This is an installment in our very occasional series on interesting mathematicians you may (or may not) have heard about. This time we’re talking about Edward Thorp. He is a mathematician who received his Ph.D. at UCLA and worked at MIT and UC Riverside.
If you look him up on MathSciNet (OU library login required), you will see that he’s written a number of interesting articles from “The relation between a compact linear operator and its conjugate” to “The strong maximum modulus theorem for analytic functions into a Banach space”.
Oh, and he also wrote Beat the Dealer, the very first book on how to count cards and beat the casinos at blackjack! Maybe it’s not surprising when you think about it that a mathematician was the person to invent counting cards. What is counting cards? It’s a method where you keep track of whether the odds are in your favor or the casino’s favor by tracking how many high versus how many low cards have been played already. If you’re old, you’ve seen it in Rain Man, If you’re young, you’ve seen it in 21.
It is absolutely true that there are times when the odds are in the gambler’s favor (which doesn’t mean you will win, it only means that you are slightly more likely to win than the casino!). However, to do it properly involves betting large amounts and being willing to lose large amounts, trusting that in the long term the math will work out and you’ll come out ahead. And of course you have to be counting correctly or all bets are off! So think twice before heading down to Riverwind Casino!
The smart bet is to do what Dr. Thorp did: Step 1: Show that you can win lots of money by counting cards in Nevada, write a book about it, and make your money from a bestseller. Step 2: Start a hedge fund and make tons of money on Wall Street. Step 3: Profit!