The History of Card Counting: From Monte Carlo to Las Vegas

avatar of chris Chris
November 19, 2022
the history of card counting

Card counting is the practice of tracking the value of the cards remaining in a deck to gain an advantage when playing games like Blackjack. It’s been around almost as long as casinos have, but its history is filled with strange twists and turns. From private betting clubs in Monte Carlo to modern-day Las Vegas, card counting has taken some unexpected turns. Let’s look at how card counting has changed over time, where it came from and where it’s going.

1850 – 1930: Card Counting in Private Clubs

The first card counters were gamblers in private clubs in France and Italy. They used an early form of the system to track the remaining cards in the deck to predict which hands were more likely to win. High-ranking military officers and businessmen frequented the clubs, and the practice remained largely unknown outside the closed world of these exclusive clubs.

1930 – 1990: Card Counting Goes Underground

World War II caused considerable disruptions in gambling. It also led to a dramatic transformation in the practice of card counting. In the 1930s, a famous mathematician named Edward O. Thorp experimented with card counting in the popular game of Blackjack. However, he published his results after the war while working at MIT. Inspired by Thorp’s work, a group of MIT students began using card counting to win at Blackjack in Las Vegas. The practice was secretive and illegal then, so they had to proceed carefully. They adopted the code name “10-10-6” (pronounced “one-o-one-six”) in place of the word “count”, and they kept their techniques secret from even their spouses. The group later grew into the MIT team that famously broke the single-deck Blackjack record in 1967, earning millions in a single session at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

1990 – 2000: The Resurgence of Card Counters

Despite their efforts to keep it secret, the MIT students’ exploits became known to the public. The result was increased awareness of card counting, leading to higher casino security, tighter rules and more complex shuffling techniques. This action and reaction cycle continued until the late 1980s, when Blackjack’s popularity surged along with the expansion of casinos in the United States. As a result, card counting became more widespread and was even featured in Hollywood films. However, it was still quite risky due to the rise in casino security measures.

2000 – 2010: Computerization & the Younger Generation

The following significant change in card counting came in the mid-2000s when computers were first connected to online casinos. This allowed computer programmers to write programs that simulated millions of hands of Blackjack and analyzed the results. The programs could then recommend the best way to play a hand, given the other cards in play and the composition of the remaining deck. As Blackjack computer programs became more sophisticated, they began to include techniques for betting the maximum amount on each hand that still played the odds. In addition, the programs could account for the cards already in play to determine how many more cards were needed to win the hand. This level of sophistication allowed players to make bets that consistently played the odds to maximize profits.

2010 to present: Blockchain May Bring Big Change

The next chapter in the history of card counting may be written soon with the advent of blockchain technologies. While all modern computer Blackjack programs still use the same mathematical algorithms and computer methods of the past, blockchain technology brings new opportunities. One startup, called GambCoin, is building a decentralized, open-source platform on blockchain to enable users to bet on Blackjack with other players worldwide. The forum will implement the Markov chain algorithm, an approach that has been studied for over 100 years. The same technology could create a transparent system for tracking the cards in play at a casino. As a result, card counters could more easily know when to bet big on a winning hand. While blockchain may not be the final word in the history of card counting, it may bring a significant change shortly.


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The first use of card counting to gain an advantage at Blackjack can be traced back to the game’s origins in the 1700s. Card counting became widespread among high-stakes gamblers in the 1930s and 1940s. Still, the practice was kept secret due to the illegality of Blackjack. Computerization made card counting more accessible and more efficient in the 2000s, but blockchain technology may change the game again sometime soon. The history of card counting reveals that the practice thrives as an illicit activity in times of social upheaval and uncertainty. Card counting has been used to earn money during war and economic collapse. It may become increasingly relevant again as new crises emerge.

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Author Chris

Father, Writer & Gamer working with casino operators to provide the best user experience from search to the game dashboard.

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