The inimitable Blackjack Hall of Fame is nestled in a plush hall at the prestigious Barona Casino in San Diego, California. A special agreement has been forged between this casino and the inductees – they are duty-bound never to play at the blackjack tables in exchange for a lifetime comp for a full room and all meals.
Inductees to the Hall of Fame include a formidable list of top performers, notably Al Francesco, Ken Uston, Peter Griffin, Edward O Thorpe, and Max Rubin. Today, we journey to blackjack central to discover the greatest blackjack players. Some haven't made it onto the Blackjack Hall of Fame plaques, but they are notable performers with exemplary track records.
We begin with a sprinkling of the most famous card players, including the following:
Edward O. Thorp is one of the most iconic names in the gambling world. Born in 1932, this US mathematics professor is also a notable blackjack research specialist who authored the universally popular Beat the Dealer. In this groundbreaking book, he explained how card counting could be used as a powerful resource to counter the house edge in Blackjack.
He was instrumental in testing his theories in casinos across the United States. Thanks to the financial backing of Manny Kimmel, who fronted $10,000 for him, he won $11,000 in a weekend. Of course, casinos soon got wise and started using continuous card shuffling machines to counter blackjack card counting skills. His insights were shared with audiences worldwide, making him one of the bestselling blackjack authors.
Of all the larger-than-life personalities, few could hold a candle to Kerry Packer. A billionaire entrepreneur, Packer was a noted gambler. He routinely dropped one-million-dollar markers at the casino, gambling for stakes that defied logic. This Australian mogul made millions of dollars playing card games, including blackjack and baccarat. Estimates peg his losses at $20 million or more on the Las Vegas strip alone.
Indeed, gambling was his passion, as evidenced by countless trips to Las Vegas. But it wasn't only cards that he loved to play; he also placed outrageous bets. He would make many longshots come true, and he hardly ever had a specific request he asked of the casinos. He liked lavish rooms and good service. He liked his own table and wanted to gamble at high limits. When quizzed about his huge gambling losses, he said it was his money, and he was entitled to spend it any way he wanted.
It's hard to talk about Blackjack's greatest players without paying tribute to Ken Uston. A legend in his own right, Uston is a larger-than-life character known as a blackjack prodigy. A Harvard graduate, he received his MBA in Finance in 1959, preceded by a BA in economics from Yale University. An author, lecturer, and serial entrepreneur, Ken Uston was also a blackjack consultant and author of four books on Blackjack, including an extended stint as a lecturer of Blackjack and applied probability.
Arnold Snyder is the author of Radical Blackjack, published in 2021. He is one of the original seven founding members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. He has written many books on the subject, including the esteemed Blackjack Forum – a quarterly publication for professional gamblers between 1981 – 2006. His first-ever work of fiction was the novel Risk of Ruin.
He played the game for over three decades, racking up every conceivable accolade. However, his claim to fame is vested in his expert knowledge of the game's intricacies, including bankroll management, blackjack strategy, statistics, probabilities, and expectations. He's even regarded as an expert witness in testifying in court for blackjack players and dealers.
William (Bill) Benter was a Pittsburgh native who studied physics at college. But his life turned upside down when he read Beat the Dealer. This groundbreaking book provided surefire tactics and strategies for beating the blackjack dealer. It is rumored that he won an estimated $10 million for an infallible algorithm he had formulated. The rest, as they say, is history.
Anthony Curtis is another bestselling blackjack author. He has won a small fortune playing this casino card game, including high-stakes gambling wins on various games, including $125,000 at the Atlantic City Craps Championship, $60,000 at the Las Vegas Blackjack Championship, and $76,000 at the World MatchPlay Blackjack Championship, among others. In addition, he played alongside blackjack legends like Stanford Wong and the MIT blackjack team. Nowadays, he participates in several high-stakes blackjack tournaments and writes blackjack books.
Don Johnson is often mistaken for the star of Miami Vice. Still, he is a mega-money casino player who scooped up $15 million across three casinos in Atlantic City over six months. He is widely regarded as the man who broke Atlantic City, winning $6 million in a single night of play. But, of course, the Tropicana Casino was none too happy about his prowess. So what was his legendary skill? He was a numbers wizard, a bookmaker par excellence who understood odds, probabilities, and payouts better than 99% of the population. He leveraged the casinos' desperation to work in his favor, which paid off handsomely.
Thomas Hyland is a universally respected blackjack player. But, like many others, he is also a skilled card counter. He gained inspiration from Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere. As a result, he perfected shuffle tracking & sequencing techniques along with his teammates to win a fortune from casinos around the US. An advantage player by design, Tommy Hyland is a lock among the best blackjack players in history.
James Grosjean has the enviable moniker as the youngest-ever Blackjack Hall of Fame inductee. He is also a world-famous author, having written two bestselling books, including Beyond Counting and Exhibit CAA: Beyond Counting.
Wally Simmons is another blackjack Hall of Fame inductee. He perfected multiple skills, including Ace Location and Shuffle Tracking. It is rumored that he won millions of dollars playing Blackjack. His name may not be as famous as Phil Ivey, Stanford Wong, or Kerry Packer, but in blackjack circles, his name was gold.
In 2010, Darryl Purpose finally gained his dues in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. This multitalented card-playing aficionado is also a social activist and musician. But it was his stint as a blackjack player that got him the recognition of the crowds. He was a masterful card counter but ultimately was banned across six continents for his exceptional skills.
Erica Schoenberg ranks as the most well-known female blackjack player in history. She has amassed winnings of $1 million playing Blackjack and other casino games. Exceptionally talented, intelligent, and Hollywood-esque, this star is a mathematics wizard and a betting aficionado. She trained with the MIT blackjack team, becoming a professional player on the Blackjack and poker circuit. She has competed in multiple poker and blackjack tournaments and remains an active player in the gaming world.
You might be forgiven for assuming Stanford Wong is an Asian blackjack player. It's an alias for John Ferguson. This blackjack author of the world-famous – Professional Blackjack – needs no introduction to fans of the game. A Georgia native, his family, settled in Oregon, where he grew up. Here sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his books over the years and won a fortune playing the game he writes about so passionately. He also invented the Blackjack Analyzer, unique software that calculates blackjack odds. In 1985, his blackjack team scooped up $200,000 in prize money for their efforts.
Lawrence Revere was a casino worker before he became a blackjack professional. His stage name was Griffith Owens. He majored in math at the University of Nebraska, where he learned to fine-tune his blackjack strategies. He authored Playing Blackjack As A Business and created a blackjack strategy chart. Unfortunately, he passed on some five decades ago, but not before making a monumental contribution to the game of Blackjack.