Julian Braun - Blackjack Mathematics Scholar
Julian Braun was one of the most intelligent blackjack enthusiasts that this world has ever known, but people seldom give credit to all he has accomplished. He took Edward Thorp's original calculations and developed them into more precise calculations that enhanced optimal playing strategies, making them more beneficial for the player.
In the acknowledgements page of Edward Thorp's 2nd edition of, "Beat the Dealer," he even thanked Julian Braun for his work. "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."
Julian later went on to write the book, "How to Win Playing Blackjack," that provided details on how to apply his calculations to an actual game of blackjack. To learn more about Julian Braun and his impact on the blackjack community, please continue reading this exhaustive biography.
Early Life Experiences
Julian Braun was born on September 25th, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois. That's where he attended elementary school, junior high, and high school. He excelled in all subject, having a particular interest in mathematics. He attended the Illinois Institute of Technology, graduating with two bachelor's degree in both Mathematics and Physics.
After school during the mid-1950s, Julian served in the US military. Upon completion of his term, he moved to California and took several classes at San Diego State University. Julian first visited Las Vegas in 1958, and completely fell in love with the atmosphere. He headed to the casinos and was eager to try out all of the table games they offered. His favorite game was blackjack, even though this was long before he knew about card counting or winning strategies.
After his trip, Julian worked briefly for Chrysler's Missile System division in Detroit, Michigan before accepting a job offer at International Business Machines (IBM) to be a programmer in 1961. He worked there for nearly thirty years, getting promoted to be the head of their teaching program early on. Although he was passionate about blackjack, he always made working for IBM a priority in his life.
His first ten years with the company were especially difficult, as several family tragedies occurred during this time. His sister, Eleanor, and her husband were both killed by a drunk driver in a horrific accident in 1964 as they were on their way out of town to celebrate their second anniversary. This was emotionally overwhelming for the entire family, but Julian especially took it hard. He was close to his sister from a very young age, and he always considered it his responsibility to protect her.
Only two years after this travesty, Julian's father died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm in 1966. Julian decided it would be in both his and his mother's best interest to move in together, so that Julian could tend to the needs of his mother. In 1971, she passed away from cancer. All of these events were emotionally hard to bare, which is probably why Julian used blackjack as a distraction to numb the pain.
Edward Thorp's "Beat the Dealer"
Before we can truly understand who Julian Braun is and how he impacted the world of blackjack, we must first mention Edward O. Thorp's book, "Beat the Dealer." After reading Edward's first edition of this book, he was enlightened by all the advanced strategy and unique card counting methods that were addressed. This was the first book he read that fully convinced him that using mathematics to gain an edge over the house was not only feasible but it was almost guaranteed to work.
He wrote Edward a letter asking him if he would send over a copy of his computer program, so that he could analyze exactly how it works. Without hesitation, Edward sent over the program which was written completely in FORTRAN. Julian taught himself how to interpret FORTRAN and was able to decode Edward's program within just a couple of months. His goal was to decipher exactly how the program worked and to see just how precise the calculations were.
He quickly became skeptical about the accuracy of Edward's mathematical equations and about how applicable his methods were in a real game. Julian studied Edwards's techniques and tested his theories, only to find that there were some discrepancies that needed to be addressed.
Under his position at IBM, Julian had access to a variety of high speed computers including the IBM 7044 computer, which was quite advanced for the time period. Julian used this computer to refine Thorp's calculations and improve upon his blackjack strategies. He tested his ideas by running approximately nine billion blackjack simulations; both fixed blackjack strategies and varying blackjack strategies are included in this number.
These tests gave Julian the information he needed to adapt Basic Strategy, Optimal Blackjack Strategy, and the Hi-Lo Blackjack Strategy along with various card counting techniques. His test also showed that a deck rich in high cards was a favorable situation for a blackjack player, while a deck rich in low cards was a favorable situation for the casino.
After adjusting these calculations during his free time for a little over three years, he presented his discoveries to Edward Thorp who was quite impressed. He decided to make a second edition to his book where he added many of the new discoveries he found including much of Julian's work. He mentioned his appreciation in the foreword of his book, "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."
Julian Braun on Card Counting
For a period of time Julian was really into card counting; he once spent four weeks in Reno going from one casino to the next. During his month's stay, he spend the most time at The Nevada Club as they had the most laid back rules on card counting at the time. They were still only using a single deck and dealing all of the way to the end, which was very rare and very beneficial for card counters. They also allowed players to double down on 9, 10, and 11, which increased a player's odds of winning.
He used the Hi-Lo system he adapted from Thorp's original equations to easily gain an edge over the dealers, but he never felt confident to bet more than a few dollars at a time. Specifically, his betting range was anywhere from two to ten dollars and he was not willing to budge on those numbers at all.
He enjoyed his card counting experiences and he made a substantial amount of money in the process, but he quickly realized that kind of lifestyle was not suitable for him. One time he went to play at the table but was told by the pit boss that he was no longer welcomed to play there. Although he didn't argue or put up a fight, he hated feeling like a criminal for doing something he didn't even consider to be illegal.
How to Win Playing Blackjack
"How to Win Playing Blackjack," was officially published in 1980, but it's no longer in print today. This 170 page book was referred to as an excellent resource for those interested in learning more about the mathematics behind blackjack, but readers had to know specific mathematical terminology to fully understand everything that this book entails.
"The World's Greatest Blackjack Book," by Lance Humble and Lawrence Revere's, "Playing Blackjack as a Business," both made references to Julian's ideas, but some of his views were slightly misconstrued. Julian wrote this book to make his ideas and calculations crystal clear. Specifically Julian provided players with tips on how to win the game and details on Optimal Basic Strategy. The most beneficial part of this book are the easy to comprehend color-coded charts that walk players through how to handle any situation that could possibly arise in a game of blackjack.
Unlike Edward Thorp, Lawrence Revere, and other famous blackjack authors, this book doesn't contain any personal anecdotes or memorable experiences that would have helped the readers connect to him as an author. Instead the language is complex, the print is small, there are no pictures, and the material covered is very straightforward and to the point. Although all of words Julian wrote are accurate, his book was extremely hard to read and was therefore not very successful.
In the foreword of this book, Julian wrote, "Accordingly, and unlike some other books on the subject, you will find none of the pithy, and sometimes very enjoyable, insiders' 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." Julian was aware that writing was not one of his strong points, so he went looking for a publisher that could help him write portions of his book.
Unfortunately, Julian chose to take his book to one of the greediest publishers around, and he undoubtedly came to regret that later in life. The publisher he chose, Harry Fund, rewrote many of the chapters in the book, changing the context and not asking Julian for his approval. The Money Management chapter of the book is actually completely written by Harry, even though Julian didn't agree with over half of the things stated in the book.
Julian suspected that Harry desperately wanted to write a book on his own, but he doubted it would sell because no one knew him. Essentially, he used Julian's name to get his point across. For unknown reasons, Harry only printed very limited quantities of this book and he refused to give up control of the publishing rights. This is why Julian was never able to release an updated version and why he decided to stop writing altogether.
His Lasting Impact
At this point, we must consider how all of this new information about blackjack strategy we now have thanks to Julian's impact on the game. For starters, more gamblers have started playing blackjack than ever before, as Julian helped open their eyes to see just how potentially profitable it can be. Thanks to Julian, a casino's profit from a blackjack game decreased from 18 percent to 14.5 percent within the decade that his calculations were released to the public. This means more players were actually increasing their bankroll when they played!
Julian finally retired from IBM in 1987, only to find retirement boring and lonely. To keep busy, he worked as an independent commodities trader from home. Julian also discovered a hidden passion for chess, playing every chance he could. He was also known for collecting stamps.
Julian had bypass surgery for a newly diagnosed heart condition in the 1990s, and soon discovered that he had also developed chronic Parkinson's disease. He became very sick during the last few months of his life, which caused him to avoid going out in public. He avoided phone calls from his friends and family, and could have been considered a recluse for the last stretch of his life. He passed away on September 4th, 2000 at the ripe age of 71.
He was buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Chicago, leaving no immediate family behind. Instead of having flowers at his funeral, he requested that a large sum of money be donated to the Parkinson Foundation of Chicago instead.
Olaf Vancura, author of the award winning books, Smart Casino Gambling and Knock-Out Blackjack, said this in tribute to Julian's work, "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."
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: July 2016
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