11 Legendary Blackjack Players
Blackjack is a card game played against the dealer. Queens, jacks, and kings have a value of ten, while aces have a value of either one or 11. The rest of the cards’ value is their respective numbers.
Learning how to play blackjack is easy. The game has no time limit as long as you play by the rules. Blackjack games use one to eight decks.
The goal is to have 21 or less as the value of the cards supplied. The dealer hits until a total of 17. Once the dealer reaches 17 or more, if the value exceeds that of the player without exceeding a value of 21, the player loses.
Throughout history, there are players who learned how to play and perfected their skills to the professional level.
Below I have compiled some of the biggest players of all times. They mastered the game leaving a mark in the history of blackjack.
1. Bryce Carlson
Bryce Carlson, the author of Blackjack for Blood, started playing blackjack in the 1970s. He became a blackjack professional through exchanging tips with other great players. Card strategies, team play, camouflage are some of the skills he possessed.
Despite being a professional blackjack player, Carlson wrote a comprehensive book on the game as a guide for others who would like to master his favorite game.
In the late 90s, internet blackjack became popular. Carlson and other experienced players from around the world gathered at internet casinos and played together.
During an interview, he stated that he always wanted to beat the casinos at their own game.
He once had a losing streak that lasted 47hrs. He took 141 hrs to win it back. His greatest memory is a $200 hand at the Excalibur in Las Vegas.
The legendary blackjack player developed Omega II Blackjack Machine to help him analyze the game for his own play. Later he developed a similar program called the Omega II Blackjack Casino.
2. Edward O. Thorp
Edward O. Thorp is an American mathematics professor. Apart from teaching, he is a hedge fund manager and blackjack player.
His love for blackjack prompted him to invent a card counting technique. In his method, a player keeps track of the cards played to determine the cards remaining.
After being successful in card counting, he published a book titled Beat the Dealer. Due to its popularity, the book brought gamblers’ attention to the game of blackjack. The book detailing his techniques popularized blackjack in casinos.
Other than writing his book, he ventured into Wall Street using his mathematical skills.
3. Arnold Snyder
Arnold Snyder is a professional blackjack player and gambling writer. His idea of making a living in casinos led to studying the available publications on gambling. Using the information, he trained himself by playing at low stakes.
After familiarizing himself with the game, he became interested in the way casino shuffled their cards. Snyder would combine card counting and shuffling style to gain an advantage over the dealer.
Snyder has written several books on blackjack. His first book, The Blackjack Formula, was the beginning of his career as a gambling author.
4. Russ Hamilton
Russ Hamilton is an American professional blackjack and poker player. Earlier, his interest was in poker but switched to blackjack after moving to Las Vegas.
It’s there where he teamed with other blackjack players contesting in tournaments.
After the abolishment of tournaments, he switched back to poker. Later, he made a comeback to blackjack introducing a tournament called Elimination Blackjack. The tournament transitioned into Ultimate Blackjack Tour that televised two seasons.
Being an accomplished gambling expert, companies such as Ultimate Bet consulted him in matters regarding the gaming industry.
During his tenure with Ultimate Bet, Hamilton got involved in a $22 million scandal.
Evidence proved he was responsible for incidents involving cheating at Ultimate Bet. The company had to refund the defrauded players.
Hamilton lost respect among the gaming community due to the fraud.
5. Don Johnson
Don Johnson is famous for winning over $15 million against three casinos in Atlantic City within six months.
Betting a hundred thousand, he got two eights, which he split. The next two cards were two eights; he split again. The dealer dealt three twice and two twice. He doubled on each hand. The dealer had two cards totaling 15 and drew a 10.
Johnson won $800,000 in one hand
That was the beginning of the six months winning streak. The casinos ruled that he didn’t count the cards.
The incidents hurt the casinos. One of them, Caesars, banned him from their casinos worldwide.
6. Ken Uston
Ken Uston was born in 1935 and died in 1987. He was a professional blackjack player and book writer. Al Francesco introduced him to card counting after they met at a party.
Uston studied blackjack strategies before trying his luck in Las Vegas. He conquered the world of blackjack in the 70’s-80s.
As a mathematical strategist, he was notorious in card counting and getting banned from casinos. To make sure he played, he wore disguises and sneak into casinos.
Frustrated from getting banned by three casinos, Uston filed a high profile lawsuit. The judge ruled in his favor. The ruling was casinos can’t ban a player for counting cards.
Uston co-authored the book The Big Player that contained many of Al Francesco’s strategies. He later wrote Million Dollar Blackjack which discusses blackjack teams, card counting, and getting an advantage at the game.
Uston died in Paris France due to a heart attack on September 19, 1987.
7. Stanford Wong
Stanford Wong is the pseudonym used by John Ferguson, a gambling author known for his book, Professional Blackjack.
He’s a professional blackjack player and began playing while in graduate school as a source of income. He published his first book in 1975 while a student at Stanford.
Wong also created the Blackjack Analyzer, a computer software for analyzing blackjack odds.
“Wonging” is a term referring to one method described in his first book. In the method, the player hops tables when playing the shoe game.
In 1985, he formed a team to compete in blackjack and other gambling tournaments. The team of six players won eight tournaments, bankrolling over $200,000.
Apart from having successful professional blackjack playing era, Wong has published about 15 gambling guides.
8. Tommy Hyland
Tommy Hyland is a blackjack player, activist, and lobbyists of blackjack players’ rights.
Lawrence Revere’s book, Playing Blackjack as a Business, inspired Hyland to start playing in 1979. Using the book and other published blackjack strategies, he mastered card counting.
He started in Atlantic City with about $1,000 or $2,000. After four or five months, he had won up to $4,000. The casinos were offering early surrender, a rule that gives the player an advantage off the top.
In 1979, Hyland and three other players formed one of the first blackjack teams. They had a bankroll of $16,000. Equipped with blackjack strategies they tripled that amount to $50,000 in just a few months.
He then moved to Las Vegas but had to reorganize his team after some left. He taught them card-counting techniques from his golf course. Applying their blackjack knowledge, the team raked millions of dollars.
Most casinos banned Hyland and even kicked him out on suspicion of card counting.
Back in Atlantic City, he once disguised himself as Santa Claus to enter a casino after a ban. That was before Uston won the case against barring card counters.
He still plays today together with his team, he recruits new members each time any player quits.
9. Don Schlesinger
Don Schlesinger is a professional blackjack player, author, and gaming mathematician. He played blackjack for the first time 1975 in Las Vegas. In 1976, he bought Lawrence Revere’s Playing blackjack as a business and taught himself how to count cards.
His interest in playing resulted from learning there was a way to beat the casino.
Though he has a B.S. degree in mathematics, Schlesinger believes that card counting isn’t complicated. With practice, everyone can master the game but you have to be quick with numbers.
Schlesinger enjoyed playing blackjack but his passion turned into researching and teaching about blackjack.
He published a book, Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros’ Way, which covers how to play professional blackjack.
10. Lawrence Revere
Lawrence Revere used to be a casino employee before becoming a professional blackjack player.
He was born by the name Griffith K. Owens and also went by pen names such as Paul Mann and Leonard “Specs” Parson. His first card game was at the age 13.
He studied mathematics at the University of Nebraska. His math skills helped him develop blackjack strategies.
In his book, Playing Blackjack as a Business, Revere discusses card counting systems named after him. His book influenced many legendary players and newcomers.
Revere invented the blackjack basic strategy chart. He was a controversial person. When dealing he would advise dealers and when playing he would advise players.
He passed away in April 1977 from cancer.
11. Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of Blackjack: Take the Money and Run.
Before he became an author, Tamburin played his first blackjack game in graduate school. After losing money, he decided that he would study the game and make up his loss.
He had a background in mathematics, which made it easier to learn card counting and basic blackjack strategies. He attended gaming festivals to improve his skills and traded tips with other professional players.
Tamburin appeared in blackjack tournament Ultimate Blackjack Tour, which aired on CBS.
Currently, he is the editor and publisher of the “Blackjack Insider Newsletter”. His website, Smart Gaming, advocates for better odds for players and educates the public on how to play smart.
The players I have discussed above proved one thing; you can beat the casino. With time and determination, these legendary players mastered strategies that changed the way the game used to be.
They have shared their knowledge with others and also teach beginners. Books, newsletters, websites on blackjack are available to everyone.
Edward O. Thorp, Arnold Snyder, Ken Uston, Stanford Wong, Tommy Hyland, Don Schlesinger and Lawrence Revere are members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
The Blackjack Hall of Fame honors contribution to the blackjack game.