How do you get into the Blackjack Hall of Fame if you don’t really play the game? Julian Braun had the answer. A 2005 inductee whose contributions to the game are considered by many to be much more substantial than any professional player’s accomplishments on the felt, Braun took Edward Thorp’s original card counting program and ran with it. He created and assisting in the development of the most acclaimed card counting systems of our time, many of which still in use today.
Computer Geek to Blackjack Legend
Born September 25, 1929 in Chicago, Julian H. Braun was always what you might call a brainiac. After high school, he attended the Illinois Institute of Technology where he graduated with a pair of Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics and Physics.
Braun spent a few years in the military in the mid-50’s, then headed out to California to complete additional studies at San Diego State University (then known as San Diego State College). He also spent some time teaching there before earning his post-graduate degree.
With a superior education in tow, Julian traversed the county side once more, this time planting himself in Detroit to take a position in the Missile Systems Division of Chrysler. After a few years there, fate led him to IBM, where Braun established a career that spanned over three decades. Eventually, Julian’s passion for knowledge in the technological field earned him a teaching position at IBM’s research lab back in his home town of Chicago.
The turning point in Julian’s life came when he picked up a copy of Edward Thorp’s classic blackjack card counting guide, Beat the Dealer (1962)—the very first publication of its kind. He was fascinated by the fact that Thorp, who was working at MIT at the time, had been able to take such primitive technology and create something so unique as a multidimensional card counting system.
Having virtually unlimited access to the fastest and most powerful computers available in the early 1960’s, Braun wrote to Thorp and asked him if he could obtain a copy of the computer program. Thorp willingly obliged, giving Julian the opportunity to study the program at length. He was captivated by its efficiency in delivering a complete print-out of every possible situation and expectation when inputting any combination of cards.
Julian went straight to work in perfecting the program. His version was essentially the same as Thorp’s, but with less variance in expected results. It was this initial design that led to Braun’s indices of the Hi-Lo Strategy, as well as several other count strategies.
Not only was Braun developing more precise counting techniques, several blackjack professionals found his program useful as well. He collaborated with fellow 2005 Blackjack Hall of Fame inductee Lawrence Revere in developing his strategies, based on 9 billion hands fed through the program, which led to the publication of Playing Blackjack as a Business in 1969. The Hi-opt strategies of Lance Humble, published in The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book (1980), were also derivative of Braun’s work.
Braun Tests his System in Reno
Julian was never a big gambler, but with all of this information before him, how could he pass up a chance to further his research by testing the card counting system in a realistic setting? In the late 1960’s, he headed out west to Reno where he found the Nevada Club to have the most affable rules for players.
The dealer’s there were playing single deck games that dealt all the way to the bottom of the shoe, while giving player’s the option to double-down on 9, 10 or 11. He placed modest bets of anywhere from $2 to $10, and was having no trouble coming out ahead using his basic Hi-Lo system.
After about a week of playing at the Nevada Club, despite never exceeding a $10 bet, the casino decided it was time for Braun to move on. Upon entering the casino one last time, the pit boss motioned for him to come over, graciously informing him, “The owner has observed you playing, and he has decided that he doesn’t want your action anymore.”
Braun respectfully acquiesced and gave up playing blackjack from that point on.
How to Play Winning Blackjack
In 1980, Julian published the only book he ever wrote on the subject, How to Play Winning Blackjack. The book contained a point-count system and charts depicting the odds of hitting or standing on every possible two-card combination and dealer’s up card, as well as expectations when splitting or doubling down when applicable.
Several other chapters, including those dealing with money management and an overview of betting, were a collaborative effort on the part of Braun’s publisher, Harry Fund. Those who’ve read the book may notice an about-face approach to playing the game in those chapters, such as Fund’s advice on watching for “hot streaks” and betting progressively when they occur.
Although Braun doesn’t condone such methods, preferring to play strictly with the odds, he told Arnold Snyder in a 1981 interview for Blackjack Forum that some players prefer to play that way, so he didn’t insist on its removal. Instead, he added a footnote to “play down” that chapter.
Due to Braun’s disinterest in becoming a professional blackjack player, his book didn’t disappear from the shelves like many of those written by fellow Blackjack Hall of Famers, but Julian was never concerned by that. He knew that his book lacked one thing all the others had in common, and that was the often illustrious tales of their experiences at the casino. But most pros will admit at least behind closed doors) that Braun’s How to Play Winning Blackjack is the superior read, due to its focus on the logical, mathematic side of strategies and card counting.
Loss of a Legend
Unfortunately, Julian Braun did not live long enough to attend his own 2005 induction into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. He took ill some months before his passing on September 4, 2000, and being the reclusive man that he was, news of his death did not reach the public until the Spring of 2001.