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Remembering John Gwynn

1 July 2001

Approximately a year ago I wrote a piece on this site entitled Remembering Peter Griffin. Little did I realize that a year later I would be writing a similar article about Peter's friend and colleague John Gwynn.

John Gwynn died on June 5th of this year. I do not know the cause of his death but it seems to me it was sudden. I was in contact with John this April and he made no mention of illness. Here is a copy of the obituary.

GWYNN JR., JOHN MINOR Passed away at his home on June 5, 2001. Born December 9, 1932 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Univ. of NC, where he received his bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics. At UNC he was a Morehead Scholar. Dr. Gwynn was Professor of Computer Science at California State University, Sacramento, for 24 years. He won outstanding teaching awards at CSUS, and previously at Georgia Institute of Technology, and was further recognized by graduating students at CSUS as Upsilon Pi Epsilon Outstanding Teacher of the Year. He was an international authority on computer simulations of gambling games and authored numerous papers on this topic. He is survived by his wife Julie; his son John Hamilton Gwynn, wife Karen, and two grandchildren; his daughter Stacy Oshinski and her husband Steven; his stepson Buck Lawson, and two stepdaughters Janet Lawson and Mary Viv Lawson. A memorial service will be held on Friday June 8, 2 PM at the Redwood Room In the University Union at California State University, Sacramento.

I first met John Gwynn in 1997 at the 10th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking that was held in Montreal, Canada. I knew of John because of his work with Peter Griffin on the analysis of Caribbean Stud and, of course, because of the many references to John in Peter's book Theory of Blackjack. Not to take anything away from Peter, but John was a great deal of help to Peter when Peter was doing his Blackjack research and Peter acknowledged this. Well, anyway, it was nice to finally meet John (and Peter). During that conference John and I became friends, as did our spouses Mary and Julie. When the conference was over, however, we became even closer friends through email correspondence. Although John was one of the country's best gaming analysts, much of our correspondence was not about gaming but centered on teaching and the state of education in this country. John, as I, was concerned about the poor mathematical preparation of university students and their accompanying attitude toward education. He also worried about the time and money that was wasted by universities with 'innovative programs' that were really an excuse to create bureaucracies.

John was also a very helpful person. I mentioned above being in touch with him this past April. The reason for that particular correspondence was that I was having problems with a new computer that I had just purchased. John sent me five pages of correspondence in an attempt to help me. That was typical of John.

The next time I saw John in person was at the June 2000 International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking that was held at the MGM hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our meeting was like two old friends getting together again. John said to me, "I'm so glad that you and Mary decided to come to this conference; its wonderful to have good friends to talk to." I felt the same way. At the opening cocktail party, Mary, Julie, John, and I spent most of the time sitting together catching up on everything; it was a great time.

I mentioned earlier that I knew of John before I met him. What I did not know, until I heard him speak at the two conferences, is that he was one of the, if not the, leading experts on the Asian domino game of Pai Gow. John had done a lot of work analyzing this complicated game and could speak at length about its complexities and nuances. He also had done work on other casino games as well. For a representative look at some of his work, see the book Finding the Edge, edited by Olaf Vancura, Bill Eadington and Judy Cornelius and published by the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada at Reno.

To speak of John's skills as a teacher, as a gaming analyst, as a computer programmer, and so on does not even come close to explaining who John Gwynn was. When I left the Montreal conference I said to my wife, "I think I have just met one of the nicest men in the whole world." I still feel that way about John. At the conferences when we were together, I noticed that John went out of his way to try to say something nice about every presentation and put people at ease. If he couldn't then he simply said nothing. He went out of his way to help me, several times, and he was genuinely a help. He was good friends with the famous gaming analyst Stanley Ko. Stanley told me that several times a year John would travel to Las Vegas just to have lunch with Stanley and talk over gaming analysis problems with him. That's the kind of guy he was.

The gaming world has lost a giant. More than that, it has lost one heck of a nice guy.

I miss you, John.

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers