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
“The results of the first edition ohave 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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.”
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