Modern Blackjack History 1970-present

Here you can read the second part of our modern blackjack history section: 1970-the present

The Rise of Team Play

Al Francesco was the first Big Player. In the early 70s it was clear to many players that there was money in card counting, but it was Al Francesco who came up with the revolutionary concept of team play to disguise the player’s skill. He figured that if an accomplice was counting the cards at the table and relayed information about the deck to him, he could bet heavily knowing the count was good, but feigning nonchalance. While in fact betting strategically, this method would make him look like he was carelessly throwing money around, which in turn would make him look like a customer a casino would want to hang on to. Al Francesco trained a number of spotters and other big players he could mix up at different casinos to avoid suspicion, and it worked like a charm. Casino’s never suspected a thing. That is, until Ken Uston hit the scene…

Stanford Wong

But first another publication shook up the world of blackjack. This publication was Stanford Wong‘s Professional Blackjack. Wong introduced a technique that became known as wonging. It was similar to Al Francesco’s team play in that it allowed a player to disguise his skills while still betting large amounts, but this technique didn’t require a team. What Wong introduced was table-hopping, waiting nearby until the count was good, and casually entering mid-shoe with sizable bets. At the time, casino’s identified card counters by their bet spread, not by mid-shoe entry. It was a simple but ingenious technique, and that is not all that Professional Blackjack brought to the table.


In Professional Blackjack, Stanford Wong also introduced the Hi-Lo system, an optimized version of Harvey Dubner’s point count which used Revere‘s method of dividing by the number of decks left. This was another book which changed everything, making card counting more accessible to those who could play basic strategy but lacked information on how to apply card counting to casino blackjack effectively.

The Big Player

When Ken Uston was recruited by Al Francesco in 1974 Uston was still the vice-president of the Pacific Stock Exchange, an excellent cover for a big player. Al Francesco trained Uston as a Big Player, and the flamboyant and ambitious Uston played the part excellently. What Al Francesco didn’t know was that Uston was secretly writing a book about his experiences and about how the team operated. Francesco only found out a week before the publication of The Big Player in 1977, when Uston’s showing off at the tables before a representative of his publisher got Francesco’s team busted. Uston was heralded in the media as the mastermind of teamplay, and Uston’s betrayal caused a lasting rift between them. Despite the huge disservice done to Al Francesco and his team, the publication of Uston’s book did lead to the formation of some of the most succesful teams in the history of blackjack teamplay: the MIT Team, the Tommy Hyland Team, and the Czech Team.

Chaos in Atlantic City

As a reaction to the financial success of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, a run-down former holiday resort, was chosen as the location for the first legal gambling on the East Coast of the US. The first legal East Coast casino, Resorts International opened in 1978. It offered six-deck blackjack with an early surrender option which actually gave the basic strategy player a small edge over the house without any card counting. Pros and amateurs flocked to the casino. Resorts International then announced an experiment in 1979 with lasting consequences: they would allow card counters to play openly for two weeks, with no betting restrictions, no extra-early shuffles. The big teams flocked to Atlantic City too, and Uston immediately made a huge media splash. He gained a reputation for tipping dealers very poorly after big wins, boasted in the faces of pit bosses who could not eject or bar him under the rules of the experiment, and when the experiment was over and casinos prohibited card counters from playing, Uston sued the Casino Control Commission. In 1981 he published a second, best-selling book Million Dollar Blackjack, and in 1982 he won the lawsuit, which meant that Atlantic City casinos had to allow card counters at their tables. However, this and other card counter lawsuits provided the impetus for casinos to get the Casino Control Commission to allow casinos to limit card counter’s bets.

Indian Casinos

In 1985 Native Americans living in Michigan opened up the first Indian casino operation, and more followed in other states. Native Amricane tribes are sovereign nations, and therefore they could claim the legal right to host full-scale casinos including table games like blackjack on their reservations without the otherwise necessary gambling permits and voter approval. In 1987 this legal right was officially recognised, after two years of busts and confiscations and legal contention. The same thing happened in many other states, with the legal struggle escalating in some places to violence, vandalism and shootings. In the end, the Indians won the long struggle, though legal battles over various specifics still occur, with blackjack often being a point of contention, because of its great popularity with players. Because Indian casinos were making so much profit, and governments could only get a cut of that profit if they could somehow make a deal with the casinos, many states began to open up to the idea of legalizing casinos outside of reservations too, to get a (bigger) cut of the gambling profits.

And now?

Even though international information exchange between casinos and international databases like that of the Griffin Agency may be used to ban certain advantage players, some of the pros and team players from the 80s are still lying low media-wise and playing casinos for large amount. Casinos frequently rely heavily on surveillance technology, which Sal Piacente and others have proved can be fooled by an experienced player, especially when inexperienced surveillance staff is on duty. Card counters have always been resourceful enough to get around new regulations and rules used by casinos, finding the loopholes, developing devices, updating strategy for every new rule change, and the future will be no exception.