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Beat the Dealer Book Review

Beat the Dealer by Edward O. Thorp was published in the mid-1960s, but it’s surprisingly still applicable to readers today. This book is an excellent read for anyone interested in learning more about the game of blackjack and who wants to learn Thorp’s unique winning strategies.

This book stands out among other books of its kind, as it was the first book to back up its theories with mathematical equations.

Not all the information in this book will be relevant since nearly fifty years that have passed since it was published, but this book it still packed with a bunch of valuable information that any player can benefit from.

Beat the Dealer covers a variety of subjects that relate to blackjack including the rules of the game, various winning strategies, and even tricks to overcome cheating in the casinos.

There are many tables and figures scattered throughout the book that give you a better understanding of the concepts and techniques that Thorp is trying to explain.

To find out more information about this book and to see why we recommend reading it, please continue reading.

About the Book

Beat the Dealer
Audience
Men and Women with an Interest in Gambling
Author
Edward O. Thorp
Genre
Non-Fiction
Length
220 Pages
Point of View
First Person Narrative
Publisher
Vintage Books
Publishing Date
1966
Setting
United States of America (West Coast)

Brief Bio of Edward O. Thorp

Edward O. Thorp attended the University of California in Los Angeles, receiving both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in physics, along with a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1958.

Since then, he has taught at New Mexico State University, M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and was a long-term Professor of Mathematics and Finance at the University of California at Irvine.

In additional to Beat the Dealer, Thorp also wrote Beat the Market: A Scientific Stock Market System (1967), Elementary Probability (1977), and The Mathematics of Gambling (1984).

In addition to that he was the co-author of several books including Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street and The Kelly Capital Growth Investment Criterion: Theory and Practice.

Chapter Summaries & Thoughts

  • Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter one is a nice introduction to the book, going over in detail everything you can expect to learn while reading this book. You’re provided with an overview of the mathematic theory of probability, an emphasis on the importance of basic strategy, and the reality that you will be confronted with cheating at some point.

Since blackjack is the only casino game where players can consistently have an edge over the house, this book has been created.

Towards the end of the chapter, Thorp summarizes basic strategy and claims that although it doesn’t involve counting cards, it will prepare you to count cards in the future.

He also goes on to tell the story about the time he was given $10,000 to test his theories and was able to double the money in less than two days. This is the first of many stories from Thorp’s life that he implements into the book.

  • Chapter 2: The Rules of Blackjack

Chapter two is packed full of valuable information and insight into the fundamental principles of blackjack.

Thorp explains that the first step to understanding any of his methods or strategies is to first master the rules which means understanding the effect of each rule and the possible variations of each rule, which he goes over for you in detail.

In addition to the basic rules of blackjack, Thorp also goes over a plethora of subjects that you may find helpful including the object of the game, soft hands vs. hard hands, the draw, the effect of naturals, and the definitions of various terms you might come across while reading this book.

Thorp tries to explain things as easily as possible for the reader, making hard concepts much easier to understand.

  • Chapter 3: The Basic Strategy

Like he does quite frequently throughout the novel, Thorp starts off by sharing a real-life story that’s relative to the topic he’s covering in the chapter and this one just happens to be about his family and his experiences at UCLA.

He also goes on to talk about the IBM 704 computer he used to calculate the formulas necessary for him to develop basic strategy and the different decisions that players have that can greatly impact how basic strategy works for them.

Thorp included details on three experiments that he conducted that help you see basic strategy in practice. He has also included several tables that compliment the concepts and ideas he mentions throughout the chapter and they are labeled as follows:

  • Figure 3.1 – The Player’s Key Decisions
  • Table 3.1 – Drawing or Standing with Hard Hands
  • Table 3.2 – Drawing or Standing with Soft Hands
  • Table 3.3 – Knowing When to Double Down
  • Table 3.4 – Knowing When to Split Pairs
  • Table 3.5 – A Complete Miniature Version of the Basic Strategy
  • Table 3.6 – Results of Using the Basic Strategy
  • Table 3.7 – Results of Using the Baldwin System
  • Table 3.8 – The Basic Strategy Compared with Other Blackjack Strategies
  • Table 3.9 – The Basic Strategy Compared with Best Play in Other Casino Games
  • Chapter 4: A Winning Strategy

Thorp starts Chapter 4 off by going over the small martingale system and explaining why it doesn’t work.

He then goes on to talk about the importance of remembering that each game of blackjack should be considered an independent trial because as he phrases it, “The cards have no memory.” This simple statement is referenced many times throughout the book, so we believed it’s important to draw attention to it.

If you haven’t already been doing so, this would be a good time to start taking notes as there’s a plethora of valuable information laid out for you on the pages of this chapter.

Thorp answers six questions that he believes are essential to answer before deciding to continue on with the rest of the book and they are as follows:

  • How can you tell whether the remaining cards will be adequate for the next round of play?
  • How often do favorable situations arrive?
  • How much larger than the small bets should the large bets be?
  • How fast will you make money?
  • How much risk is there?
  • How much capital is required to start?

Along with answering these six questions, Thorp has again included several tables to help you further understand his strategy:

  • Table 4.1 – Players Advantage or Disadvantage for Certain Special Decks
  • Table 4.2 – The Best Strategy When It Is Only Known That No Fives Can Appear on the Next Round of Play
  • Table 4.3 – When the Deck Probably Will Be Adequate for a Full Round of Play
  • Table 4.4 – Variation in the Number of Known Favorable Situations, When Only Fives are Counted
  • Chapter 5: My Ideas Are Tested In Nevada

Before Thorp goes over the main points of this chapter, he starts by going over all of his qualifications such how he was a Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and how he’s had many press conferences were he’s been asked to explain his methods.

Although this information does help the reader understand why they should trust what Thorp says, we believe it was poorly placed in the middle of the book and it would have been better placed in the introduction.

Despite the minor disappointment, the rest of this novel is very interesting because it gives details about the time Thorp was given an $100,000 investment to test his ten-count methods in Las Vegas.

This chapter was created to give you confidence in his theories, as Thorp was able to make $17,000 in just a matter of two hours. This chapter doesn’t leave you with unreachable expectations though, as it also tells of the many losses he suffered as well.

Not only do you leave the chapter gaining a better understanding of this method but you also leave with a better understanding of the atmosphere of Las Vegas Casinos in general.

Throughout the story you’ll get to hear his experiences about getting barred from casinos on suspicions of card-counting and the casino’s effort to bribe him to play longer by giving him free drinks and meals. This is a true insight into how casinos operate and it’s still very applicable to casinos today.

  • Chapter 6: The Simple Point-Count System

At the start of this chapter, Thorp encourages his readers to take the time to practice the strategies he has gone over so far. He then leads into another story about his experiences with gambling in Puerto Rico.

It starts with Thorp being asked to make a guest appearance on the show, “I’ve Got a Secret,” where it’s revealed that a man named Henry Morgan is going to Puerto Rico on a bankroll of $200 to test his theories.

Thorp agrees to go along, as he’s intrigued to see how this man will do. He contrasts the casinos of San Juan to the casinos of Las Vegas, pointing out many differences such as the lack of alcoholic beverages being served, the much smaller betting limits, and how decks are always played out to the last card.

One thing was prevalent in both cities though: cheating.

It’s also during this chapter that Thorp tells us the story of “The Salman,” who was an infamous player that used End Play methods to gain an advantage over the casinos. This gives him the ability to know what the dealer’s hole card is.

The Salmon is so successful that the casinos in San Juan were forced to change their rules about dealing to the end of a deck. There’s only one table added to this chapter and it’s titled, “Basic Strategy When the Dealer Reveals his Hole Card.”

  • Chapter 7: The Complete Point Count System

In the beginning of this chapter, Thorps goes through a list of honorary people who have truly contributed to the success of this book, which includes people who are experts in the field of blackjack and scientist who helped him perform and analyze his experiments.

Again, this is probably something that would be better suited for the introduction paragraph.

This chapter is packed full of supplementary graphs and Thorp spends nearly the entire chapter going over how to interpret the graphs and how everything included in this chapter relates to the point count system. We found the figure and tables listed below to be very helpful:

  • Figure 7.1 – Player’s Advantage as High-Low Index Varies
  • Table 7.1 – Using the High-Low Index to Draw or Stand with Hard Hands
  • Table 7.2 – Using the High-Low Index to Draw or Stand with Hard Hands
  • Table 7.3 – Hard Doubling Down with the High-Low Index
  • Table 7.4 – Soft Doubling Down with the High-Low Index
  • Table 7.5 – Using the High-Low Index to Split Pairs
  • Table 7.6 – Advantage and Frequency of High-Low Pairs
  • Chapter 8: A Winning Strategy Based on Counting Tens

As you probably were able to indicate by the title, this chapter is all about the Ten-Count Strategy. In this chapter, Thorp goes over a variety of new terms that will be helpful to know when learning more advanced strategy including the explanation of insurance bets.

For this chapter especially, it would be helpful if you had some background in mathematics, as he goes over some of the equations behind his methods.

Thorp adds another unique story into the mix about a dark-haired man from Southern California who eventually was barred from all Las Vegas Casinos because he was able to win $250,000 through playing blackjack.

This story helps you understand how to use the ten-count strategy to your advantage but it also shows that there are consequences to winning too much, too quickly. We also found the tables in this chapter to be quite helpful as well:

  • Table 8.1 – Approximate Player Advantage in the Ten-Count Strategy
  • Table 8.2 – A Conservative Betting Scheme for the Ten-Count Strategy
  • Table 8.3 – The Ten-Count Strategy, Based on The Value of the Ratio When A Running Count of the Cards is Kept.
  • Table 8.4 – A First Approximation to the Ten-Count Strategy
  • Table 8.5 – Frequency of Favorable Situations Arising in the Ten-Count Strategy
  • Chapter 9: Beating the Casino Countermeasures

In this chapter, Thorp goes over a plethora of countermeasures that casinos take to ensure that your methods don’t work including shuffling during the game, using multiple decks, having dealers that know how to count, rule variations, and much more.

He also explains the option to surrender, that although is only an option for those playing in the Far East, is beneficial to analyze. Thorp goes on to give tips on what you can do in response to their countermeasures which includes anything from using the paper route technique to wearing disguises.

Towards the end of the chapter, Thorp introduces you to the device called the Automatic Blackjack Machine and even includes an early advertisement for it which is an excellent addition to this book and very interesting to read.

He also includes a couple different tables on a variety of topics including:

  • Table 9.1 – The Effect of the (Temporary) Las Vegas Rule Changes
  • Table 9.2 – Approximate Effect of Common Rules Variations on Player’s Advantage When the Basic Strategy is used
  • Chapter 10: How to Spot Cheating

Thorp starts chapter ten off by recommending that his readers also look into reading The Green Felt Jungle because it would help them identify cheating and possibly prevent it.

One common way that dealers cheat is by quickly looking at the top card to see if they want to use it and then revealing the second card instead but as you’ll read in this chapter, they are a myriad of tricks that casinos use to cheat players out of their money.

Techniques such as false shuffling, mechanics on call, and the gratuitous peek are just some of the things that Thorp warns his readers to watch out for at casinos across the world.

He also emphasizes that there are ways in which you can avoid such cheaters and gives example of a couple times when he’s chosen to walk away from them.

  • Chapter 11: Can the Cheating Be Stopped?

In the beginning of this chapter is an insert from Paul O’Neil’s article titled, “Life Breaks the Cheating Story,” in Life Magazine that reveals in detail the immense amount of cheating that had been going on in Las Vegas Casinos.

The article caused so much controversy that the Nevada Gaming Control Board wrote a response letter to Life Magazine that you get to read for yourself in this chapter. You’ll also get to hear about the different precautions the Nevada Gaming Control Board took in order to prevent cheating in the future.

We appreciate all the outside references that Thorps adds into his book; it gives this book a real stamp of authenticity.

This is one of the more interesting chapters of the book, as even though it doesn’t go over any particular strategies, the information provided in this chapter is very relevant to anyone who frequently visits casinos.

  • Chapter 12: Science versus Chance

A wide range of topics have been covered in this chapter including the casino’s countermeasures against count players, computers vs. casinos, how this relates to the stock market, and what we can expect to see in the future.

Throughout this chapter you’ll get to hear a couple different stories about specific players and the different strategies they used, plus you’ll also get a special look into the Beat the Dealer Computer that Thorp used to come up with his winning methods.

Extra Resources the Book Provides*

  • Blackjack in England
  • Basic Probabilities for the Complete Deck
  • Reference List
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Index
  • About the Author page

*Can be found in the back of the book.

What Others Are Saying

This book received 3.7 out of 5 stars from Barnes & Nobles Reviews and one of their customers said this concerning the book,

“This is the definitive guide to Blackjack Basic Strategy and the history of card counting. I really don’t think there is another book other there with clarity and depth, it’s no wonder it started a revolution. People who are crazy enough to dismiss this book for its age don’t realize how fascinating the history is or how relevant his strategies still are today.”

This book was rated with 4.1 out of 5 stars on the Goodreads Review website. There were many different customer reviews but one in particular stood out to us,

“I don’t think it’s applicable now for one simple reason: the book’s system assumes there is only one deck in play. Unless you’re ultra-rich, I doubt you’ll find a single-deck table anywhere. It was an interesting artifact, but I think I will need to read a more modern book to deal with the multi-deck shoe games that are extant now.”

This book was given 2.5 out of 5 stars according to the About Book Reviews website. People who have read the book had a lot to say including,

“Thorp’s book is now quite dated and there are many books on how to beat the game of blackjack that offer more powerful count strategies. However, his simplified system is rather easy to use and does offer a player the chance to truly beat the dealer (or the casino) if they put the time into learning basic strategy and the count perfectly.”

Our Rating and Why We Recommend It

4 Out of 5 Stars

4 Star Rating

We give this book 4 out of 5 stars, as even though it can be used as a great resource for readers who want to learn a winning blackjack strategy, it definitely is a little outdated.

This book was very well written and it’s thorough enough that even someone who has never played the game of blackjack before could pick up this book and understand his concepts. Only a truly talented author can accomplish such a feat.

We were also impressed with the number of references this book gives that makes you feel at ease about trusting the strategies within the pages.

If you see asterisks at the bottom on a page, then you can go to the back of the page and find a book or an article that Thorp has taken information from. He clearly did a lot of research before putting this book together and his hard work has certainly paid off.

In addition to that, Thorp provides his readers with tear-out reference sheets that are filled with his most important tips and strategies.

As we mentioned earlier, and the only reason why this book only received four stars, is the time period in which it was written.

Since this book came out in 1966, many more books have hit the shelves that are composed of more relevant count methods for the casinos of the twenty-first century.

This is truly the only downside to this book that we can see, as overall it was a great read and definitely worth your time.