Anyone who has had success at the blackjack table might have Roger Baldwin to thank. In an obituary for the Long Island 91-year-old, the New York Times explains that Baldwin became intrigued with the game in 1953 as a private in the Army. A fellow soldier mentioned that Vegas dealers had a rule: They had to take a card if their hand totaled 16 or less but could stand at 17 or more. Baldwin, who had a master's in statistics from Columbia, began pondering whether he could beat the Vegas system and teamed up with three other Army friends to crunch the numbers over endless hours. The result was a groundbreaking paper, "The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack" in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, per a blog post at Best US Casinos.
The group later expanded the paper into a book, Playing Blackjack to Win: A New Strategy for the Game of 21. Renowned MIT mathematics professor Edward O. Thorp also validated the men's work in his best-selling book of 1962, Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One. The four Army pals came to be known as the Four Horseman of Aberdeen, where their military base was located, and all were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Baldwin was the last survivor of the group. Before their work, "no one actually knew what the right strategy was because it hadn't been calculated," blackjack expert Arnold Snyder tells the Times. "They figured out what to do if your hand totals 15 and the dealer has an 8 up: do you hit or do you stand?" (Read more Blackjack stories.)