Edward O. Thorp, now 84 years old, is the man accredited with inventing card counting in blackjack. Thorp spent many years studying the game and was the first person who came up with an actual system for beating blackjack. While many people came up with numerous interesting theories on how to beat casinos in their own house, Thorp was one of the few whose system really worked. But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
Making Mafia’s Hit List
In a recent interview with New York Times and his autobiography, A Man for All Markets, Thorp talks about his extraordinary experiences and life episodes. A couple of these episodes include close encounters with the mafia.
Casino business during the 1960s was much different from what we are used to today, and it involved many shady characters and criminal connections. When Thorp came up with his blackjack system, he started winning a lot, which wasn’t met kindly by casino owners. His prolonged winning streak put a big target on his back.
A Close Call
One night in 1964, Thorp was playing blackjack at the Dunes and, as usually, he was winning. An experienced gambler that he was, Thorp refused all the free cocktails that were thrown his way, but eventually accepted a cup of coffee. Only a few minutes later, he recounts, he started feeling ill and completely lost his ability to focus and count cards. Thorp was able to leave with his friend, but he is certain they put something in his coffee that night.
After the incident, he figured it was a good idea to avoid the Dunes for a while, so he moved on to the Sands. He didn’t last long there, either, as he was thrown out after winning $2,500. Thorp had enough for one trip, so he fired up his car and headed back home to Arizona with his wife.
All of a sudden, his accelerator locked. He couldn’t control the car speed, as brakes became useless. Somehow keeping his composure, Thorp managed to gear down the vehicle and bring it to a stop using the emergency brake. The investigation proved the car was tampered with.
A Dish Best Served Called
Thorp got the message, but he wasn’t about to just let it go. He realized that he couldn’t keep playing blackjack without putting his life on the line, but there was another way he could hurt the casinos even more.
Two years after the incident, he published a book entitled “Beat the Dealer,” in which he explained everything about card counting and how to beat blackjack. Instead of having to deal with one man, it wasn’t long before casinos were faced with countless aspiring card counters looking to bring down the house. Some weren’t as good at it, but some were actually quite talented, taking home big chunks of money.
Talk about a bad judgment call on casinos’ part.