Gambling is an activity filled with colorful characters. Blackjack is no exception. One group of individuals that you rarely hear anything about are the Four Horsemen of Blackjack. These men are vital to the history of the game as we know it, but their contributions to successful play are important.
In the 1950s at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an army private and mathematician was playing poker with a group of friends in the Army barracks. Someone chose to play blackjack when it was their turn to deal, and the rest is blackjack history. Here’s the story of the Four Horsemen of Blackjack.
How an Army Barracks Game Changed Blackjack Forever
Roger Baldwin was an Army private with a degree in mathematics from Columbia University. He liked to spend his free time at the Aberdeen Proving Ground playing poker with the other soldiers. They rarely deviated from poker, but one night someone suggested blackjack.
The game was pretty much an unknown quantity. Baldwin knew little about it, but he discovered that the dealer was required to act on his hand according to very specific rules. At that point Baldwin’s mathematical mind began to turn. Roger Baldwin was convinced that blackjack could be beaten under such rules.
Baldwin’s circle of friends also included Wilbert Cantey, a sergeant. Baldwin was able to convince Cantey to give him access to the desktop calculators he needed for his research. This was long before the era of computers. Baldwin would have to do everything with manual help from rudimentary calculators which were only as good as the person putting in the data.
Herbert Maisel and James McDermott were also mathematicians, and Baldwin was quick to enlist their help. For 18 months the group of four men huddled around their adding machines and ran the numbers that would lead to the creation of basic blackjack strategy.
How Blackjack Strategy Was Created
Baldwin had a very simple theory. If the dealer in blackjack was bound by a specific set of rules, those rules could be exploited in a mathematical sense. If not exploited, then at least understood. The Four Horsemen of Blackjack soon discovered patterns and probabilities that led to the creation of basic blackjack strategy.
Basic blackjack strategy is simply the effort to establish the proper play for every hand at the blackjack table. The theory of Baldwin was that there was one play for each hand which gave a player the best chance to win. By sticking to the proper play and not deviating from basic strategy, the player could establish and maintain a powerful edge.
The work done by the four soldiers became the foundation for the basic blackjack strategy that we use today.
The Four Horsemen of Blackjack Influence Others
One could also argue that without the Four Horsemen of Blackjack there would not be the work of Edwin O. Thorp. Thorp’s Beat the Dealer was the book that launched card counting. Thorp’s own work was intertwined with the concept of basic blackjack strategy.
As the years passed, many other players and writers took the opportunity to expand upon the work of Baldwin and the other horsemen. These players included Ken Uston, Stanford Wong, Arnold Snyder, and many other members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
The work of creating blackjack basic strategy is an evolving effort. It is not static. The game itself is always changing as casinos look for ways to maintain the edge that they need to survive. But as long as the actions of the dealer in blackjack are governed by certain rules, the work of Baldwin and his friends will always be relevant.
The Four Horsemen Finally Get Recognition
Blackjack is an activity that does not lend itself to many accolades. So it can be said for almost all types of gambling. There is one way in which the best of the best in blackjack are honored. It is inclusion into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
In 2008 at Max Rubin’s 12th annual Blackjack Ball, the Four Horsemen of Blackjack were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. The gathering is held each year at an undisclosed location. All but Maisel were present at the induction ceremony.
It was quite a night for a group of men who never were card counters. Nor are their names spoken by the recreational blackjack player. Yet, as Rubin stated, no one in the Blackjack Hall of Fame would be there without the work of these men.
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