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Gaming Guru

 

Designing a Robot to Beat Blackjack

8 March 2004

If there is one thing online casinos fear more than any other it is a blackjack robot player, a computer program designed to play blackjack perfectly and tirelessly. Simply mirroring a robot's tireless playing patterns is enough to get your account frozen and your winnings confiscated from some casinos who offer blackjack games that can theoretically be beaten by card counting.

They shouldn't worry. If I were running an online casino, I'd welcome play by blackjack robots. Hell, I'd have a competition to see who could design the best one. Programming a computer to play perfectly is quite easy. I could do it, and I'm no great shakes as a programmer. The difficulty comes with the "broken biscuit" principle. Programming a computer to recognize a biscuit is easy. It can just look at the shape and check it with its memory banks for a correlation with the known shape of a biscuit. If the biscuit is broken, however, the robot struggles. Unlike a human it can't process the colour, texture and smell of the biscuit to determine it is one.

The same problem occurs with card recognition. Explaining what a card is to a blackjack computer given the myriad number of possible designs is not easy. There is no margin of error here. If a computer thinks a 4 is an ace or vice versa it will blow your bankroll in minutes.

If I were running a casino, I could create the perfect countermeasure by designing the software to periodically alter the card design in some unnoticeable way every now and again. The human player wouldn't even notice but the computer would be hopelessly confused. To some extent this happens anyway because of small problems with PC display systems and internet transmission difficulties. Has your screen ever gone a funny colour when your computer crashed a program?

The best robot I have seen online is a program used to analyze the odds offered by a number of different bookmakers at betbrain.com. Use this site for a while and you can get an idea of the limitations of internet robots. The site is useful but can't be taken on trust because the robot that compares odds is incapable of telling the difference between certain types of odds. For example, it may confuse outright odds on a competition with the first in that series of matches. Note that the betbrain robot deals with text and figures, which are much easier to analyze than blackjack graphics.

John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

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John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May