Advantage Play in Blackjack

February 22, 2019, Webb 1100

Katie Byl

UCSB, Mechanical Engineering


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a game that can be exploited for financial benefit inevitably will be.  In the context of casino gaming, techniques to beat such a game legally (i.e., without cheating) are collectively referred to as advantage play. Successful implementations of advantage play (i.e., to be "almost sure" you'll actually make money) require skills and resources that span at least four more-or-less-orthogonal axes.  One must have a sound mathematical basis for calculating and optimizing a utility function to balance reward versus risk.  Sufficient magnitudes of both bankroll and rate of play are needed, to ensure reasonable profit rates with fast convergence toward "the long run".  And deception is essential: no casino will let you play if they realize they're being taken for a ride. Finally, because casinos do not allow players to use a "device" (e.g., computer, camera, abacus, ruler, etc.) to gain advantage, actual implementation of strategies requires an esoteric agglomeration of mental, visual and physical skills.This talk presents an overview of some of the mathematics and craft employed by various "blackjack teams", with an emphasis on the 1990's era blackjack teams based at MIT.

Speaker's Bio

Katie Byl received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT. Her research studies dynamic systems and control, with particular interests in modeling and control techniques to deal with the inherent challenges of underactuation and stochasticity that characterize bio-inspired robot locomotion and manipulation in real-world environments. Katie has worked on a wide range of research topics in the control of dynamic systems, including autonomous robotics, magnetic bearing control, flapping-wing microrobotics, piezoelectic noise cancellation for aircraft, and vibration isolation for gravity wave detection, and she was once a professional gambler on the now-infamous MIT Blackjack Team.