The Big Player

Ken Uston co-authored his controversial book The Big Player: How a Team of Blackjack Players Made a Million Dollars with Roger Rapoport. It was published in 1977 and soon created a great stir among casinos and blackjack players because it revealed many of the secrets of Al Francesco’s team play, which up till then had not been understood by casinos. The book caused a rift between Uston and Francesco, and initially earned Uston the disapporoval of much of the blackjack community. However, more recently The Big Player is considered to have had a positive influence on team play. Only a little over a year after the book was published the MIT Blackjack Team was established, along with several other successful teams.

The Big Player is a non-fiction book written in a fiction style and consequently it reads like a fiction novel. Unlike Bringing Down the House however, this book was actually written by the man himself. In The Big Player Uston describes his introduction to the game of blackjack, his recruitment in a blackjack team as a spotter and later a big player, and becoming a team organizer in Las Vegas. This is not a book about card counting systems (if you want to know about Uston’s counts, try his Million Dollar Blackjack, though this book is too dated to learn effective card counting from), these are the stories Ken Uston had to tell after his various encounters with casinos, the threats and beatings he took, the work he did and victories it earned him. He describes the team tactics and strategies used, how team play works, how they would be barred from casions and how they contrived to get around that.

If you’re interested in team play and the history of card counting, this is a great book. It provides insight into the ways that casinos have changed in their approach to card counting, and the development of attitudes towards blackjack and team play of blackjack players themselves. Casino conditions have, of course, changed since Uston’s days as The Blackjack Man, but there is still valuable information on team play to be gleaned from this book.