Famous Blackjack Players
Over the years, many blackjack players have become famous thanks to their casino exploits, contributions to theory, or the bestselling books that they have published. Without many of their efforts, we’d know much less about the theory and practice of playing blackjack, basic strategy, card counting and other advantage plays. The following is only a partial list of some of the most famous blackjack players and theorists of all time.
The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen
This was the name given to four US army servicemen: Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott. Unlike many of the others on the list, these blackjack players are not known for beating the house or being great card counters. But they may have made the largest contribution to blackjack of anyone in this article: they developed the first ever complete and optimal basic strategy for blackjack that showed exactly how a player should play in every situation.
What makes this feat even more impressive is the fact that it was accomplished in the 1950s, without the aid of modern computers. While the four men were stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, they used desk calculators to figure out the math behind blackjack. Their meticulous research made it possible for later writers and players to develop more advanced strategies, none of which are effective without basic strategy to stand on.
Peter Griffin is the author of The Theory of Blackjack, one of the classic mathematical texts about the game of blackjack. While he wasn’t much of a player himself, he did extensive research on blackjack; he not only looked at optimal strategies, but also calculated how big an advantage the house had over an average blackjack player (it turns out to be about 2%). He also authored the popular book The Complete Card Counter’s Guide to the Casino Game of 21.
James Grosjean is best known as the author of the 2000 book Beyond Counting: Exploiting Casino Games from Blackjack to Video Poker. A professional blackjack player, Grosjean is best known for his legal victories over the gambling industry. He won a large verdict against the Imperial Palace for being illegally detained, while he has also won verdicts aginst Caesars Palace and Griffin Investigations, a private investigation firm that held information on card counters and other winning gamblers. These victories have made him something of a hero to gamblers for his ability to assert his rights against casinos and investigative agencies.
Tommy Hyland is a professional player who has been playing blackjack since 1979. More notably, he is the manager of the world’s longest running blackjack team. Not only has his team excelled at using techniques such as shuffle tracking and ace sequencing to gain even bigger edges against the house, but they are also well known for winning a case against Casino Windsor in Ontario, Canada. The casino attempted to prosecute Hyland’s team of blackjack players for cheating, but the judge determined that the team was only using strategic methods to win, and that these methods do not constitute cheating the casino.
MIT Blackjack Team
Perhaps the most famous blackjack players of all time, the MIT Blackjack Team was made up of students and alumni from MIT, Harvard and other top colleges. The team used both card counting and other advantage techniques to win at blackjack at major casinos from 1979 through the early 2000s.
While the MIT Blackjack Team was infamous in gambling circles for many years, they came to the attention of the public thanks to the release of the book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. Incidentally, the book itself was mostly a collection of stories Mezrich had heard about, mixed with a large amount of fictional content, though it was marketed as non-fiction. Nonetheless, the book captured the public’s imagination, and it was translated to the big screen in 2008 as 21, a movie starring Kevin Spacey.
If you’ve ever used a Revere card counting system, you owe a debt of gratitude to Lawrence Revere. His best known book, Playing Blackjack as a Business, outlined several different strategies for card counting that ranged from simple to complex, and are still popular today. The most famous one is the Revere Point Count, which is still a benchmark by which other blackjack card counting strategies are evaluated.
Revere was more than just a blackjack player; he was also a casino pit boss, giving him additional insight into the workings of the casino industry and how to camouflage play to avoid being detected as an advantage player.
“Hollywood” Dave Stann
Also known as “The Undisputed Bad Boy of Blackjack,” Dave Stann may be the modern blackjack player best known to television audiences. He appeared on a number of popular gambling shows, including the World Series of Blackjack, the Ultimate Blackjack Tour, Celebrity Blackjack and others. He is best known for his flamboyant personality, and has also worked as an actor in addition to his advantage blackjack play.
Thorp was the author of the first important blackjack book, Beat the Dealer. Published in 1962, this book showed that card counting could be used to overcome the house advantage in blackjack. After using computers to help refine his card counting strategies, he put his theories to the test. At a time when casinos waited until near the end of a shoe to shuffle again, he quickly showed enormous profits and was barred from many Las Vegas casinos. His fame from this event led to the creation of his book, which made the New York Times bestseller list.
Thorp also pioneered other advantage plays in other casino games, such as using a wearable casino to predict the results of a roulette wheel. Thorp also became very successful on the stock market, starting several successful hedge funds.
Ken Uston – also known as Kenneth Senzo Usui – is widely believed to have popularized team play in blackjack. As a famous blackjack player in the 1979s, he became well known as a team card counter – so well known that he was banned from casinos around the world. Amazingly, he was then able to disguise himself well enough to continue playing in casinos around the world. He also won a lawsuit against Atlantic City casinos, when New Jersey courts ruled that these casinos could not ban someone simply for counting cards. Uston also wrote the bestselling book Mastering PAC-MAN, a guide to becoming an expert at the popular arcade game
Though most gamblers know the name Stanford Wong, fewer realize that this is the pen name of John Ferguson. A famous gambling author, Wong has written numerous books on blackjack and other gambling games. Along with a number of card counting systems and other developments, he is well known as the namesake of “Wonging, “or watching the beginning of a shoe being played and only joining the blackjack table if the count turns in the player’s favor. Wong is also a proponent of dice control in craps. In total, Wong has written over a dozen books; most are about blackjack, but he has also published material on craps, sports betting and other gambling topics.