Harvey Dubner And The High-low Point Count System
It is interesting to speculate on what might have transpired if nothing more
would have been done in the development of card counting systems following
the 1962 publication of Thorp's book. The game certainly would not have been
as popular because of reasons noted in earlier articles and few, if any,
additional blackjack books might have been published. Thorp and his
cumbersome ten-count system probably would have been forgotten and you may
never have heard of Lawrence Revere, Ken Uston, Lance Humble, Richard
Canfield, or Jerry Patterson.
But additional work was done and it was performed by a man who has since
become "the forgotten man of blackjack." His name is Harvey Dubner and he
invented the Point-count System - the system which led to scores of
developmental projects, over 100 published blackjack books with the end not
yet in sight, blackjack teams, concealed computers and shuffletracking.
Why isn't Harvey Dubner recognized for his point-count system - a fantastic
contribution to the world of blackjack? What is the impact of this early
breakthrough on the current state of the art in blackjack card counting
To find the answer to these two questions, we must start by moving forward
one year after the first edition of Thorp's book was published in 1962 - to
the Fall Joint Computer Conference held in Las Vegas in 1963. On a whim, the
conference organizers decided to include a Panel Session on "Using Computers
in Games of Chance and Skill." Ed Thorp, author of the all-time best selling
blackjack book, Beat The Dealer, was designated as Chairman of the Panel and
experts on the various casino games, including blackjack, roulette and
baccarat, were invited to speak, this author among them. You can guess who
stole the show - Harvey Dubner with his description of his High/Low
To understand what I'm about to describe below, let me remind you that in
Part 2 of the series (AP, March 2000), I described the problems associated
with learning and using Thorp's Ten Count System published in the first
edition of his best selling book, Beat The Dealer.
I'll never forget that session for as long as I live. Not realizing that most
"computerniks" (as they were called at that time borrowing the suffix from
the Russian Sputnik satellite) were also inveterate blackjack players, they
scheduled the Panel Discussion in one of their smaller meeting rooms. The
room filled up and overflowed 45 minutes before the session was scheduled to
start! Hundreds of conference attendees were pushing and shoving to get into
The crowd, of course, had been drawn by Thorp. They were expecting
revelations on the game and anticipated using his imparted wisdom immediately
following the session to make a killing at the blackjack tables. Thorp
moderated the panel and introduced the speakers one by one.
Allen Wilson, who subsequently wrote The Casino Gamblers Guide, described his
approach to finding biased roulette wheels and then presented an interesting
graphic on the evolution of blackjack's basic strategy. Beginning with the
original strategy derived by Cantey, McDermott, Maisel and Baldwin, his
graphic displayed the advantage the player achieved - beginning with slightly
minus and increasing up to around 0.1 slightly positive as new studies were
conducted by various groups and individuals between 1958 and 1963.
After one or two more presentations, Tony C. presented our findings resulting
from the first blackjack computer simulation model I had programmed for the
IBM 709 computer (see AP #2, March 2000 for a description). They were
significant mainly because we had validated Thorp's ten-count system with a
totally different method than his mathematical formulation - playing it in
over 500,000 simulated hands.
Then Dubner was introduced. After a short background discussion on how he had
come to invent the point-count method leading to advantage blackjack, he
described the approach. Dubner kept a count of remaining high cards
(10,J,Q,K,A) and low cards (2,3,4,5,6) as the cards were played and divided
its difference by total cards left to play. He called the result the High-Low
Ratio and used this to size his bet.
His presentation was enthusiastically received by the standing room only
crowd and he was given a round of applause at its conclusion. At the
conclusion of the panel discussion, Dubner was mobbed by the crowd all
wanting copies of his handout on the point-count system. Here at last, many
were saying, is a system that is practical, that can actually be used in the
real world of casino play.
This interesting historical background lays the groundwork for describing the
impact of Dubner's breakthrough on the evolution of the scores of point count
system development projects that followed. They start with Thorp and Julian
Braun and proceed right up to the new millennium with the publication of the
latest blackjack book. Thorp incorporated Dubner's system into the second
edition of Beat the Dealer published in 1966 and offered some ideas for
improvement. Did he have Dubner's permission? He did acknowledge Dubner as
its developer but, and this is my opinion, to justify including the system in
his second edition and thus putting it in the public domain, he indicated
that many of the readers of his book had also invented point-count systems.
To prove this point he mentioned the publication of an ad in a Las Vegas
newspaper offering a point-count system for $1,000.
Jerry Patterson, a gambling instructor, author and player for 25 years, is author of Casino Gambling: A Winner's Guide to Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Baccarat and Casino Poker, the #1 selling gambling book on amazon.com and bn.com since shortly after publication in February 2000.
[Article submitted June 2002]
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