For the majority going through school, the math classes are a form of slow torture. All these tiresome problems to solve and never any obvious relevance to real-world situations. Except, of course, that the theory of probabilities gives you everything you need to know about how to bet effectively. Once you can work out the odds on any given event occurring, you are ahead of the game when it comes to winning. In a sense, gambling is the application of science. But this slightly breaks down because knowing the odds does not guarantee you will win. The actual result of the event is still determined by events outside your ability to control. Whether you win is a matter of luck. So we might conclude that gambling in general is a mixture of science and intangibles like intuition.
Why should this matter? Well, there’s been an interesting case rumbling through the courts in Indiana. Back in 2006, the Grand Victoria Casino and Resort banned a player for counting cards. The gambler made no secret of his good memory and skill in converting the count into accurate predictions about how to bet. In the real world, casinos run card games from a shoe, i.e. they shuffle together multiple packs of cards and stack them into a container. The dealer then pulls the cards from the stack as they are required. This is the favored system because, once the cards have been placed in the shoe, the dealer cannot cheat by sharping cards from the pack or elsewhere. The order in which the cards will be played has been physically fixed. Thus, if someone with a good memory counts the cards as they come out, he or she can work out the probability of when cards of a given value will next come out of the shoe. This technique gives the blackjack player the chance to beat the House edge. The combination of the optimal strategy and counting gives the player the edge. For this reason, casinos routinely throw counters out and ban them from ever playing again. Casinos prefer the House edge to remain in place. Well, that’s all going to change now because a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals said the casino had no legal right to exclude the gambler.
This victory for the scientific gambler is a real milestone. It changes the way in which casinos in Indiana operate. Whether it will apply to other US states will depend on the way their gambling is regulated but, reading through the ruling, it looks as though it should apply in quite a few other states. It would be great if this could also apply to online backjack but the sad truth is the software does not mimic the real world. Unlike the shoe and its shuffled cards, the software uses a random number generator to decide which card comes out next. That means there’s no way to use the past cards dealt as a way of predicting future cards. The act of dealing one card is a uniquely random event, not influenced in any way by what has gone before. So scientifically-minded players will be heading to Indiana over the next few months and looking to make a killing. Those of us playing blackjack online will be relying on the optimum strategy and luck to build our winnings.