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Julian Braun is the author of How to Play Winning Blackjack. He refined Edward Thorp’s original blackjack strategies in the 1960’s using more advanced computer programming but he wasn’t the first blackjack author and he wasn’t the first computer programmer, so few people know his name. Sure, we all remember that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969, but who remembers that second guy who set foot on the dusty terrain of the moon less than 20-minutes later? If you don’t know, it was Buzz Aldrin. And, if you don’t know who Julian Braun is, that’s alright too.

Braun was born in Chicago, September 25, 1929. He had a typical childhood in a middle-class neighborhood and graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a dual degree in Mathematics and Physics. That tells you he was a bit of a nerd, and after spending time in the Marines he traveled to California and did his post-graduate degree at what was then San Diego State College, but he missed home.

He was a quiet, introverted person with a love of numbers that led him to IBM where he eventually became head of the company’s teaching program at their downtown Chicago research lab. As was befitting his personality he collected stamps and played chess for excitement.  When Thorp’s book Beat the Dealer exposed the possibility that the casinos of Nevada might actually be beaten at the game of blackjack, Braun took note.  He was intrigued by Thorp’s use of computers to arrive at his estimation of the best Basic Strategy to use and a card-numbering system that we now know as card counting to gage when the odds had swung form the house to the player.

Braun got in contact with Thorp about the computer program he used and Thorp never thought twice before sending his computer colleague a copy of the program, written in Fortan, that he had run at MIT. After scanning Thorp’s work, which arrived with no instructions or documentation, Braun realized how the algorithms worked and wrote a new program that he was able to run through a high speed (for those days) IBM 7044 Mainframe computer. It wasn’t a laptop, it was huge, filled with wires and tubes, and took up an entire room, but it was able to get the job done once Braun ran 9 million simulations. His work on the program was relentless and meticulous. He refused to quit until it was perfect.

The end result was in improved version of basic strategy and a program he used to develop data used by Lawrence Revere. Braun then shared his information with Thorp and an updated second edition of Beat the Dealer was published. Revere’s book, Playing Blackjack as a Business followed, with a tip of the hat to Braun.

Later, Lance Humble worked with Braun and the same program developed the Hi-opt strategies and card counting system. Braun wasn’t paid for his work as the blackjack world’s programing genius, but his name was certainly bandied about the publishing world. It always made authors sound both smart and connected to mention Braun’s name.

Braun as a Blackjack Player

As a loner and computer geek, Braun would seem perfect for a role as a blackjack card counter. He had a good job, time to travel to Las Vegas, and a brilliant mind. What more could you ask? After working with both Edward Thorp and Lawrence Revere, Braun did some gambling of his own. Yup, the wild gambler was even tossed out of a casino.

Being barred is a problem for all players, and the better your cover act and ability to avoid detection, the longer playing career you are likely to have. And then we have Braun. The computer guy.  Quiet, introverted, and precise. He stuck out like a sore thumb.

In a rare bit of humor, Braun revealed later in life to Arnold Snyder, a fellow blackjack master and author, that he did play blackjack on a semi-regular basis. He also admitted that he was barred from playing while on a trip to Reno.

Braun said that during a trip to Reno in the early ‘70’s he found the best game in town at the Nevada Club. The casino was fairly small, with low-limit games that couldn’t compare to Harrah’s next door, so they offered a very good game with slightly better rules than their neighbor. And, Braun played nearly every day for two weeks. There’s your first hint.

The second hint is that the Nevada Club was owned by Lincoln Fitzgerald, a former Detroit casino operator (yes, they were illegal, but connected to the right people) of the 1940’s who was as obstinate and stingy as ever a casino owner could be. In fact, he refused to share his Reno profits with his old “friends” back home and they sent him a message in the form of a blast from a shotgun. He lived, but spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

As for Braun, he played his typical precise betting system and perfect basic strategy. His stakes?  $1 to $10, with adherence to the numbers from the Hi-lo system. Eventually a Pit Boss stopped him as he walked in one day and said “The owner has observed you playing and he has decided that he doesn’t want your action anymore.” That’s the only barring I’ve ever heard of where the maximum wager was $10.

There’s a good lesson there, though. You have to fit in and have some casino comportment to get away with card counting, even if you are playing tiny stakes.

Braun the Author

Over the years, Braun gained popularity as a programmer, but not necessarily as a blackjack person. His own style wasn’t flashy. He certainly wasn’t Ken Uston with stories to fill books, but he was accurate and reliable. Eventually he convinced a publisher to cover his own work as a book.

Originally produced as a pamphlet for Lance Humble’s International Gaming, Inc. and entitled Braun on Blackjack, the work was expanded and published in 1980 as How To Play Winning Blackjack. In the introduction Braun admitted that his goal was to “correct, clarity, and the very least, to amplify my findings so as to clear up any misunderstandings….I shall attempt as logically as  possible to trace for you my work over the past 18 years.”

Much of the book was edited and changed before publication, without input from Braun. What was never changed was his approach (or the exact numbers) for basic strategy or his counts. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, Braun was disappointed with the overall content of the book and some of the advice provided by his publisher. Ah, welcome to publishing.

Unfortunately for Braun, although his book’s forward states his desire to clarify previous blackjack play decisions mentioned by others, sometimes in the same breath as his name, he also wanted the right to say he was more of a contributor to blackjack than just a computer programmer. And, he probably would have been happy to make some money from book sales, since his previous work was without pay.

As things worked out, Braun did increase his visibility, and the book sold well initially. It is still relevant, but the 170-pages are a bit dull. They read like a computer guy wrote much of it. There you have it.

Braun kept in touch with a few friends over the years, but as mentioned, he was a quiet guy. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early ‘90’s and that certainly slowed him down, but not completely. Unassuming till the end, he worked as a day trader from home for several years and never really retired. He passed away September 4, 2000.

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