It is a fact that many of the best players in blackjack have a background in mathematics. That was certainly true of Julian Braun. Widely regarded as one of the most skilled mathematicians in blackjack history, Braun improved upon the calculations that were originally devised by Edward O. Thorp in Beat the Dealer. Sadly, the contributions of Julian Braun were mostly unheralded until his passing away in 2000.
Counting Edge honors the life and work of Julian Braun with this brief exploration of his life and work. It is safe to say that many of the innovations in card counting would not exist today if it were not for the work of Julian Braun. We think you will be fascinated to learn more about this blackjack celebrity.
About Julian Braun
Julian Braun was born in Chicago, Illinois on September 25, 1929. Braun was born right in the middle of the prohibition era, and he grew up in a city that was no stranger to the highest levels of organized crime. He probably got his first exposure to gambling by the mere virtue of his upbringing in Chicago. It would have been a tough environment in which to grow up, but by all accounts the future blackjack expert was a good student and avoided trouble.
Mathematics was the primary interest of Julian Braun, and he did well enough in school to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology where Braun majored in mathematics and physics. He managed to attain a bachelor’s degree in both of these disciplines. A stint in the military was next, and Julian Braun served for a few years before leaving the service and heading for California.
In California, Braun sought to continue his education before he made a visit to Las Vegas for the first time. He was immediately attracted to the overall appeal of Las Vegas. The games appealed to his mathematical instincts, and it wasn’t very long before Julian was drawn to the game of blackjack. His very first explorations of the game took nothing into account regarding card counting or basic blackjack strategy. It would be some time before Braun recognized it was possible to beat blackjack at the casino.
Jobs in important sectors were no stranger to Julian Braun. He spent time working for Chrysler’s Missile System in Detroit before eventually landing at IBM. Braun would often remark that his work with International Business Machines was his true career, and he continued it throughout his life. Although he was certainly passionate about blackjack, he depended upon IBM as his primary job.
Julian Braun suffered much tragedy in his young life. He lost his sister and her husband in a car accident, and both parents passed unexpectedly. Many have said that Julian Braun was drawn to blackjack because he was looking for an escape to numb the pain of loss. This may have been true to some extent, but the reality is that his interests in the game and gambling in general would have probably led him to the game anyway.
How Beat the Dealer Encouraged Julian Braun
It is possible that Beat the Dealer is the most influential blackjack book that has ever been written. The classic by Edward O. Thorp can certainly be attributed with launching the concept of card counting. One of the people influenced by the book was Julian Braun. Braun was captivated by the book, so much so that he used his influence in mathematical circles to contact Thorp directly.
Braun was somewhat bold in his request of Thorp. What Braun wanted was a copy of the very computer models that Thorp was using to validate his blackjack computations. It may seem surprising but Thorp complied with the request, probably because there were few others at the time that were interested in the subject, especially when it came to fellow mathematicians. The contemporaries of Thorp tended to think such things were beneath their stature.
The program from Thorp was written in Fortran, a very difficult language and one not many people were familiar with at the time. Julian was able to teach himself how to read the language, and within a short period of time he was able to make improvements that further validated the work of Thorp.
Julian Braun’s Final Years and Validation as a Blackjack Great
Even though Julian Braun can rightly be given some of the credit for the popularity of card counting today, and even its effectiveness, his recognition as a blackjack great was long delayed. There could be several reasons for this, but the main one could simply be Braun’s association with IBM.
At IBM, Julian Braun was considered to be a master mathematician. His work was considered on the level of genius. Gambling, on the other hand, has always been stigmatized by society. It doesn’t matter that there are genuine mathematical principles at play in beating the game of blackjack. All that people can really see is that the game is a gambling game, and gambling is still associated with seedy individuals and bad environments.
The sadness of this is that the work by Julian Braun goes a long way toward legitimizing gambling as an honest profession. In any other field, Braun would have been considered a true pioneer. But when he decided to write his own book on the subject of blackjack titled How to Win Playing Blackjack, Braun was taken advantage of by a publisher that was looking to make a quick profit on the author’s name in blackjack circles. The work was never given the credit that it was truly due, even though many blackjack players have credited it as an influence to their own writing.
Julian Braun passed away in 2000 after a long bout with Parkinson’s Disease. In 2005, Braun was posthumously inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game. It is sad that he could not enjoy the rewards of his work while still alive, but he has surely left behind an important legacy.
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