In this, his second gambling manual, Edward Thorp offers his readers plenty of practical advice, but he also spills some ink reminiscing about his days as a graduate student at UCLA. “In our mutual poverty,” he writes, musing on a study break with some fellow students, “the conversation readily turned to fantasies of easy money. We began to speculate on whether there was a way to beat the roulette wheel.”
In 1962, Thorp, then a mathematics professor at New Mexico State University, published Beat the Dealer, now considered the first card counting manual. It addressed betting techniques for blackjack only, but nevertheless made the New York Times best seller list. Much wider in scope, The Mathematics of Gambling covers everything from baccarat to backgammon.
Even before he published his first book, however, Thorp spent a couple of years as a professor here at MIT – which itself would soon become a household word among professional gamblers and casino managers. Using card counting techniques pioneered by Thorp, an organized group of students from MIT played casinos across the country for a period of twenty years. The casinos eventually hired private investigators to root out these young card counters, but not before they had legally beaten the casinos to the tune of millions of dollars.
The story of the “MIT Blackjack Team” – however fictionalized it may have been – was made popular in the book Bringing Down the House, which was later adapted to the silver screen under the title 21.