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The Blackjack Elite: The Men Who Make Up the Blackjack Hall of Fame

Blackjack Hall of Fame
Located in San Diego’s Barona Casino, the Blackjack Hall of Fame is the brainchild of blackjack player and 2004 inductee Max Rubin.

Each year the public gets to vote on nominees to narrow the field and then the final votes are cast at the annual Blackjack Ball, a private event open only to professional blackjack players and experts.

As of 2006, the selection of nominees is made by members of the Hall of Fame themselves. The voting process remains the same.

The first class inducted was the largest with 7 and under the current rules will never be exceeded. From 2004-2006, the rules allowed for 2 inductees per year. After 2006, it was reduced to 1 nominee. The 2007 induction of the Four Horseman of Aberdeen was made possible because they were inducted as a single group.

The Charter Members – The Class of 2002

Al Francesco – Al is responsible for the development of blackjack teams. He also developed methods to beat casinos. These methods were “the drop” where during a cut of the cards, a member of his team would be strategically seated to see the cut cards and message other members to let them know to inform the player. The other method was the big player where a team member would play blackjack and count cards until there was a statistical advantage for the player. Another team member would come in and place big bets until the advantage was lost, distracting casino players from the card counting. Francesco retired in the 1990s when his identity was revealed in a book by a former partner and he could no longer go unrecognized in casinos.

Peter Griffin (July 19, 1937 – October 18, 1998) – Griffin was a mathematician and blackjack player who wrote a respected work in the game The Theory of Blackjack: The Compleat Card Counter’s Guide to the Casino Game of 21 in 1979. He also was the 1st person to determine the disadvantage the average has against a casino when playing blackjack. That disadvantage was about 2%.

Arnold Snyder – Player and author of many blackjack and poker books, including the Blackjack Formula and Blackbelt in Blackjack where he discusses his techniques in card counting, including the “depth of the deal”. He also is the editor of the blackjack trade publication, the Blackjack Forum.

Edward Thorp – A mathematics professor that was a pioneer in the application of probability theory. In the 1950s he was the first to use a computer to determine the probabilities of winning in blackjack. Due to his experiments and the publication of his results, casinos, who previously didn’t shuffle the decks after each hand, now do. His techniques were revealed in his classic book Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One.

Ken Uston (January 12, 1935 – September 19, 1987) – Known for his card counting prowess and his landmark lawsuit Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc. which states that New Jersey casinos couldn’t ban a player for card counting unless the NJ Casino Commission made a regulation that allowed the ban. As a result, the NJ legislature made a law preventing casinos from banning card counters.

John “Stanford Wong” Ferguson – Author of the book Professional Blackjack and creator of the first commercially available blackjack odds analyzing software Blackjack Analyzer.  His pseudonym became a term in blackjack called “wonging” where players watch a game from the start (while counting the cards) and join in when there becomes an advantage to the player. This technique led some casinos to ban people from joining games until the shoe had been completely played out.

Thomas “Tommy” Hyland – Known for managing the longest running active blackjack team, now celebrating over 40 years. He’s also noted for a legal case in Canada where card counting was declared a skill and not cheating.

Class of 2004

Max Rubin – Co-host of the shows World Series of Blackjack and the Ultimate Blackjack Tour. He is best known as an authority of casino “comps” and wrote the book Comp City: A Guide to Free Gambling Vacations. He also consults with many casinos on how to combat cheating techniques.

Keith Taft (1934 – August 28, 2006) – Was the first to use technology to aid in blackjack play. He developed electronic devices, such as hidden miniature cameras and foot controlled computers that were used in casinos to aid in card counting in the 1970s and 1980s.

Class of 2005

Julian Braun (September 25, 1929 – September 4, 2000) – Author of the book How to Play Winning Blackjack which focuses on the mathematical side of card counting and strategies. He built on Thorp’s computer software to create a new program that had fewer variances in results and helped develop the Hi-Lo Strategy, among others.

Lawrence Revere (November 5, 1915 – April 23, 1977) – Author, blackjack player, and casino pit boss who worked with Julian Braun on creating several card counting strategies based on computer analysis. He’s known for the Revere Point Count Strategy, the Revere 5 Count Strategy, the Reverse Plus-Minus Strategy, and the 10 Count Strategy among others. He featured these strategies and others in the book Playing Blackjack as a Business.

Class of 2006

James Grosjean – Grosjean is a statistician, author, and professional gambler who wrote Beyond Counting: Exploiting Casino Games from Blackjack to Video Poker and Exhibit CAA: Beyond Counting, both of which discuss how to harness advantage play to win at casino games. Grosjean was one of 2 gamblers who successfully sued Caesars Palace and Griffin Investigations as well as agents of the Nevada Gaming Control Board for illegal detention and defamation resulting in being falsely labeled by Griffin Investigations via the famous Griffin Book as a known cheater. As a result of the win and the judgment against Griffin Investigations, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company has since reorganized.

Class of 2007

John Chang – Was the longest running manager of an MIT Blackjack Team, having served over 20 years in the position. He was responsible for winning 10s of millions of dollars over the period of his tenure.

Class of 2008

The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen

In 2006, the Blackjack Hall of Fame changed the induction rule to only allow one inductee per year. In 2008, they decided to induct 4 people, but not individually. They were inducted as a group.

Known as the Four Horseman of Aberdeen, and sometimes as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Blackjack) these men were US Army soldiers stationed in the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

After playing poker for several hours, soldiers on the base decided to switch to blackjack. One of the men present was a mathematician with a Master’s Degree.

The mathematician solder started thinking about winning probabilities and statistics. He realized that the computations were quite intensive and he’d need a calculator or adding machine.

This was all taking place in the early 1950s, so such equipment was hard to come by. He enlisted the help of another player, who also happened to be a mathematician that had access to such a machine.

That night would start a journey for the 2 men that would soon grow to 4, which resulted in 2 years of studying, computing, and developing a blackjack strategy.

In 1956, they published their findings in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. The article was titled: The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack.

The men would follow up with a book a year later. The book was a landmark in not only blackjack but gambling in general, as it was the first time that any strategy that utilized card counting was printed.

The book, Playing Blackjack to Win: A New Strategy for the Game of 21, was the first and only blackjack basic strategy. When a player uses this basic strategy they aren’t giving up more than a few hundredths of a percent over a perfect basic strategy.

All 4 men, Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott kept a low profile over the years and didn’t realize the effect they had on the game.

In a 2008 article in the Las Vegas Sun, McDermott said “I was looking around on the Internet and saw our names kept appearing on some of these sites…They were calling us the ‘Four Horsemen.”

Cantey, McDermott, and Baldwin attended the induction ceremonies. Maisel had to miss the event due to his wide recovering from surgery at the time.

While their current status is unknown, their effect on the game is. Their influence on other Hall of Fame members is unquestioned. Thorpe not only used their information as the basis for his studies, but wrote a foreword to the 50th anniversary edition of Playing Blackjack to Win: A New Strategy for the Game of 21 where he captioned his gratitude for their work: “To paraphrase Isaac Newton, if I have seen farther than others it is because I stood on the shoulders of four giants”

Another testimony came from 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.”

At the ceremony, fellow Hall of Famer Stanford Wong stated: “Thorp never would have got there without the work of these guys. If Thorp never got there, I don’t know that any of us would be here. I don’t know how many millions of dollars just the people in this room have made as a result of the work that these guys did.”

And Max Rubin stated, “If it wasn’t for them, not one of us would be in this room.”

Class of 2009

Richard Munchkin – After graduating from college in the late 70s, Munchkin moved to Las Vegas and started off working as a dealer and pit boss at The Castaways Casino. He learned to count cards during his tenure. After a few years of this, he realized he was making more money playing blackjack than dealing, so he left the casino to become a full-time professional blackjack player.

In addition to writing, producing, and directing movies and television shows, Muchkin is active in the gambling world. He competed on the 1st season of the World Series of Blackjack on GSN. He is the host of Gambling with an Edge on radio station KLAV in Las Vegas and contributes to Blackjack Magazine, All in Magazine, and Blackjack Forum.

He also authored Gambling Wizards: Conversations with the World’s Greatest Gamblers, featuring interviews with Doyle Brunson, Tommy Hyland, and the late Chip Reese.

Class of 2010

Darryl Purpose – Purpose was one of the best blackjack players in the world. He’s also a professional musician and social activist. He left home as a teen to become a professional gambler. He was soon known as the world’s fastest card counter. He eventually wound up banned from casinos on six continents. He stated later on in his life that it was “the only real job I’ve ever had.”

Class of 2011

Zeljko Ranogajec – An intensely private person, Ranogajec is a professional gambler who focuses on horse betting, blackjack and advantage gambling. He betting exploits have earned him over $1 billion (Australian).

Ranogajec is known for walking into casinos with only a few hundred dollars as a bankroll and walking out with millions. He is known as one of the best and creative advantage players of all time.

His card counting abilities eventually got him banned from casinos in his home country of Australia. He then started playing in the United States and started getting banned from casinos there as well. He travels around the world and plays in various types of gambling where he can identify an advantage in his favor.

A reporter claims that he was able to contact an unnamed relative of Ranogajec from his father’s side, He stated that Ranogajec is a “multi-billionaire” Ranogajec supposedly replied “I believe that’s absolutely untrue” and assured the reporter that all the talk about the magnitude of his betting and wealth is “all just a big exaggeration”.

Class of 2012

Ian Andersen – Ian Andersen is known as the father of blackjack camouflage for his ability to blend in with his surroundings in a casino. This has helped him in his quest to card count.

He authored 2 books, Turning the Tables on Las Vegas and Burning the Tables in Las Vegas.

In the 2 decades that past between writing the 2 books, Andersen stated in his book that he spent the time between book continuing to play high-stakes blackjack and other casino games with advantage play qualities. He acknowledged that he averages at least 500 hours and 50,000 hands per year, investing his winnings and managing a strong portfolio.

In his books, he takes an approach that most writers don’t and focuses on the psychology of card counting. For example, He has a system called SOFTEN to get the casino staff to let down their guard around him SOFTEN is an acronym for:

  • S = Smiling
  • = Open Posture (arms and legs uncrossed)
  • F = Forward Leaning
  • T = Touching (briefly and lightly)
  • E = Eye Contact
  • N = Nodding while Listening

He also states that while most card counters keep their chip stacks neat, he recommends keeping them in a messy pile as to further lower the casino workers suspicions.

Ian Andersen is a pseudonym and his real name isn’t known, furthering his reputation for camouflage.

Class of 2014

Robert “Bob” Nersesian – While not a professional blackjack player, Bob Nersesian is known as the lawyer that gamblers turn to when they’ve issues with casinos. He’s handled a great many cases involving card counters and advantage players where casinos and law enforcement act illegally through detainment, arrest, and even defamation, as card counting isn’t illegal.

He’s most famous for the cases involving fellow Blackjack Hall of Famer James Grosjean, where he successfully sued Caesars Palace, Griffin Investigations, as well as agents of the Nevada Gaming Control Board for illegal detention and defamation regarding Grosjean being labeled a cheater who violated the law (as opposed to a card counter) in the “Griffin Book” which casinos used to identify such players. The aftermath of the suit resulted in Griffin Investigations filling for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Class of 2015

Donald “Don” Schlesinger – One of the most prolific researchers on blackjack and card counting, Schlesinger is responsible for advancing research or creating the following:

  • Optimal betting
  • Risk analysis
  • Optimal back counting
  • Floating Advantage
  • Camouflage and team play
  • Card counting systems comparison
  • Illustrious 18 (best card counting techniques)
  • Desirability Index (DI)
  • Standard Comparison of Risk and Expectation (SCORE)
  • Publication of the optimal Blackjack composition-dependent basic strategy

He has collaborated, edited, and/or consulted with the biggest names in the industry that include computer programmers, analysts, and authors. He is such an authority, his work has been credited in over 50 books by other authors and is a frequent contributor to Blackjack Forum.

In 1997, he published what’s considered the most sophisticated theoretical and practical treatise of blackjack ever, titled Blackjack Attack – Playing the Pros’ Way.

Class of 2016

William “Bill” Benter – Benter graduated with a degree in physics. Upon graduating in 1977, he headed to Las Vegas to put what he learned to use by counting cards. During this time, he read and studied Thorpe’s Beat the Dealer which allowed him to hone his skills.

He was able to ply his skills for over 7 years before he was banned in most of the casinos in Las Vegas.

After this, he turned his interests to horse racing and eventually developed most successful analysis computer software programs in the horse racing market,

He is among the highest earning gamblers in history.

Class of 2017

Don Johnson – Johnson is easily one of the savviest players in the history of the game. He took advantage of the desperation for high rollers in Atlantic City after the economic downturn of 2008. He was able to negotiate special changes to the games he played to gain a mathematical advantage. Among these changes were:

  • Dealers being forced to stay on soft 17
  • a 20% rebate for losses exceeding $500,000
  • six decks
  • re-split aces

The changes resulted in Johnson beating the Tropicana out of nearly $6 million, the Borgata out of $5 million, and Caesars out of $4 million, sometimes he would win over $1 million in a single session. Since these wins, the Tropicana and the Borgata will no longer let him play under these conditions and Caesars has banned him from playing.

Class of 2018

Wally Simmons – A retired blackjack player who, like his fellow Hall of Famer, Billy Benter used sophisticated card counting techniques to amass winnings in the millions.

While low-key in the casino world, he’s not unknown. He’s is famous for holding his famous Super Bowl parties in his active playing years. These parties were for his fellow high roller blackjack players. These parties were said to cost as much as some players starting bankrolls.

He’s known as the nicest guy in the game. He’s been retired for over 20 years.

Conclusion

The 26 members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame certainly show that gamblers are quite smart. The field includes scientists, mathematicians, statisticians, computer programmers, and successful businessmen.

It is worthy to note that many of the inductees have moved on from blackjack to other types of gambling or other ventures altogether. The reason for this is that many of the members of the Hall of Fame were known for card counting, which, while not illegal in most areas, is frowned upon. In Las Vegas, card counters can be banned outright from playing. Some of the members still write and teach about the card counting techniques, despite the inability to put them into practice for profit.