Influential figures in the history of Blackjack
Despite no clear consensus, the history of Blackjack dates back to the early 1700s and it remains popular to this day. Whether it’s a brick-and-mortar casino or online, the Blackjack tables are often among the most-played. Many influential figures have shaped the history of Blackjack, from authors and experts to professional players and innovators – and some of these have been entered into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Launched in 2002, members of this legendary list are awarded a permanent lifetime comp, in exchange of an agreement to never play on the tables at the Barona Casino, San Diego. While many can only dream of being a professional Blackjack player, the next time you play Blackjack online, remember some of the most influential figures of this famous game.
Edward O. Thorp
Thorp was a mathematician and is considered by many as the ‘Father of Blackjack card counting’. Author of 1962’s Beat the Dealer, his book outlined his theory that by keeping track of the cards that had been dealt from that deck, players could then determine the probabilities of all the remaining cards in said deck. By adjusting the wagers accordingly, dependent on what card should appear, the player could beat the dealer and come out on top. His book revolutionised the world of Blackjack and the method of card counting – and inspired many who sought to use the technique in casinos.
Despite the card counting techniques of Thorp, there proved to be a huge problem – employing such techniques in casinos, with banning orders in place for those who got caught. Francesco overcame this obstacle, when he devised the concept of Blackjack team play. By rounding up teams of Blackjack players, with the majority of players scouting the best tables and using card counting techniques to signal to the ‘Big Player’ who would pose as a novice or tourist and fool the casinos. The ‘Big Player’ was the most important part of the team and a difficult role to fill, but Blackjack teams could hit the casinos and win big – with security and staff being none-the-wiser.
Uston started out in one of Francesco’s Blackjack teams, before going on to form his own. He was one of Francesco’s ‘Big Players’ and famously wrote a book under the same title. Uston was a master of Blackjack team play and card counting and famously evaded casinos’ banning orders, by donning various disguises to conceal his identity. His second book, Million Dollar Blackjack controversially shared professional gamblers’ techniques for gaining an advantage at Blackjack tables.
John Ferguson was better known by his pen name, Stanford Wong. He was best known for his book Professional Blackjack in 1975, as well as the advantageous game technique known as ‘Wonging’. The term became popular in the 1980s, whereby players would watch a game of Blackjack without wagering any money, until the count becomes advantageous. At which point, they would step in and bet and continue to play while the odds were favourable, before stepping out again. Like other techniques, the casinos clocked on to ‘Wonging’ taking place, hence the no mid-shoe entry rule which is at most tables – even today.
Hyland has been manager of a Blackjack team since 1979 and it’s the longest-running Blackjack team in history. His team has used a variety of techniques from card counting and the ‘Big Player’ format, to computer play and key-carding. His original team stood at four players who each put $4,000 into the bankroll, before it expanding within months to $50,000. The team went from playing in Atlantic City to Asia.