward Thorp was a quiet, bookish professor of Mathematics. He did three things to get on the wrong side of John Scarne:
•    His book, Beat the Dealer, stole some of Scarne's limelight as the foremost gambling authority in the world.
•    The book also criticized Scarne's blackjack strategy recommendations in Scarne's New Complete Guide to Casino Gambling. (Scarne's strategy was incorrect.)
•    Thorp also pointed out that Scarne's strategy was NOT the first blackjack strategy analysis, as Scarne claimed in his book, and he pointed to several examples of others who had provided accurate basic strategy for blackjack.
•    Thorp thanked Mickey McDougall for his help with the book, and Scarne had a long-running feud with McDougall.
Vegas Casinos React
Las Vegas casinos grew more and more fearful of Thorp's card counting methods, and in 1964, less than two year's after the publication of Beat the Dealer, the Las Vegas Resort Hotel Association changed the standard blackjack rules for all Las Vegas casinos.
•    Players were no longer allowed to split aces.
•    Doubling down was restricted to two card totals of 11 only.
The new rules angered blackjack players so badly that the casinos changed the rules back in just three weeks because of the massive decline in action at the tables.
The casinos' next step was to ask John Scarne for help. And on April 28, 1964, Scarne and the Sands Hotel and Casino released a press release challenging Thorp to a blackjack freezeout for $100,000 at the Sands. In the press release, Scarne insisted that Thorp's strategy left the house with a 3% advantage. The catch was that Scarne would be the dealer.
Since Scarne was a well-known sleight of hand expert and magician, Thorp turned the offer down.
The Ed Thorp Challenge
Thorp had made his own challenge to the Las Vegas casinos in his book Beat the Dealer. He had offered to put up $10,000 of his own money, winner take all, against any casino that would play by his rules at his limits. (His rules were standard Vegas rules but had some restrictions to avoid casino cheating.) No casino ever accepted his challenge, before or after Scarne's press release.
John Scarne versus Card Counters
In 1966, a new edition of Beat the Dealer was published, which presented a new, simpler card counting strategy now known as the "Hi-Lo Count". The same year, Scarne's autobiography, The Odds Against Me, was published, in which Scarne claimed to have bragged to Bugsy Siegel in 1947 that he could easily beat a blackjack game using a card counting system.
Since Scarne had claimed vehemently that card counting wouldn't beat blackjack, and he'd not mentioned card counting at all in his New Complete Guide to Casino Gambling, people began to question Scarne's credibility.
Throughout the 1970's, Scarne repeated his $100,000 challenge, aimed now at not only Thorp, but also at other card counting experts, including:
•    Lawrence Revere
•    Allan Wilson
•    Julian Braun
No card counter could ever come to an agreement with Scarne about the rules for the challenge, and at the time of Scarne's death in 1985, he still had never found anyone willing to accept the challenge.
The history of card counting is continued here:
In spite of John Scarne's insistence that card counting didn't work, casinos did continue to make changes to their blackjack games in an attempt to foil card counters. The most common change was to use multiple decks in the blackjack games, and two deck and four deck games became common in the late 1960's and 1970's. Blackjack remained profitable for the casinos, since counting cards using Thorp's system was not easy and many people couldn't do it competently enough to gain an edge over the casino.
Card Counting Systems Become Popular
With the success of Beat the Dealer, many people started trying to sell their own systems for counting cards. Some of these were good; many of them were just more nonsense, as most gambling systems are. Classified ads in newspapers across the country offered expensive and difficult systems for sale that would teach people to count cards.
Other mathematicians provided their own card counting systems, some less accurate than Thorp's, but still confirmation that card counting was a legitimate technique for gaining an edge in the casino. Some of the scientists and mathematicians who confirmed this included:
•    Harvey Dubner, computer scientist
•    Julian Braun, computer programmer
•    Allan Wilson, nuclear physicist and author of The Casino Gambler's Guide

Casino Changes
By 1966, almost all casinos in Las Vegas had replaced their single deck games with four deck games. Four years earlier, single deck games were dealt to the bottom of the deck, but now only three decks were dealt out before reshuffling.
With the help of Julian Braun, Thorp published a new edition of Beat the Dealer with new card counting methods and strategy changes that worked against multiple deck games. Some of the changes made counting cards easier, but compared to modern card counting practices, Thorp's card counting system was still difficult to put to use.
The History of Counting Cards continues with:
Robert Griffin was a Las Vegas private eye who, in 1967, thought of putting together a book of mug shots of card counters and gambling cheats. His timing couldn't have been better, since Vegas casinos were beside themselves trying to solve the "card counting problem". Originally there was just one "Griffin Book", but now it's a multi-volume set called Griffin Books.
Griffin's company, Griffin Investigations, Inc. included in their promotional brochure their company's mission: "providing surveillance and investigative services to casinos".
As a result of Griffin's efforts, many professional blackjack players had to begin playing in disguise and under assumed names.
Now, in the 21st century, Griffin Investigations also offers an online database as well as their original print book. In addition to their database of card counters, Griffin maintains a database of jackpot winners so they can pinpoint potential fraud among jackpot winners too. The company also uses new biometric technology which can recognize advantage players even when they're in disguise.
On September 13, 2005, The Las Vegas Sun reported that Griffin Investigations had filed for bankruptcy protection. Michael Russo and James Grosjean have succcessfully sued Griffin Investigations for defamation. Apparently they were improperly detained, labeled as cheaters, and arrested based on information from Griffin Investigations. The damages and legal costs of this suit led to Griffin's bankruptcy filing.
The rest of the history of blackjack card counting resides mostly in the biographies of some of card counting's historical figures. The following biographies are recommended:
The MIT Blackjack Team was comprised of a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who set out to beat major casinos using advanced card-counting techniques and privately funded bankrolls. Their reign of terror against the gambling industry lasted from the mid-1990’s until the early 21st century.
How The MIT Blackjack Team Began
The infamous team began as nothing more than an after-school club held in campus classrooms where MIT students assembled to play card games and unwind. Somewhere along the way, an idea was born, and the allure of big money and statistically-based systems appealed to the mathematically-minded students.
A recruitment drive soon started, and many interested students applied after seeing flyers posted around the campus. As they slowly developed into a serious business, hopeful applicants were given tests to find the most suitable candidates and then thoroughly trained in the system.
An elaborate network of casino mock-ups were created, encompassing apartments, warehouses, and classrooms across the greater Boston area. The group expertly combined the natural individual player advantages with a team-based approach of counters and players to maximize opportunities and better disguise the betting patterns which card counting tends to produce. While it was worth it in the long run, this elaborate system required hours of drilling and repetition.

Team Play Means a Greater Advantage
But before anyone would be allowed to advance to live casino play, each team member had to pass a grueling battery of tests, know the job of everyone involved and be able to perform it, and still be able to hold up under simulated distraction and harassment. After countless hours of practice, team members boasted that their system gave them a margin over the house of 10-20% or higher. By comparison, the methods of Edward O. Thorp (who wrote the first definitive book on card counting) gave players a 2% advantage at best.
But even after all the careful planning and preparation, the MIT Blackjack Team was still not yet ready to strike at Las Vegas. They carefully honed their blackjack skills in Boston’s Chinatown, making certain that their techniques and calculations would hold up under real-world conditions. And they did.
Financial Backing
They found financial backing from anonymous investors and created a corporation called Strategic Investments. With the backing of this new corporation, they were able to put their theories to the test with a bankroll of hundreds of thousands of dollars, far larger than would normally be available to the average gambler. And everyone profited in the end. One group of investors received a 154% increase on one investment, while the team once racked up a $400,000 winning weekend in Vegas. In the end, it’s reported that the MIT Blackjack Team turned a profit of at least five-million dollars in less than a decade.
The ingenious team approach meant that casinos could not easily determine how the MIT players were winning, but several team members were eventually identified and barred. They were replaced by newly-trained MIT students and everything continued. Private investigators hired by the casinos eventually made the connection to MIT and so yearbook photos were downloaded into a database, which made identifying team members much easier. With most of the original team barred, many of the members retired to live on their winnings and pursue other interests, while some used reports of their successes to start careers as public-speakers or begin businesses specializing in blackjack seminars.
The MIT Blackjack Team on TV, in Books, and an Upcoming Movie
The networks eventually picked up on the story, and it was turned into a book entitled Bringing Down the House : The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. The story has also been told in the documentary Breaking Vegas, as well as an episode of the Game Show Network’s series Anything to Win. And last, but certainly not least, is the upcoming feature film version of the story. Titled 21, the film is being produced by Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey and is expected in theaters by 2007.

Brophy Monday 05 December 2011 - 8:16 pm | | Brophy Blog

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