Numbers up for Blackjack cheats thanks to postgrad

 A Trinity maths student has developed a system to clean up Ireland’s casinos.

A Trinity maths student has developed a system to clean up Ireland’s casinos.

Wesley Cooper, a PhD student at Trinity’s Graphics, Vision and Visualisation Centre, has developed a system to clean up one of casino’s oldest traditions. “Blackjack is 3,000 years old and people have been counting cards as long as it has been around,” said Cooper. He hopes his automated surveillance system, ‘Clear Deal’, will finally put a stop to card counters.

Cooper used funding from the ‘Irish research council for Science, Engineering and Technology’ to create ‘Clear Deal’. The system uses ‘smart’ video cameras, statistical analysis, and detailed player profiles to beat card counters. It measures each decision made at the table against a simulation of the ‘perfect player’, analysing patterns and assessing anomalies in behaviour.

Although ‘Card Counting’ is not illegal, casinos reserve the right to remove, and ban, anyone they suspect. Teddy Hickson, of ‘Fitzwilliam Card Club’ Dublin, admits that counting cards only gives players a very tiny advantage, typically between 0.5 – 2%, but “it can be significant”. He continued, “If we catch someone, we would ask them to leave and make it known to them that they weren’t welcome back”.

Hollywood films such as Rain Man and the recent 21 have portrayed characters cheating the casino system through card counting. Actors Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth have all played card counters in the past decade. Cooper commented “I saw 21 and the automated system we’ve developed would have identified what was going on and alerted the casino that it was being targeted.” Luckily for Bosworth and Spacey’s characters, Coopers ‘Clear Deal’ is still undergoing testing and has not yet been installed in many casinos.

‘Card Counting’ is just one of a number of methods that enable players to work the system to their favour. As Cooper himself acknowledges, “Blackjack is beatable if you have a good maths brain”.

Cooper says of the current system used to detect the various methods of cheating, “At the moment, casino surveillance staff have to watch the tables and try to identify suspicious play using their experience and instincts. The current system to detect cheating involves the dealer watching players and an inspector watching the dealer. It is a hugely labour intensive system, that relies on imperfect human intuition, and costs casinos across the world millions of dollars a year. According to Cooper “(‘Clear Deal’) does the same job automatically using computer-vision techniques and algorithms.” Hickson agrees, “If a system could be found to streamline the monitoring, it would be hugely popular with casinos”. Nevertheless, he says, “my instinct is that it would be difficult to replace human intuition.” ‘Clear Deal’ is being tested by an casino operator and according to Cooper, “The feedback has been good and I’m hoping other casinos will adopt the technology once the trial is over”.