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4, 2008 | midnight The four newest members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame never counted cards.

They never gambled for high stakes or won much money in casinos.

In fact, after making their indelible mark on the game, they stopped following developments in blackjack in the early 1960s, around the time Ed Thorp published his influential book, “Beat the Dealer.”Yet when they were introduced before a roomful of the world's most accomplished blackjack players Wednesday night, they received a heartfelt standing ovation that had to dwarf any plaudits they ever earned during their distinguished careers in business, government or academia.

Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James Mc Dermott -- long known by blackjack insiders as the nearly mythical “Four Horsemen” -- were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame at Max Rubin's 12th annual Blackjack Ball, held at the clubhouse of an upscale gated community in Las Vegas.

(The precise location of the invitation-only gathering is kept secret.)“If it wasn't for them, not one of us would be in this room,” Rubin said.

Using only desk calculators and their considerable brainpower, the Four Horsemen were the first analysts to determine the optimal strategy for playing blackjack.

They hammered it out in the 1950s, before modern computers were widely available, while serving in the Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Thorp, who relied on their research in writing his book, tested their strategy on computers at MIT and found it to be accurate within a couple of hundredths of a percentage point.“These were really the first guys who ever figured out how to play blackjack the right way,” said Stanford Wong, a charter member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame (2002) and author of “Professional Blackjack.”Thorp's work inspired later blackjack giants such as Wong, Ken Uston and the MIT card-counting teams of the 1990s and others engaged in the noble pursuit of using their mental acuity to extract money from casino card games.“Thorp never would have got there without the work of these guys,” author and hall of famer Arnold Snyder said at the ball.

“If Thorp never got there, I don't know that any of us would be here.

I don't know how many millions of dollars just the people in this room have made as a result of the work that these guys did.”It started in 1953 when Baldwin, then a private in the Army with a master's degree in mathematics from Columbia University, was playing poker in the Aberdeen barracks.

One player selected blackjack in the dealer's choice game, and a discussion of the rules ensued.