Blackjack Groundbreaker Baldwin Dies

Roger Baldwin (l.) and three Army buddies—the “Four Horsemen of Aberdeen”—were the first to use math to gain an edge over casinos in blackjack. Baldwin has died at the age of 91.

Blackjack Groundbreaker Baldwin Dies

Roger Baldwin, the pioneering mathematician who with his three Army buddies figured out how to gain the edge in the game of blackjack, has died at age 91.

The New York-born Baldwin received a master’s degree from Columbia University before entering the U.S. Army in 1953. While in the service, he became acquainted with three other math-minded soldiers and told them of formulas on which he had been working to beat the game of 21. The four soldiers—later dubbed the “Four Horsemen of Aberdeen”—spent the subsequent 8 months crunching numbers using Army desk calculators to develop a strategy that would optimize the player’ odds of beating the dealer in blackjack.

After a weeklong field trip to Las Vegas in 1954, during which Baldwin played in 16 casinos, the group finalized their research and published it in the Journal of the American Statistical Association in September 1956. The group wrote that of all table games, “blackjack is by far the most neglected in the scientific literature of gambling… The fixed and known nature of the dealer’s strategy is vital in reducing the mathematical and computational problems in analyzing blackjack to manageable proportions.”

The article was expanded and published in the 1957 book Playing Blackjack to Win: A New Strategy for the Game of 21. The book led mathematics professor Edward O. Thorp to validate the group’s calculations on an IBM 704 computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after which Thorp published the groundbreaking book Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One in 1962. That book is still considered the Bible of 21 card-counting strategy.