The Renaissance gambler who invented probability to win at cards

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Jerome Cardano’s gambling obsession spurred him to invent two of the most important theories in maths, laying the foundations of quantum physics

Universal History Archive/UIG/Bridgeman Images

ON 8 September 1526, the Blessed Virgin’s birthday, Jerome Cardano was in Venice. While others were praying, Cardano was playing cards at the house of senator Thomas Lezun. He was confident that his recent invention – the mathematics of probability – was about to pay off. As well as money, he was hoping to win a night with a beautiful prostitute. Such an experience, he thought, might be just the thing to end his four-year streak of impotence.

He was nearly 25, and had recently graduated from medical school. Though Cardano would later become renowned across

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