How one UC Irvine professor beat Las Vegas and Wall Street – Orange County Register

Las Vegas in the 1960s: It was a place run by men who ordered hits over cappuccinos and made offers nobody refused. Men who were feared, and feared no one.

Well, except for one man. One man scared them more than an IRS audit. The man was Edward O. Thorp, a slightly built, soft-spoken MIT mathematician with glasses, good manners and an interest in gambling. Thorp was not a card player, but he was good with numbers. Really good. And he had a math theory about blackjack that he wanted to prove outside the MIT labs, in the very real world of Las Vegas casinos. In short, Thorp had developed what every flush-on-Friday-broke-on-Saturday gambler dreamed of: a system that shifted the blackjack odds in his favor. Because of that, Thorp would be drugged, forced to don disguises, banned from a dozen casinos, and threatened.

He would also become very, very rich, not only changing the gambling world forever, but also revolutionizing Wall Street trading and becoming one of Newport Beach’s most respected financial minds – none other than billionaire PIMCO founder Bill Gross said he owed his career to Thorp in his endorsement of Thorp’s third and latest bestselling book, “A Man for All Markets.”

But back in 1958, hundred-million-dollar trades, bestselling books, and especially taking on the mob, were as far from Thorp’s mind as his ocean-view Newport Center corner office. He had just graduated from UCLA with a doctorate in mathematics and figured he’d live the quiet life of an academic with his wife.

It was then that he learned of a few fellow mathematician/soldiers who had passed time in the army playing blackjack. They had written a paper purporting to have a system to maximize your chances to win. On a whim, Thorp went to Vegas to try it, using a small cheat sheet on how to bet. It didn’t work very well.

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