Table and card games involve a lot more math than many think they do. Consider the exciting roulette wheel, for example. When it comes to visiting a casino or online platform, the roulette table is a place of total excitement. Visitors place their bets, then hold their breath as the wheel spins and the ball rolls.
Not many people are thinking about probability in the meantime. However, bettors and mathematicians alike have long tinkered with the game and its mathematical probabilities. The top roulette strategies break down mathematical concepts in order to help players understand how to place their bets and when.
And this isn’t just from a hobbyist perspective or solely based on roulette—professional and scholarly takes on table games stretch back decades. The card counting system in blackjack, for example, was the brainchild of computer scientist Harvey Dubner back in the 1950s.
During the same time period, famous mathematician John Nash helped create the Nash equilibrium, a way to define a solution in games where unknowns are a core feature (like in reversi, blackjack, roulette, and more). But hundreds of years before Dubner or Nash made their contributions, another scholar was poised at the intersection of gaming and math.
Meet French Renaissance scholar Blaise Pascal, whose efforts to discover a perpetual motion machine directly contributed to the birth of roulette.
The Original Wheel of Fortune
As mentioned above, the roulette wheel curries excitement in players of both online and physical casinos. But the game’s relationship with math starts before the wheel gets moving. The roulette board consists of 37 or 38 slots, which means players can select dozens of different possibilities when placing their bets.
From there, a player waits to see if the roulette ball lands in the numbered slot that correlates to the board where they placed their bet. In addition to numbers, the roulette board includes black and red colors, which can also be bet on.
First-timers are likely to use a system like the D’Alembert or Paroli system, while others might prefer a high-roller-specific approach like the Labouchere or Martingale system. Each approaches roulette probability in a different way, including advice on how to hedge bets. But the original roulette wheel actually didn’t have anything to do with bets, colors, or numbers.
Instead, inventor Blaise Pascal was on the hunt to create a perpetual motion machine.
A Quest for the Perpetual Motion Machine
In the mid-1600s, mathematician, writer, and theologian Blaise Pascal was busy tinkering in his home city of Rouen. The scholar had become obsessed with the idea of creating a perpetual motion wheel, which related to his interest in physics as well as mathematics.
Pascal worked closely to study pressure, which led to experimentation with hydrostatics. Eventually, this led him to attempt the creation of a perpetual motion machine. The idea was to create perpetual motion without an external energy source. Though this turned out to be impossible, Pascal’s studies led to the invention of the roulette wheel (and also immortalized Pascal as the international unit for pressure (known as the ‘pascal’).
…And a Serious Interest in Probabilities
Pascal was looking to revolutionize the world of physics. However, he also had a keen interest in probability due to his theoretical experiments in mathematics. Though historians aren’t sure how Pascal’s wheel was first tied to gaming after its invention in the mid-17th century, it quickly found its place in gaming circles.
The first mention of roulette comes from Paris in 1796. Within one century, Pascal’s wheel was combined with the Italian game Biribi. Roulette bridged the place-betting format of Biribi, then built on the excitement of Pascal’s spinning wheel, which now included correlated number slots.
But did Pascal’s original interest in probabilities help influence the game—or was he simply the mind behind the wheel? In reality, Pascal didn’t just invent the roulette wheel, but also made critical contributions to early probability theory. At the time, gaming was the easiest way for Pascal to test his theories.