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Herbert Yardley's Biography

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Herbert Osborne Yardley, the most famous cryptologist in history, was born in the small frontier town of Worthington, Indiana on April 13, 1889.

Whilst still at High School Herbert Yardley started going to poker saloons.

In 1912, Herbert Yardley was working at a low level in the State Department but in 1917 when America entered World War I Yardley persuaded the powers that be to let him establish a code breaking section. Officially the Cipher Bureau, Military Intelligence 8 (MI-8)- it became known as the "Black Chamber".

Herbert Yardley managed to get the unit extended into the post-war world, and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes used the information provided by Yardley to extract from the Japanese a favourable ratio of naval capital ships at the Limitation of Armaments Conference of 1921-22. Yardley was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

However, the department was closed down by Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who remarked "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail". This quote is the title of a biography of Herbert Yardley by David Kahn published in 2004.

Yardley wrote "The American Black Chamber", the history of the MI-8 organisation and it became a best-seller in 1931. A later book, "Japanese Diplomatic Secrets" was banned by an Act of Congress in 1933 - the first and only such ban.

He tried developing secret inks commercially but it did not go well. Nor in 1938 did his attempt at real estate speculation. in Queens, New York.

Herbert Yardley also wrote novels: "The Red Sun of Nippon" and "The Blonde Countess".

In 1938 he was hired by Chiang Kai-shek to monitor coded message of the Japanese invading China.

Yardley says in his classic poker book, "The Education of a Poker Player":

"Upon the publication of 'The American Black Chamber' with its revelation of Japanese intrigue I became a marked man in the Orient, and the Chinese authorities who had engaged me to organize a Chinese cipher bureau therefore decided to smuggle me in under the name Herbert Osborn to avoid recognition and possible assassination by the Japanese.

"I choose China as the locale for the remainder of my story about how I win at poker because poker was instrumental in catching a secret agent whose mission was either to assassinate or to capture the Generalissimo."

In 1940, Herbert Yardley returned from China and after an attempt to be a restauranteur, went to Canada to set up a cryptanalytic bureau. He was forced out and from 1941 Yardley held obscure posts in the federal government, but could never get back into the American intelligence establishment.

The aforementioned "Education of a Poker Player" was published in 1957. My edition has an interesting introduction by Al Alvarez with some useful tips of his own on what makes a good poker player.

Yardley was definitely a 'character'. He was charismatic. He was also a heavy drinker, gambler, and womaniser.

In spite of a feeling amongst many that he had in effect sold secrets through his books, Herbert Yardley was buried with full honours in 1958.

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