Blackjack Hall of FameBy: Blackjack Science
The Blackjack Hall of Fame Honors Professional Gamblers
© 2005-2012 Blackjack Forum Online
After taking stock of my life, I find my most valuable acquisition
is the wisdom I’ve learned through gambling.
— N. M. "Junior" Moore, The Crossroader
In the Winter of 2002 a diverse selection of 21 blackjack experts, authors, and professional players were nominated by the top professional gamblers in the world to the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Voting for the Blackjack Hall of Fame was open to the public for about a month on the Internet, and the final voting was completed at the 2003 Blackjack Ball in January, an event open only to the top professional players.
The primary voting for the Blackjack Hall of Fame is done by professional players. There are two reasons for this. First, the founders realized that professional players are the only ones who know the full accomplishments, at and away from the tables, of people who are professional blackjack players. That is because many of these achievements must be hidden from the public in order to protect sensitive information from reaching the casinos.
Second, the founders felt that it is professional players, whose survival depends on such knowledge, who know best which authors and theories have truly been original and truly had the greatest impact on the game, especially on players’ ability to win at the tables.
The Seven Original Inductees into the Blackjack Hall of Fame
There was a remarkable concurrence between the voting of the public and professional players on the original seven inductees to the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
The seven original inductees to the Blackjack Hall of Fame (in alphabetical order) were: Al Francesco, Peter Griffin, Tommy Hyland, Arnold Snyder, Edward O. Thorp, Ken Uston and Stanford Wong.
You may be familiar with some of these names. (Knowledgeable card counters are familiar with all of them.) Griffin, Snyder, Thorp, Uston, and Wong are primarily known to the public through their research and writings on blackjack. Francesco and Hyland are primarily known to professional players (and casino game protection personnel!) for their relentless and highly successful team attacks on the casinos.
Subsequent Inductees into the Blackjack Hall of Fame
The following year, at the 2004 Blackjack Ball, two more inductees were added, again with primary voting done by professional gamblers at the Ball. The two added members: Keith Taft, a brilliant inventor who has spent more than two decades milking the casino blackjack games with his high-tech electronic devices, and author Max Rubin, known for his book on milking high-value casino comps, Comp City, as well as his work on developing some of the highest-edge blackjack team plays.
At the 2005 Blackjack Ball, Julian Braun and Lawrence Revere were inducted, and in 2006 professional gambler James Grosjean was elected to the Blackjack Hall of Fame. In 2007, Johnny Chang was elected, and in 2008 Roger Baldwin, Will Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott, also known as The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen, were elected for their pioneering work in developing the first accurate blackjack basic strategy. You will find more information about each of the Hall of Fame members below.
Recent inductees include: Richard W. Munchkin (2009), Darryl Purpose (2010), Zeljko Ranogajec (2011), and Ian Anderson, 2012. Richard Munchkin and Darryl Purpose have logged many years as high-stakes players around the world, including with several of the great blackjack teams. They have made money at blackjack using virtually every form of advantage play ever invented, and they were part of the development of several high-edge methods. Darryl Purpose began with the Ken Uston team, and was known as the fastest card counter in the world. Richard Munchkin is the author of Gambling Wizards.
Zeljko Ranogajec ran the most sophisticated and profitable blackjack teams in Australia and continues to deploy his teams in innovative plays in casinos around the world. Ian Anderson is a high-stakes player and author of Turning the Tables on Las Vegas , an esteemed work among professional blackjack players as the first work to seriously address card counting camouflage, and how to get away with high-stakes play long term. (Anderson also wrote a guide for lower-stakes players, titled Burning the Tables in Las Vegas.)
Nomination of candidates has now become the permanent responsibility of the members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Every year, the current Hall of Fame memberrs submit names of possible candidates to each other, with biographical information and reasons for consideration. No limitations are placed on the number of names that can be submitted in this initial part of the process. All seven members then vote on their top seven choices, with all members’ votes counting equally. Each member’s votes are provided to all other members to insure the integrity of the process.
The purpose of the Blackjack Hall of Fame is twofold: to honor people of exceptional accomplishment in this field, and to educate the public about the creativity, intelligence, drive, and courage of great players whose achievements at the tables have largely been hidden from the public. The rules for public voting require that the biographies of the nominees be posted wherever the voting takes place.
Last year (2003), the Barona Casino actually created the physical Hall of Fame, similar to the Binion’s Horseshoe’s "Wall of Fame" for great poker players. Each inductee has a plaque with his photo and a few words about his contributions and accomplishments. There is also a museum of cheating devices. There are marked cards, computer shoes, "hold-out" gizmos for card-switching, and all kinds of cool stuff.
An interesting side note: the Barona Casino, which is sponsoring the Blackjack Hall of Fame, has awarded to each inductee a permanent lifetime comp for full room, food, and beverage in exchange for each member’s agreement never to play on Barona’s tables. Arnold Snyder says: "I must admit that this membership and lifetime comp is definitely the strangest thing I’ve ever won from a casino. I’ve been thinking of calling around the casinos of Vegas to see if I can get similar terms."
In any case, let’s look at the eleven current Blackjack Hall of Fame members, and explain why they were chosen by professional players for this honor.
Members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and their Achievements
Julian Braun died in 2000 and his only book, How to Play Winning Blackjack, is long out of print and a collector's item. For ten years in the early days of card counting, he did a vast amount of the computer work for some of the top authors.
He did the programming for the 2nd edition of E.O. Thorp's Beat the Dealer . His programs were used to develop all of Lawrence Revere's systems, as well as the Hi-Opt systems. Of the "pre-Stanford Wong" professional players (the pros playing before the first edition of Wong's Professional Blackjack came out in 1975), most were using either Thorp's Ten Count, Thorp's Hi-Lo, Hi-Opt I, Hi-Opt II, Revere's Point Count, Revere's +/-, or Revere's Advanced Point Count. These were the most popular and widely disseminated systems in use for about ten years, and Julian Braun's programs were used to develop all of them.
See Arnold Snyder's Interview with Julian Braun in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
John Chang has been known by casinos and the public for over 20 years as manager of the MIT blackjack team, which has won many millions of dollars from casinos in Las Vegas and around the world using a variety of card-counting and other professional gambling techniques, many of them first analyzed and pioneered by John.
John remains active as a professional gambler, and many other professional players continue to use his analysis and innovations to beat blackjack and other casino games, so we're going to have to wait a few more years to tell you the best stuff about John Chang's career and accomplishments.
For more information on John Chang and the MIT blackjack team, see The MIT Blackjack Team: Interview with Team Manager Johnny C.
The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen: Roger Baldwin, Will Cantey, James McDermott and Herbert Maisel
The "Four Horsemen of Aberdeen"" (Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott) were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2008 by the unanimous decision of the current living members of the Hall of Fame, including (alphabetically) Johnny Chang, Al Francesco, James Grosjean, Tommy Hyland, Max Rubin, Arnold Snyder, Edward O. Thorp, and Stanford Wong.
The Four Horsemen were inducted for their pioneering work in publishing, in 1956, the first accurate basic strategy for the game of blackjack. The strategy was first published in an article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association; later the strategy was published for a mass audience in the 1957 book Playing Blackjack to Win .
Ed Thorp credits Baldwin, Cantey, Maisel and McDermott with being the impetus for his own research into the game. The four mathematicians provided Thorp with all of their data in 1958, which ultimately led to the publication of Thorp's Beat the Dealer in 1962.
Although the Four Horsemen did not realize it at the time, the strategy they published in 1957, which also included the first legitimate card-counting system, was the first published blackjack strategy to provide a player advantage over the house with a flat bet. Recent computer simulation carried out by ETFan at Blackjack Forum Online, using the PowerSim blackjack simulation software, shows that the strategy provided a player edge of 0.1%.
One of the particularly impressive things about the Four Horsemen's accomplishment was that they determined an accurate basic strategy using only desk calculators (or what used to be commonly called "adding machines"), as they began their work while in the Army in 1953, and computers were not available to them at that time. Although the game of blackjack had been played in casinos for 200 years, and although all of the other common casino-banked games had been mathematically analyzed by this time, blackjack had not been analyzed because all of the experts agreed that the game was simply too complicated.
Although the Four Horsemen were never widely known by the public, blackjack aficionados and professional players have always revered the four mathematicians as legends.
Here are a few comments about the Four Horsemen from the members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame:
James Grosjean: "I must have heard a thousand different players tell someone at a blackjack table 'The book says this' or "The book says that.' These guys are the book."
Johnny Chang: "When I first read the 1957 article they wrote that appeared in the Journal of the American Statistical Association with an accurate basic strategy, I couldn't fathom how they had accomplished this using desk calculators. It just seemed impossible."
Al Francesco: "Without these guys, none of us would even be here."
Cardoza Publishing has published a 50th anniversary edition of the Four Horsemen's Playing Blackjack to Win , along with interviews and other historical information about these men who changed blackjack history. Arnold Snyder has provided an Introduction for the book, and Ed Thorp has written the Foreword, in which he states: "To paraphrase Isaac Newton, if I have seen farther than others it is because I stood on the shoulders of four giants."
For more information on Roger Baldwin, Will Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott, see The Four Horsemen and the First Accurate Blackjack Basic Stragegy .
Al is one of the most highly respected blackjack players in the history of the game. This is the guy who literally invented team play at blackjack and taught Ken Uston how to count cards. Ken once said to Arnold Snyder: "I owe everything to Al. He really might be the greatest blackjack player there ever was, and he’s also a real gentleman."
Al is primarily known to the general public through Ken Uston’s books as the mastermind who created the "big player" (BP) team concept. Al started his first blackjack team in the early 1970s, and until Uston’s first book, The Big Player, was published in 1977, Al’s teams were completely invisible to the casinos and extracted millions of dollars from them.
Virtually all of the most successful blackjack teams that came after The Big Player was published—the Hyland team, the MIT team, the Czech team, the Greeks—used Al’s BP concept to disguise their attacks, and that approach is still being employed profitably by teams today.
Al is known by professional players for his highly inventive approaches to beating the casinos, though many of his methods cannot yet be written about because they are still in use by players. See RWM's Gambling Wizards: Interview with Al Francesco in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Peter was the math genius who first proposed using the mathematical "shortcuts" developed by statisticians for estimating answers to highly complex problems to analyze and compare blackjack card counting systems. He was the first to break down the potential gains available from any card counting method to two prime factors: the Betting Correlation (BC) and the Playing Efficiency (PE).
These two parameters facilitated highly accurate estimation of any system’s potential win rate in any game using any betting spread, without extensive computer simulations. He described how these methods could be used to evaluate the differences between single-level and multi-level counting systems, as well as the value of using multi-parameter methods (keeping more than one count). This book was a milestone for system researchers, developers and players, the most important analysis of card counting systems since Thorp’s Beat the Dealer.
Blackjack researchers have been using Griffin’s methods ever since. Any proposed counting system, regardless of its level of simplicity or complexity, can quickly be broken down to its BC and PE, and its comparative value to other systems and methods can be determined.
Over a period spanning 20 years, Griffin published dozens of technical papers in mathematical journals and at academic conferences, all gambling related. Even in his most technical writing, wit and off-the-cuff quips are the hallmarks of his style.
Peter Griffin died in 1998 at the age of 61.
See Peter Griffin's article, "Self-Styled Experts Take a Bath in Reno", in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
James Grosjean started playing blackjack professionally while a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Chicago. He happened to spot his first dealer hole card at a Three Card Poker game not long after, began running original analyses of how best to play the opportunity, and never looked back.
James Grosjean is the author of the professional hole-carder's bible, Beyond Counting, which established for the first time the accurate edge and playing strategy for a number of hole carding plays and other professional gambling techniques. Grosjean has also worked with Keith Taft on a blackjack computer that was used in a casino situation where computer play was legal. Keith Taft, another member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, called James Grosjean's programming "brilliant."
Like Tommy Hyland, James Grosjean has taken on serious legal battles with the casinos to establish the legal right to play with an advantage. After suffering false arrest at Caesars and Imperial Palace, he successfully sued both casinos and the Griffin Detective Agency. In fact, James Grosjean's lawsuit was directly responsible for bankrupting the Griffin Agency and stopping them from libeling other professional gamblers.
See James Grosjean's articles in the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library for more information. Grosjean's articles include: CTR-Averse Betting, 42.08%, Scavenger Blackjack, Beyond Coupons, It's Not Paranoia If...", and A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The Forum.
Tommy started playing blackjack professionally in 1978 while still in college. That was also the year he started his first informal blackjack team. He’s never looked back. For more than 25 years, he has been running the longest-lasting and most successful blackjack team in the history of the game.
Tommy Hyland and his teammates have played in casinos all over the US, Canada, and the world. He has used big player techniques, concealed computers (when they were legal), and had one of the most successful "ace location" teams ever. He has personally been barred, back-roomed, hand-cuffed, arrested, and even threatened with murder at gun-point by a casino owner he had beaten at the tables.
Every year, the Hyland team players take millions of dollars out of the casinos. And even though Tommy has had his name and photo published in the notorious Griffin books more times than any other player in history, he continues to play and beat the games wherever legal blackjack games are offered. He has also fought for players’ rights by battling the casinos in the courts.
Despite his fearsome reputation, Tommy is polite, soft-spoken, and always a gentleman. He is as loved by players as he is hated by the casinos. In an interview conducted by Richard Munchkin in 2001, Tommy said: "If someone told me I could make $10 million a year working for a casino, I wouldn’t even consider it. It wouldn’t take me five minutes to turn it down... I don’t like casinos. I don’t like how they ruin people’s lives. I don’t think the employment they provide is a worthwhile thing for those people. They’re taking people that could be contributing to society and making them do a job that has no redeeming social value."
Read RWM's Gambling Wizards: Interview with Tommy Hyland in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Lawrence Revere was both an author and a serious player. He died in 1977. His only book, Playing Blackjack as a Business , initially published in 1969, is still in print. If you ever look at the "true count" methods being employed pre-Revere, you will understand why Revere was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
The card-counting methods in use prior to Revere's book were cumbersome and mentally fatiguing to use. In the second edition of Beat the Dealer, in which Thorp first proposed the Hi-Lo Count, he mentioned a simplified method of using the count, though he never developed it as a full system. Revere had a leap of brilliance that led him to come to the conclusion that the simplified method of obtaining a "true count" that Thorp had mentioned could be fully developed and employed with the most powerful of point count systems.
Revere's method was so simple compared to the alternatives, that it has been employed by virtually every serious balanced point count system developer since, including Stanford Wong, Ken Uston, Lance Humble, and Arnold Snyder. As a serious player, Revere's knowledge of the game included such esoteric techniques as shuffle-tracking and hole card play.
Max is the author of Comp City first published in 1994. In this book, Max exposed techniques even non-counting players could use to get an advantage over the casinos by exploiting weaknesses in the casinos’ comp systems.
The initial manuscript for Comp City included advanced comp-hustling techniques that could be used by professional card counters, but the editors at Huntington Press decided to delete this section from the book in order to appeal to the wider market of recreational players. These excluded portions were published in Blackjack Forum in June, 1994, and can be found now in the BlackjackForumOnline.com Library.
See Max Rubin's article, "Counting Cards in Comp City" in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Max Rubin is also known for developing one of the highest-edge methods of blackjack team play. Since Max is still out there deploying this play, that's all that can be said about his playing career at the moment.
Arnold Snyder is a professional blackjack player who has been writing about casino blackjack for 30 years. His first book, The Blackjack Formula (1980), revolutionized the ways professional card counters attacked the games by pointing out, for the first time, the relative importance of deck penetration (over rules or counting system) to a card counter’s win rate.
His discovery has since been borne out by numerous independent computer simulations. In fact, it’s become bedrock knowledge among card counters today that penetration is the name of the game, and many find it hard to believe that for the first two decades of card counting, players did not know this.
Snyder also went against the grain in the early 1980s by recommending that players start using highly simplified sets of strategy indices based on data from Peter Griffin’s analyses (see "The History of the Illustrious 18") and "How True Is Your True Count?"). Snyder also developed and published (in Blackjack for Profit) the first-ever unbalanced point count system.
In his 2003 The Blackjack Shuffle Tracker's Cookbook: How Players Win (and Why They Lose) With Shuffle-Tracking (Huntington Press), Snyder revealed the most powerful method for beating today's casino shuffles, and provided the first numbers available on the high edges that can be gained from different approaches to shuffle tracking.
Since 1981, Snyder has been the publisher and editor of Blackjack Forum, a quarterly journal for professional gamblers (now published online).
Snyder is also the author of Blackbelt in Blackjack and other works directed at serious players who are new to playing blackjack at a professional level. His book Radical Blackjack, a memoir of playing blackjack at the highest stakes, with the details of the methods used to beat the casinos, will be available in Spring 2013.
Keith is not well-known to the general public, but among professional players he is revered as an electronics genius who has spent more than 30 years devising high-tech equipment—computers, video cameras, and communication devices—to beat the casinos. Blackjack was his initial target, and always remained his prime target.
Taft's first blackjack computer, which he completed in 1972, weighed 15 pounds. Over the years, as computer chip technology developed, his computers became smaller, faster, and lighter. By the mid-1970s, he had a device that weighed only a few ounces that could play perfect strategy based on the exact cards remaining to be dealt.
If it were up to Keith, his son Marty’s name would be right along his in the Blackjack Hall of Fame, as the two have worked as partners since Marty was a teenager. For 30 years they have jointly created ever-more-clever hidden devices to beat the casinos, trained teams of players in their use, and have personally gone into the casinos to get the money.
Keith and Marty may, in fact, have literally invented the concept of computer "networking," as they were wiring computer-equipped players together at casino blackjack tables 30 years ago in their efforts to beat the games. Taft equipment has been involved in some of the highest-edge plays that have ever taken place in blackjack history.
When Nevada outlawed devices in 1985, it was specifically as a result of a Taft device found on Keith’s brother, Ted—a miniature video camera built into Ted’s belt buckle that could relay an image of the dealer’s hole card as it was being dealt to a satellite receiving dish mounted in a pickup truck in the parking lot, where an accomplice read the video image then signaled Ted at the table with the information he needed to play his hand.
A pair of Keith’s "computer shoes" and a photo album of Keith’s devises are on permanent display in the Blackjack Hall of Fame museum at the Barona Casino in Lakeside, California.
An in-depth interview with Keith and Marty Taft was published in the Winter 2003-04 Blackjack Forum, and is available in the BlackjackForumOnline.com Library.
See RWM's Gambling Wizards: Interview with Keith and Marty Taft in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Edward O. Thorp
Edward Oakley Thorp is widely regarded, by professional players as well as the general public, as the Father of Card Counting. It was in his book, Beat the Dealer, first published in 1962, that he presented his Ten Count system, the first powerful winning blackjack system ever made available to the public, and the first published successful mathematical system for beating any major casino gambling game. All card counting systems in use today are variations of Thorp’s Ten Count.
When Thorp’s book became a best-seller, the Las Vegas casinos attempted to change the standard rules of blackjack, but their customers would not accept the changes and refused to play the new version of the game. So, the Vegas casinos went back to the old rules, but switched from dealing hand-held one-deck games to four-deck shoe games, a change that the players would accept.
Unfortunately for the casinos, in 1966 Thorp’s revised second edition of Beat the Dealer was published. This edition presented the High-Low Count, as developed by Julian Braun, a more powerful and practical counting system for attacking these new shoe games.
In 1967, Thorp published Beat the Market (coauthoried with S. Kassouf), and shortly thereafter started (with J. Regan) the first market neutral derivatives-based hedge fund. To put it in the vernacular, he made zillions.
For many years Ed Thorp wrote a column for Gambling Times magazine [now defunct]. Many of these columns were collected in a book titled The Mathematics of Gambling , published in 1984 by Lyle Stuart. In 1961, working with C. Shannon, Thorp invented the first wearable advantage-play computer.
Thorp has an M.A. in Physics and a Ph.D. in mathematics. He has taught mathematics at UCLA, MIT, NMSU and UC Irvine, where he also taught quantitative finance.
To read more about Edward O. Thorp's early experiences as a card counter, see "The First Counters: My Blackjack Trip in 1962 to Las Vegas and Reno with Professor Edward O. Thorp and Mickey MacDougall" by Russell T. Barnhart in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Uston burst onto the scene in 1977 with the publication of The Big Player , co-authored with Roger Rapaport. In this book, Uston exposed the secrets of Al Francesco’s big player teams. The book caused a falling out between Al and Ken which lasted for years, as Al felt Ken had betrayed his trust as well as his teammates.
But there is no denying that this book caused an upheaval in the world of card counting, changing the ways that professionals looked at the game and attacked it. Three of the most successful international blackjack teams—the Tommy Hyland team, the MIT team, and the Czech team—all were founded in 1978, the year after Uston’s book was published.
Al and Ken later patched up their relationship and Uston went on to start many blackjack teams of his own. He was a personality on a grand scale, who legally challenged the casino industry in the courts of both New Jersey and Nevada. (See Ken Uston Sues Nevada.) His playing career spanned two decades of play at the highest levels, and included card counting, BP teams, hole card techniques, and concealed computer play.
Uston died in 1987 at the age of 52. To read more about Ken Uston, see Arnold Snyder's Interview with Ken Uston, and RWM's Interview with Darryl Purpose (a long-time Uston team member) in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Stanford Wong self-published his first book, Professional Blackjack, in 1975. It was later published by the Gambler’s Book Club in Las Vegas, then revised and expanded numerous times and published by Wong’s own company, Pi Yee Press.
Wong is widely regarded as one of the most creative developers and sharpest analysts of systems and methods for beating the casinos. In Professional Blackjack, he described a never-before-revealed table-hopping style of playing shoe games, a method of play now known as "wonging." Professional Blackjack had a profound impact on serious players because it provided card counters with an easy yet powerful method for attacking the abundant 4-deck shoe games that had taken over Las Vegas. Many pros still think of card counting opportunities as "pre-Wong" and "post-Wong."
In his second book, Blackjack in Asia—a book priced at $2,000 and one of the rarest gambling books sought by collectors today—Wong discussed the unique blackjack games he had discovered in Asian casinos as a professional player, along with the optimum strategies he had devised for beating them. The book also included underground advice for exchanging currencies in these countries on the black market; as well as an account of his own hassles with customs officials when he attempted to leave the Philippines with his winnings. This book reveals more of Wong's anti-establishment personality than any of his later books.
In 1980, Wong published Winning Without Counting, originally priced at $200, and again, this book is a collector’s item. He not only discusses many hole card techniques that had never before been mentioned in print—front-loading, spooking, and warp play—but he also delved into many clearly illegal methods of getting an edge over the house, including various techniques of bet-capping, card switching, card mucking, etc. He was widely criticized (by those in the casino industry) for the amusing way in which he discussed and analyzed such techniques, but anyone with half a brain could see that he was merely informing players with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.
Wong subsequently published: Tournament Blackjack (1987); Basic Blackjack (1992); Casino Tournament Strategy (1992); Blackjack Secrets (1993); and since 1979 has published various newsletters including Current Blackjack News, aimed at serious and professional players. In addition to writing about blackjack, he has written other gambling books on subjects as diverse as horse racing and video poker.
See "A Tournament Question" by Stanford Wong in the Blackjack Forum Gambling Library.
Richard Munchkin, Darryl Purpose, and Zeljko Ranogajec
Richard Munchkin, Darryl Purpose, and Zeljko Ranogajec, as active players, have asked that we withhold additional information on their achievements in blackjack at this time.
To read more about the great blackjack players and researchers in the Blackjack Hall of Fame, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library, especially the "History of Blackjack" and "Great Players" sections. ♠