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Julian Braun has been a key player in blackjack history. His first important contribution to blackjack history was the computer simulation work he did for Ed Thorp, in the development of Ed Thorp's second card counting system.
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In Memory of Julian Braun: The Man Who Did the Blackjack Simulations for Ed Thorp, Lawrence Revere and Lance Humble

 
Julian Braun and the history of blackjack card counting
 
HISTORY OF BLACKJACK: CONTENTS
Jess Marcum, inventor of card counting Jess Marcum And the Early History of
    Card Counting
    By Allan Schaffer, Ph.D.
Jess Marcum, Ed Thorp, and the history of blackjack card counting The Blackjack Hall of Fame
    By Arnold Snyder
Card counting history and blackjack legend Jess Marcum An Interview With Julian Braun
    By Arnold Snyder
Jess Marcum, mathematical genius and blackjack legend My Blackjack Trip in 1962 to Las Vegas
    and Reno with Professor Edward O.
    Thorp and Mickey MacDougall
    By Russell T. Barnhart
Jess Marcum and the early history of blackjack card counting The Four Horsemen and the First
    Correct Basic Strategy
    By Arnold Snyder
History of blackjack and card counting and Jess Marcum Correcting the Public Record: Peter
    Griffin, Arnold Snyder, Don Schlesinger
    and the History of the "Illustrious 18"
    By Blackjack Historian
Jess Marcum, inventor of card counting The History of Blackjack
    By Arnold Snyder
the story of Jess Marcum and the invention of blackjack card counting System Smitty
    By Arnold Snyder
 
 
 
Free Professional Blackjack Simulation Software Courtesy of ET Fan:
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An Appreciation of Julian Braun

By Peter Ruchman
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XX #1, Springr 2001)
© 2001 Blackjack Forum

If you care at all about the game of blackjack, take a moment and bow your head. Julian Braun has died. He had been ill for some time and passed September 4, 2000.

It is odd but fitting this information is just coming to light. Both Howard Schwartz and I started inquiring about Braun’s health months ago, coincidently around the time he left us. We asked the luminaries of the blackjack world—no one had any information about this very private, reclusive individual.

Arnold Synder, Stanford Wong, Lance Humble, and Edward Thorp along with others were pressed into service--no one had a clue. Gambler’s Book Shop’s co-founder, Edna Luckman had a phone conversation with him about a year and a half ago. He called from his Chicago apartment, recently moved, sounding tired of life, explaining he was ill. Their friendship went back decades. After that, silence…

The irony is this man whose work affected so many lives went so quietly, unnoticed by the world, and his admirers. Sure, he was not a public personality, given to accepting accolades for his outstanding discoveries. Nor was he prone to calling attention to himself, particularly in his later years. In fact, he was something of a loner. But there are reasons.

The Story of Julian Braun's Contributions to Blackjack

For those of you unfamiliar with him, permit me to enlighten you. Julian Braun was a scientist, an explorer, theoretician, philosopher, and friend to every blackjack player who walks this earth. He was the author of a total of one book—How to Play Winning Blackjack , sadly, long out-of-print. But what a book! Printed under his name, was the legend, “World’s Most Respected Authority.” In this age of supreme meaningless trite hyperbole, it’s easy to disregard this claim as just more b.s. Trust me on this—it wasn’t. Read on…

The man had few peers. Some may have first encountered his name in Beat the Dealer (2d edition) or Lawrence Revere’s Playing Blackjack as a Business --these two books form the foundation, a dynamic duo My Weekly Reader, and We Look and See, teaching us the rudiments of blackjack.

Thorp has been widely celebrated as the father of card counting and thus modern blackjack. While the role of others in this fascinating development has long been overlooked, he was the man who made the public breakthrough, and the world responded.

But it was the work of Julian Braun who quantified the game into trustworthy, reliable numbers eliciting strategies, heretofore elusive. Julian Braun was working for International Business Machines (IBM), beginning with that company in 1961, and was intrigued by blackjack. Having first visited Las Vegas in 1958, a small player himself, he was all too aware of the pitfalls lying in every gambler’s path to the window.

In the beginning, everything was even money.

--Mike Caro

In order to truly comprehend Braun’s monumental achievement, you need to remember prior to the 1962 publication of Thorp’s book, blackjack was relegated to a casino corner. It was an afterthought, a game primarily for the wives and girlfriends of the regular casino customer—the World War II and Korean War veterans who comprised the bulk of the crowd. These men were craps players--bj tables were placed in the casino for the amusement of a primarily female assemblage, the game deemed unworthy of a real gambler.

Then Thorp’s book was published and all hell broke loose. Gamblers adopted it, national publicity was given to the “gambling math professor from MIT”--and a new generation pored through the pages of Beat the Dealer. The book offered new-found hope there was a certifiable way to beat blackjack, employing a lot more than sheer luck, even hitting the New York Times bestseller list in 1964. Beat the Dealer came complete with a set of strategy cards, the first time anyone had quantified a set pattern of responses to the possibilities one might stumble upon playing the game.

It was within this framework Braun took aim. He sought to examine the value of Thorp’s math, then, when he saw problem areas or incorrect results, refine the suggested strategies to make the odds more favorable for the player. It was not unlike two 16th Century cartographers compounding each other’s discoveries, reshaping the world, outlining, measuring, detailing general boundaries then redefining the topography once again. These were two explorer/mapmakers who changed the world.

Braun wrote Thorp explaining his interest requesting Thorp mail a copy of his computer program, which Thorp did. The FORTRAN program was explained by Thorp to Braun in comments their correspondence and as Thorp related, it was written mnemonically into the program itself.

Braun took Thorp’s strategies and ran them through an IBM 7044 mainframe computer--9,000,000,000 times. Again, hearken back to when computers were gargantuan gleaming steel edifices of wires, tubes, shelves, cabinets and wheels, taking up entire rooms, using painstakingly slow punched cards, running at speeds that would make a contemporary computer geek want to commit suicide. Today’s average PC can accomplish 100 times the task in a split second, like comparing a tricycle to a full-bore chopped Harley.

In the revised version of Beat the Dealer, Thorp wrote, “Braun’s detailed blackjack calculations, based on his extensions and refinements of my original computer program, are the most accurate in existence, and he has kindly allowed them to be used throughout this revised edition.”

Beating them three weeks in a row in Las Vegas
is like going into the lion’s den and coming out
with meat under both arms.

--Larry Merchant

The result of Braun's work first came to light in the 1966 2d edition of Thorp’s book. In the four years between his initial book and its revision, Braun had reworked Thorp’s math. In his Acknowledgements, Thorp wrote, “The results of the first edition have been sharpened and improved by the extensive researches of Julian Braun of the IBM corporation. He has made most of the calculations for the point-count method and has made numerous detailed and valuable suggestions. I am grateful to him for allowing his work to be incorporated into the second edition.”

I don’t believe in hunches.
Hunches are for dogs making love.

--Amarillo Slim

Using as his foundation the work of four U.S. Army technicians, Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott, who published the first known explanation of a codified strategy as “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack” in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, (Vol 51, pages 429-439) in 1956, Thorp discovered their calculations, performed on a Texas Instrument hand-held calculator, were generally acceptable. Their results were polished and made more precise by Thorp, who took their Basic Strategy calculations and refined them, making them more accurate leading to the basis for contemporary card counting.

As Thorp wrote in the 2d edition of Beat the Dealer’s Introduction “The first substantially correct version of the basic strategy was discovered by Baldwin et al. and published in ‘The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack.’ There were slight inaccuracies both in this version and in the improved version published in the first edition of Beat the Dealer. The correct version of the strategy for one deck and a certain set of casino rules appears in Chapter 3. It was calculated by Julian Braun.”

As Thorp has related, what Braun did was to combine his skills as a computer programmer par excellence with the higher speed, more powerful computers of IBM to utilize more precise calculations to arrive at better numbers and strategies.

It took a Las Vegas cardsharp and hustler traveling under a variety of aliases, Griffith K. Owens, aka Leonard Parsons, aka Specs Parsons, aka Lawrence Revere, to refine Braun’s calculations even further. In attempting to substantiate his own credibility and credentialize himself, “Revere” spent a lot of time refuting the work of others, particularly Thorp.

If there was no action around, he would play solitaire
—and bet against himself.

--Groucho Marx

In the first chapter of Playing Blackjack As a Business, Revere wrote, “But when Dr. Thorp is dealing directly with the scientific, or mathematical phrases of using strategies in the game of Blackjack, he should be trusted and respected implicitly. Where he has used the calculations of Julian Braun of IBM Corporation, his effective application of the theory of mathematical probabilities, as it applies to the game of Blackjack, is unquestionably correct.”

The genie out of the bottle—there was no way to stuff it back. Using Braun’s calculations and his innate gambler’s card sense, Revere laid out a series of easy to follow, color-coded charts and explanations, giving a player at any experiential level an exact way to play EVERY HAND to its finest mathematical advantage. Revere’s book amounts to a living testimonial and homage to Braun’s work, pedantically harping on strict adherence to Braun’s math. If Thorp cleared the brush, and Revere trod the path, it was Braun who measured the steps.

In the last part of the twentieth century there will be many
new applications of scientific and particularly mathematical methods to the prediction of phenomena heretofore called “chance.” We have tried to indicate a few of the developments that are similar in spirit to those described in this book. But most of the possibilities are beyond reach of our present imagination and dreams. It will be exciting to see them unfold.

--Dr. Edward Thorp
Beat the Dealer (Second Version)

The two volumes remain among the top five gambling books sold. Beat the Dealer has currently sold over 700,000 copies at the rate of 4000 per year) thanks in part to the work of Julian Braun. But much, much more than that, these books made believers out of millions, convincing a restless generation that blackjack was indeed a beatable game.

These books were embraced and became gospel truth among converts, of which I was one. We were literally assured if we worked hard and memorized the many charts and indices, we would be empowered! With this knowledge we could walk into any casino, and with patience, discipline, and intelligence (and always necessary bankroll), make some money.

What Braun did was help remove empirical luck as the significant factor in blackjack, replacing it with mathematically-proven formulas. Carrying these two books, millions worldwide joined the New Church of the Point-Count, Thorp as High Priest, Revere as Thumping Preacher both backed by Braun’s literate gospel.

Then, a third voice of reason was added to the choir. Allan Wilson was a highly educated scientist in the field of nuclear physics who received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. A college professor who left the ivory tower to join General Dynamics in San Diego, heading their Analog Computer Laboratory, Wilson shared a common bond with Braun, Thorp and Revere. Like the first two, he knew computers and shared the same passion for gambling as Revere.

These common concerns resulted in Wilson’s marvelous 1965 book, The Casino Gambler's Guide . A general overview of gambling, it maps it a path through the entire casino and world of gambling circa Mid-20th-Century America. Ranging from beautifully explained definitions of the Kelly Criterion money management scheme to bet-to-bank ratios and intelligent strategies for most casino games, Wilson’s book (regretfully, long out-of-print and now a collector's item) still remains a standard by which all other general casino works are measured.

Wilson waxed ecstatic about Braun’s work: “Most recently, there has emerged a new giant on the scene, Julian Braun of the IBM Corporation…His work is undoubtedly the most valid of all because he has directly simulated the play of hands through the deck as actually conducted in the casinos.

“By virtue of his position as programming specialist at the IBM Data-center in Chicago Braun had free access to the excellent 7044 computer. He not only ran through-the-deck simulations with both fixed and varying strategies, but also refined the Thorp calculations as to strategy alterations. He is the most meticulous person, with a burning passion to get the blackjack figures right!”

Although he has not formally published, Braun did speak on his work at the Fall Joint Computer Conference held (of all places) in Las Vegas in November 1963. The occasion was an evening panel discussion devoted to the use of computers to study games of chance and skill. Thorp presided as master of ceremonies, and this author was the lead-off speaker, surveying the history and current status of blackjack analysis. We drew an audience of several hundred, which was remarkable, considering that we were competing with dinner shows like the Lido de Paris.” Thorp remarked that it was “an enjoyable meeting, I remember it well.”

It is not as destructive as war or as boring as pornography.
It is not as immoral as business or as suicidal as watching
television. And the percentages are better than religion.

--Mario Puzo (on gambling)

The gospel according to Thorp, Revere and Braun were recognized by Ian Andersen in his 1976 book Turning the Tables on Las Vegas. In Chapter 3, “A Review of Blackjack Systems,” Andersen wrote, “Count strategies took a quantum leap forward as a result of the work of Dr. Julian Braun of the IBM Corporation. Braun analyzed the value of each card and found a surplus of 9’s, 10’s and aces favored the player. A surplus of small-value cards favors the house.

"…Dr. Braun developed several count strategies by assigning a plus or minus value to each card. His first simple point-count system is published in Thorp’s version of Beat the Dealer. Dr. Braun then collaborated with Lawrence Revere, and some of his more sophisticated strategies are published in Revere’s book Playing Blackjack As a Business.

“In essence, Braun’s system works as follows. At the beginning of each deck the count is zero. As each card is exposed and removed from play, its assigned value is added or subtracted and a running total is kept. Most active blackjack players use some version of this plus-minus system.”

(Author’s note: Dr. Thorp wrote me, “This idea had earlier roots. Claude Shannon and I discussed the high-low system in 1961 at M.I.T. I elected not to work it out on the computer, since the Ten Count was good enough then, And at the 1963 conference, above, Harvey Dubner presented the same idea, which he had thought up himself.).

The apostles and minions lined up, devouring the various interpretations. blackjack suddenly supplanted craps as the most popular game in the casinos and it wasn’t long before a second generation of believers joined the first, with their elders perking up their ears as well. And the man who wrote the scales for the Pied Piper’s pan flute: Julian Braun.

Concerning his own mathematical research in Stanford Wong’s 1975 Professional Blackjack, (his first book), the author bemusedly writes, “These tables are my own independent work. Any resemblance between them and the work of Julian Braun or anyone else is fortunate.”

Lance Humble, Ph.D. published his first book, Blackjack Gold in 1976. The Foreword was written by Edward Thorp, the Introduction by Julian Braun. In it, Humble maps out the basis for his HI-OPT I count, first published two years prior by his International Gaming, Incorporated, viewed by many as taking Braun’s work to the next level. The system was devised with Braun’s assistance and approval, using his computer programs.

Probability is the very guide of life.
--Cicero

Fifteen years after his first work with Thorp, Braun collaborated with Lance Humble and Carl Cooper in their 1980 tome, The World Greatest Blackjack Book. The family tree of blackjack had mushroomed by then, casino supervisors no longer universally dismissing card counting as one small step above raw superstition and witchcraft.

Prior to the publication of Beat the Dealer, the annual casino hold or net profit from blackjack games was approximately 18 percent. By 1980, that number had fallen to about 14.5 percent. Currently it hovers close to 12 percent. One might hazard a guess Braun’s work had a wee bit to do with this change…

“Thank you, I would like a banana,”
is the most you should tell your opponent.

--Phil Simborg

In the Foreword to Humble and Cooper’s book, Braun wrote “ During the past eighteen years, as a direct consequence of the work of Dr. Edward Thorp, myself, and others, numerous methods of winning at blackjack by means of count systems have developed. For the serious player who will take the trouble to properly learn and use one of the better systems, the player can and should win over a period of time. Yet, many such players have failed to come anywhere near the mathematically-proven reasonable expectations. There is more to playing the game than just knowing what is the mathematically correct play—much more.”

[Vegas] looks like somebody took one of
Liberace’s jackets and made a city out of it…

--Lance Humble and Carl Cooper

Somewhere along the line, casino countermeasures had become an increasingly important concern. The already complex world of blackjack had become even more dauntingly complicated. Humble reiterates his use of the HI-OPT I card counting strategy but by the time Humble’s second book was published, he was hard at work perfecting an upgrade, the HI-OPT II, using computer programs developed by Braun, once again collaborating with him on the project.

Braun’s 1977 pamphlet for Humble’s International Gaming, Inc. entitled Braun On Blackjack, was enlarged and mass distributed by Data House Publishing of Chicago in 1980 as How To Play Winning Blackjack. At last, almost two decades after his first research and initial inclusion into Thorp’s Beat the Dealer, the founding father of contemporary Optimal Basic Strategy was given the power of his own pen. Or was he?

In his Foreword, Braun wrote, “I have reasons for writing this book. First and foremost, is that some of the ideas and observations contained may be of benefit to the hundreds of thousands of Blackjack players who have been or will become as devoted or intrigued with the game as I am.

“Secondly, since my name and work in the field have been quoted in over a dozen books and countless articles, this is an attempt to correct, clarify, and at the very least, to amplify my findings so as to clear up any misunderstandings.

“The reader should be forewarned that I am neither a raconteur or even an ex-pit boss (heaven forbid). Accordingly, and unlike some other books on the subject, you will find none of the pithy, and sometimes very enjoyable ‘insider’ stories about the colorful cast of characters who exist on the fringe of both sides of the table.

“Rather, I shall attempt as logically as possible to trace for you my work over the past 18 years.”

The 170-page book which follows presents a wonderfully laid out display of Braun’s technique, his advice on how to play the game, Optimal Basic Strategy explained and detailed in easy-to-read color-coded charts and commonsense explanations. Like the author, the book is a no-nonsense, straight ahead approach to winning, just as the title suggests.

As Siamese twins of the field, Edward Thorp wrote the sole jacket blurb: “Julian Braun has transformed my original Blackjack computer program into the world’s most powerful and accurate tool for the calculation of winning Blackjack strategies. Using this program, Braun details a winning point count method. There is no other Blackjack counting system which is both simpler and more powerful.”

Unfortunately for Braun, in his desire and haste to get his own book to the public, he made concessions he lived to regret. It appears he never saw much in the way of compensation for his original research--and entire portions of his book were not his own. In a 1981 interview given to blackjack author and publisher Arnold Snyder by Braun for Snyder’s quarterly Blackjack Forum’s second issue,

Snyder asked, “You wrote me that the ‘Money Management’ chapter in your book, which advises the player to watch for ‘hot streaks’ and use betting progressions had been written by Harry Fund, your publisher. Were you aware, prior to its being published, of the contents of that chapter, and have you spoken to him personally about your feelings about it being included under your name?

Braun: Yes, but he wanted to get his two cents in and he was the publisher.

Snyder: In that chapter, he writes as if he were you.

Braun: I know. He was writing under my name because he’s using my name to sell the book. He wrote a lot of the other stuff, too. I don’t claim to be a book writer, per se. He wrote all the colorful stuff and the background and I wrote all the technical stuff for the book. The only thing I got in on the Money Management chapter was the footnote at the end.

Snyder: That footnote seemed to be the only intelligent part of the chapter.

Braun: I wrote the footnote because I was trying to play down what he’d written in the rest of the chapter. The thing is, there are a lot of people who like to play that way.

Regrettably, it appears when Fund’s short-printed supply of books ran out, the publisher refused to relinquish control of the rights and return them to Braun, thus preventing him from issuing a revised edition or any other.


Should I go to heaven, give me no
haloed angels riding snow-white clouds…
Give me rather a vaulting red-walled casino
with bright lights, bring on horned devils as dealers.
Let there be a Pit Boss in the Sky
who will give me unlimited credit.
And if there is a merciful God in our Universe
he will decree that the Player have for all eternity,
an Edge against the House.

--Mario Puzo

How sad a man who impacted so many, changing the course of gambling and American life, died without any recognition. After 36 years, Braun gave his notice to IBM on April 1, 1987 retiring permanently two months later. When he left this life in Chicago on September 4, 2000 following an extended illness, not one person in the extensive blackjack universe knew.

Braun’s estate left a will, not probated, filed on September 27, seven pages in length, no particulars noted. He is interred at Westlawn (Jewish) Cemetery in Chicago leaving no immediate family. He was predeceased by both parents—Marcel and Anne, nee Levin-- along with a sister Eleanor Becker, and two brothers, but did leave several unnamed cousins and nephews and nieces. His obituary notices in the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune requested contributions to the Parkinson Foundation of Chicago in lieu of flowers at the funeral, held on September 5.

It has been said that to a sensible man there is no such thing as chance. Or as Voltaire put it, “Chance is a word void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause.”
--Julian Braun
How To Play Winning Blackjack

Julian Braun, the Man

Concerning Braun the person and his historical significance, I asked a few people who shared more than a passing interest and relationship with the man and his concerns their thoughts. As Braun was one who did not relish the harsh spotlight centerstage, preferring to perform research in the solitude offered by classroom and computer lab, there isn’t a great deal about him in the public record.

I did make numerous attempts to contact someone at IBM for more information. Official company policy is not to release data to anyone not in the immediate family. I did leave word with the one person in IBM’s Human Resources Department who was willing to talk. She forwarded my request for information to Braun’s estate’s executor, a female cousin, named Elaine.

Elaine (Julian’s first cousin--her mother and Braun’s mother were sisters) offered the following information: Braun was born in Chicago on September 25, 1929. He graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with twin Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics and Physics. Following a mid-1950s stint in the Marines he went to California where he did his post-graduate degree and some teaching work at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University).

At that point Braun returned to the Midwest to work for a time at Chrylser in their Missile Systems Division in Detroit prior to beginning his three-decade-long stint for IBM, eventually becoming head of their teaching programs at IBM’s Downtown Chicago research lab. Sister Eleanor and her husband were both killed by a drunk driver while traveling to celebrate their second wedding anniversary in the Catskill Mountains in 1964. Braun’s father died suddenly of an aneurysm in 1966. Julian moved in with his mother to help care for her until her death in 1971 from the effects of a long-term illness with cancer.

Following his retirement from IBM in 1987, Braun worked as an independent commodities trader from his Chicago apartment. A loner to the end, his cousin noted he was never one for small talk, remained a very serious man who avidly pursued all interests in a determined manner. Braun was a passionate chess player and stamp collector. He had bypass surgery for a heart condition in the 1990s and began suffering from chronic Parkinson’s disease. He developed prostate cancer but it was Parkinson’s that was officially listed as the cause of his death on the certificate.

To do the man justice, I can only offer the remembrances of representatives of some notable inhabitants of the blackjack world. As there has been no memorial service to date, or even notice by the greater blackjack community, this will have to suffice for the present.

Remembrances of Julian Braun

In the 1981 Blackjack Forum interview, Snyder introduced their meeting this way: “Right from the start, Braun cast aside my preconceived conservative notions of him. I arrived in a coat and tie. He was in his shirt sleeves. I suggested a quiet restaurant where the subdued atmosphere would be conducive to an interview. Braun had other ideas, suggesting a Moroccan restaurant where our dinner would be accompanied by music and an exotic belly dancer.”

Interestingly enough, When Snyder asked Braun if he ever considered becoming a card counter, Braun responded, “There was a time when I was playing more frequently, and was even barred in one casino. Some years ago, I spent four weeks in Reno and played here and there.” He told Snyder this was in the late 1960s, betting from $2-$10 using the Hi-Lo count and hadn’t played serious Blackjack for years since.

When informed of Braun’s death Snyder related, “Julian Braun was the first computer programmer who really understood how to translate the mathematics of Blackjack into elegant computer algorithms. His reputation was so good that even competing authors wanted Braun’s computer work and his name on their systems. Ed Thorp used Braun’s programs as did both Lawrence Revere and Lance Humble. Today, with hundreds of Blackjack programs available for home computers, few players realize that back in the 1960s, only one man knew how to analyze Blackjack on computers and he was writing cumbersome FORTRAN programs for IBM mainframes. That man was Julian Braun.”


Stanford Wong told me, “He was the first guy up on the board and his numbers were good. All the people who came after him compared their numbers to his to see how well we did. He provided the standard measuring stick and did a fine job.”


Veteran mathematician and Braun contemporary John Gwynn told me, “He was the giant of his day. I read all of his publications, and his was the first really significant computer simulations. He was the first. His work stood alone for years.”


Author of casino books (Smart Casino Gambling and Knock-Out Blackjack) Olaf Vancura remembered him this way: “Julian Braun was a pioneer of blackjack computation. A true aficionado, his primary satisfaction came from analyzing the game, and his scientific approach has served as a model for others. For years, his software was utilized extensively by other blackjack experts for system development and refinement.”


William Eadington is Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is an internationally recognized authority on the legalization and regulation of commercial gambling, and has written extensively on issues relating to the economic and social impacts of commercial gaming.

Professor Eadington has served as the organizer of the First through Eleventh International Conferences on Gambling and Risk Taking between 1974 and 1997. Blackjack has been an important topic at each of these well-attended conferences with Braun’s name front and center throughout. Eadington told me “Braun was the numbers guy on the computer that allowed the Optimal Basic Strategy to developed and used by everyone since. His contribution to the gambling world is singular.”


Lance Humble reminisced about a visit to Toronto to visit him by Braun in the early 1970s. Following their blackjack-related discussions, Humble asked Braun if he’d like to go sightseeing. Always the introvert, Braun murmured he would enjoy a trip to Woodbine Racetrack and the Victory Burlesque, Toronto’s oldest. So, on a mid-day afternoon, two of the smartest men in North America found their way into the Victory.

As Humble recalls, they were among the only patrons. Braun insisted on sitting in the back at the very end of the long runway parting the seats like a pier. When they were finished watching the women cavort, the two men went to Woodbine for a day at the races. Keeping completely in character, Braun spent the time watching horses, and like his time at the strip joint, he never got involved, never placed a wager.

Of his place in history, Humble said, “Julian Braun was a scientist who specialized in developing Blackjack systems using advanced computer analyses. He was largely responsible for the analytical work published in Beat the Dealer and wholly responsible for the work which led to the development of the HI-OPT I and HI-OPT II systems.

“After his Toronto visit, we formed a working alliance with the aim of helping people who did not have the mathematical minds to do better at blackjack. He was a true professional always seeking the most efficient method to present to the players.”


Gamblers, with but few exceptions,
are the most honest men in the world.

--Nick The Greek Dandolos

Gambler’s Book Shop co-founder Edna Luckman (her husband John, considered by many to be the literature of gambling’s Gutenberg, died in 1987) last talked to Braun in the fall of 1999. He was sick and had just moved to a new apartment. Julian appeared in no hurry to contact people and seemed to be nesting, isolated from everyone and everything, preparing for death.

In retrospect, it appears he called to say goodbye—he had known the Luckmans quite well. When I related Humble’s story, Edna smiled. Vindicating Braun’s interview with Snyder, Edna can’t recall anyone ever witnessing Braun place a bet. “He was strictly a numbers man,” she told me.


Quite vital at 76, Alan Wilson was saddened to learn of Braun’s death, a true contemporary, having met Braun while both were attending San Diego State College four decades ago. He too remembers Julian as one of the sharpest minds as well as one who really won’t go down in the annals as a maverick gambler. His strength lay in his work. Wilson felt he couldn’t add anything about Braun to the thoughts contained in his marvelous book—and his admiration for the man and his work is evident.


Edward Thorp was as surprised as all of us to learn of Braun’s passing. As the individual most responsible for Braun’s long association with the blackjack world, he was in the best position to comment.

"After the first edition of Beat the Dealer appeared, Julian got in touch and I gave him a copy of my original FORTRAN program along with background information on the methodology. As I hoped, he wrote an expanded and more elaborate program which eliminated most of the approximations forced upon me by the limitations of computing power when I wrote in 1960.

"Using the expanded computing power available in 1965, his programming skills, and the computer resources of IBM, the numbers and strategies he produced became the benchmark from 1965 into the 70s. His contributions to the field of blackjack were of major importance.”


Gambling is an art form. Some people gamble
because they think there is money in it.
Yes, there is money in it when you are lucky.
But then the meaning of the game is distorted.


--Carlos Bulosan

If there was a Mount Rushmore for the founding fathers of Blackjack, Braun’s countenance would surely be entrenched in the firmament. One person remarked that if he didn’t perform the computer runs, someone else would have done it. I guess, one could make that same statement about any historical figure. The fact remains it was Julian Braun who performed those calculations in the early and mid-1960s. Those original computer runs and his subsequent work literally provided the foundation upon which rests most all meaningful contemporary Blackjack theory.

In the struggle between you and the world
second the world.

--Franz Kafka

What then do we make of Julian Braun, his contributions and his lonesome demise? Just this: His work will never be forgotten.

Now dealer and players alike united
in an unspoken conspiracy
to stave off morning forever…
For the cards kept the everlasting darkness off,
the cards lent everlasting hope.

--Nelson Algren

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