Al Francesco

Al Francesco is one of the most highly respected blackjack players out there. He is most famous as the inventor of blackjack team play and the Big Player strategy, which allowed him to hide the strength of his players from casino staff. He is also known as The Godfather of Blackjack.


Francesco began playing various gambling games to make money in his home town, Gary, Indiana. He would often come out as the winner, and made enough money to make a living from his gambling profits. When Edward Thorp‘s book Beat the Dealer came out, Francesco instantly saw an opportunity. He studied Thorp’s Ten Count system and moved to California in 1963 to try his luck there. Thorp’s system gave him such a headache that he soon returned home to study it harder. After that he began seeing profits from Thorp’s system, but this also attracted the notice of casino staff and he was banned from many casinos.


After that Al Francesco played poker and other gambling games, but returned to blackjack in 1971, this time armed with Lawrence Revere’s much more manageable Point Count system. He was so successful at winning it only took a month before casino personnel began to harrass him again. He knew he had to come up with a better way of playing, a way that would disguise not himself necessarily but rather his skill.

The Big Player

In that same year he hit upon the solution. He was playing blackjack with his brother. His brother was playing low stakes, Al Francesco was hanging around waiting to have dinner and talking to people. He knew his brother was counting the cards, so he realized the count must be promising when his brother bet higher. It struck him that he could then shoot out a high bet with a good chance of winning. So he started putting down $100 dollar bets at the right moments, otherwise pretending to be playing very distractedly because he was talking. This went on for about half an hour, during which he won quite a bit of money. When he walked out of the casino, the pitt boss came after him. To his surprise the pitt boss began to offer him all kinds of luxury comps. It then hit Al Francesco that not only had he found a way to disguise his card counting, in appearing to bet large amounts carelessly he also looked like just the type of player the casino would want to hang on to.

Team Play

Thus the Big Player concept was born. Al Francesco immediately set to training up a team up counters to count the cards while playing at low stakes. They would signal him, and he, as the Big Player, would shoot out bets at the right moment. His team grew more numerous, and he began to train other BPs too, including Ken Uston. This way he could switch up his spotters (the players counting the cards) and his BPs, minimalizing the risk of detection. Francesco’s teams played successfully without being detected for a long time, raking in millions until Uston published The Big Player in 1977.

After The Big Player

The publication of The Big Player effectively meant the end of Al Francesco’s teams. For the first time ever, at Sand’s Casino in Las Vegas, Al Francesco’s team was busted. The bust may even have been set up by Uston as a promotion stunt for his book, although Uston has always denied this. Understandably, this drove Francesco and Uston to part ways for years after that. Later, Al Francesco also formed a computer team with Keith Taft. His BP techniques are still being used successfully by many blackjack teams today. Francesco is currently retired from blackjack. He is one of the seven founding inductees of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.