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Gaming Guru

 

Is Math the Cowbird of Advantage Play?

20 May 2001

One of the main fallacies the general public has about card counting and advantage play in general is that an individual must be mathematically gifted to succeed.

I am not especially mathematically gifted. I have won a lot of money in the casinos, more than some who were more mathematically gifted and initially better capitalized. I think the importance of math is often overestimated. Beyond a certain level of basic competence, an understanding of math is not particularly important to the amount of money an advantage player can win.

The most mathematically gifted gamblers ever to walk the earth were Peter Griffin and Edward Thorp. Neither was particularly successful, though both won small amounts of money in the casinos. Both ran into particular practical problems, notably being cheated. To their credit they were self-aware and acknowledged their own shortcomings when it came to dealing with these practicalities and took effective measures to educate and protect themselves. However, the experience of these geniuses does emphasize an important truth: mathematical ability alone does not determine who winds up with the money.

You might not get this impression from looking at the recorded history of gambling theory and its development. To some extent, math is the cowbird of advantage play, kicking out the others from the nest of discovery and claiming their achievements for its own. The establishment, in the form of the academic world with its power over the public and the media, has succeeded in claiming much of advantage play theory for its own. Academics such as the aforementioned Thorp deserve great credit for refining and developing methods such as card counting. However, as familiar as Thorp's name is to anyone with a cursory interest in blackjack, few know the name of Mickey MacDougal, a somewhat heroic Nevada gaming inspector who published the first primitive card counting system in the forties. This apparent inconsistency when it comes to handing out credit also emphasizes another truth: advantage play exists independently of the sciences and formal education and research, it is as old as gambling and is as enduring.

Advantage play itself is truly an interdisciplinary science. To be successful you have to immerse yourself in a wide range of disciplines: from psychology to statistics, through computer programming to game theory. In actual play, however, the most complete knowledge of all these fields will not help you unless you have both a serene indifference to the wild and tempestuous swings of fortune and the ability to never let fear overcome your intellect. These latter qualities are invariably found in the most successful of players. It sounds simple. In practice, such Buddha-like higher wisdom is found rarely in individuals.

When it comes to my own teammates, I'd choose such an individual over a guy who can do long division in his head any day.

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

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