The late Peter A. Griffin (1937-1998) was an amazing man with an exceptional talent for mathematics. His prominent skills lead him to a life as a phenomenal blackjack player in which he authored one of the most profound strategy guides of the last century, but that never detracted from his passion for teaching the skill he loved so much. Griffin’s accomplishments resulted in his worthy induction to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in its debut year, 2002.
Bred for Superior Mathematics
Peter Griffin was born in New Jersey in 1937. He and his three siblings all showed signs of inherent intellectual greatness from an early age. They were raised in various regions of the US, moving early on to Williamsport, Pennsylvania then to Illinois after Griffin’s father, a mathematically inclined actuary, was promoted to head of a labor/management consulting firm in Chicago.
His grandfather, Frank Loxely Griffin, was exceptionally skilled with numbers, as well. A Professor of Mathematics at Reed University, Frank authored numerous math textbooks over the course of his years, and was the ostensible source of numerical genius that befell subsequent generations of the Griffin family.
Peter’s brother, Alan MacDougall, grew up to share his creative force through the language of poetry, while his sister, Barbara Dan, has been successfully publishing historic romance novels since she was a mere teenager.
After relocating once more to the far northwest state of Oregon, Peter began his secondary studies at Portland State University. After graduating, he followed that up with a Masters degree from the University of California, Davis.
Griffin Pursues the Mathematics of Gambling
In 1965, Griffin accepted the role of Professor of Mathematics at California State University, Sacramento, where he taught various skills such as calculous, differential equations and statistics. It was during his early tenure with Sac State that he became infatuated with the game of blackjack, and the wide range of game theories it encompassed.
In 1970, at the age of 33, Peter proposed to teach a new course to his students; one that dealt with the mathematics of gambling. In researching for the new lecture, he made his way to Nevada, where he failed miserably at applying what he thought would be excellent game theory.
Interestingly enough, fellow Blackjack Hall of Famer and author of Beat the Dealer (1962), Edward Thorp, had the exact same disastrous experience in Las Vegas when he first began researching his profound studies on card counting.
After that unproductive episode, Griffin intensified his investigation into blackjack by compiling immense amounts of statistical data on random players throughout Atlantic City casinos. He compared that data to the same type of research he was doing on players in Las Vegas and Reno. The end result was remarkable.
Griffin was able to come up with the very first calculations of percentage disadvantage for the “average” player (i.e. the house edge). Based on the rules of the game and the average player’s understanding of how to play and win at blackjack, he determined that casinos had a 2% advantage over their patrons. Griffin then began calculating the win/loss percentage based on the use of various blackjack strategies.
It wasn’t long before Griffin had become immensely successful at the blackjack tables, efficaciously incorporating card counting and other recently published strategic advancements into his game. In 1979, his complied research and success on the felt resulted in the publication of his first book, ‘Theory of Blackjack: The Complete Card Counter’s Guide to the Casino Game of 21’, which has since been considered one of the most productive manuscripts the gambling world has ever known.
Griffin would go on to print a plethora of magazine articles and papers dealing with game theory, percentage dis/advantages, statistics and more abstract concepts like rebates on losses and proportional betting. A collection of those materials were combined into his second and final book on the subject of blackjack, entitled, ‘Extra Stuff: Gambling Ramblings’, in 1991.
It’s been said that Peter’s incredible capacity for mathematics was able to astound even the most avid of card counters. He demonstrated his abilities by exhibiting an incredible aptitude to keep track of 6 rolling counts at once, as opposed to the more common, singular high-low tally that most strategic blackjack players incorporate.
Despite his incredibly adept ability to win at the game of blackjack, Peter Griffin never had any desire to pursue a professional career at the blackjack tables. Not only did he find the game entirely too boring to play for extended periods of time—the primary reason why he never earned a fortune in his pursuit of knowledge—to play full-time would take away from his true passion, which had always been to teach the intricacies of mathematics to young and fertile minds.
Griffin maintained his teaching position at the University of California, Sacramento for 33 years, right up until his death.
Loss of a Legend
On October 18, 1998, Peter A. Griffin passed away in a hospital bed at the age of 61; the victim of prostate cancer. Despairingly, he did not live long enough to celebrate his own induction into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2002, the same year the honoring organization was created.
Gone but never forgotten, Peter Griffin and the flamboyant Ken Uston (1935-1987) are the only two members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame who were inducted during its inaugural year posthumously (proceeding death).
A man who found humor in all facets of life, including mathematical equations, Griffin was remembered by his close friends and colleagues as a “creature of calculated habit”. According to close sources, his daily activates could be predicted 100% of the time. He rode 13 miles to work on the same bicycle every day. He arrived at the office, checked his mail and set out for home upon his bike at the exact same time each day. Griffin even exercised like clockwork, jumping rope every day at the same time, with the same rope; a simple one he’d found in the street years earlier.