The Blackjack Hall of Fame was established in 2002 to honor major contributors to the game. The original collection of voters was a group of 21 blackjack players, writers, and strategy experts who looked at people nominated by gambling publishers, other players, and execs at casinos.
In the Hall’s first year of inductees, the general public was allowed to vote on the final selections over the Internet, and all of the final votes and selections were announced at the 2003 Blackjack Ball. That annual event is a secret invitation-only gala that crowns one gambler each year “the world’s best.”
Since then, though, the voting rules have changed. The general public has been removed from the voting process, and as of this writing, only current members of the Hall are allowed to nominate and vote in future members. Different numbers of gamblers have been added to the list each year, though generally the preference is on a single addition each year.
Where Is the Hall of Fame?
The Blackjack Hall of Fame itself is located at the Barona Casino, which opened the physical Hall itself in 2003, similar to the famous Binion’s Wall of Fame dedicated to the best poker players. Each person inducted gets their own plaque, featuring a photo and sentence or two about that person’s accomplishments as they relate to blackjack. Visitors to the museum can also look at an array of cheating devices used over the years to manipulate games.
The Barona Casino, the official sponsor of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, grants every inductee a permanent lifetime comp, giving them completely free access to rooms, food and drink, and other perks in exchange for an agreement that they will never play at Barona’s blackjack tables.
The Hall of Fame is designed to highlight exceptional performance both at the blackjack tables and from a strategic perspective. The Museum is there to educate the public about the people who really fathered modern blackjack play, players, experts, and writers who sometimes go without public accolade out of necessity – maintaining privacy is a major concern for some players who make a living beating casinos.
How Do Members Get Inducted?
These days, all voting in terms of inducting new players is up to living Hall of Fame members. This ensures that all the voting come from professional players with plenty of experience with the game. Voting is kept this way under the assumption that professional blackjack players who have already been inducted are the best judges of various blackjack accomplishments, that they know who the truly important players and experts are.
There’s also an air of secrecy about the whole voting process, because a lot of the time, these players don’t like to let the world know that they’re advantage gamblers or card-counters. Having your photo and name on the walls at the Hall of Fame could get you in dutch with casinos.
After the initial year of inductions, the Hall’s founders decided that all voting would be done by professional players – gamblers who derive their livelihood from the game. Again, the idea behind this was to make sure that only people with a lot of blackjack knowledge were rewarding membership in the Hall. Pros, it was assumed, were the best judges of which 21 writers and players contributed something truly original to the game, something that made an impact on the way it is played around the world. Emphasis is placed on those theorists and gamblers who have dedicated time to helping people learn how to beat the house.
Until recently, any gambler who earned their primary source of income from 21 for at least five years was eligible to vote. These days, there’s no more online voting, no more absentee ballots, and no more input from other pro players – to get inducted, you have to be nominated and voted in by existing members.
The founders of the Hall has now fully passed on the task of induction to current members. These players and writers submit names to one another, including details of why they think a specific player should be inducted. There is no maximum number of names that can be submitted for inclusion – the only requirement for induction is that you get the majority of votes from all living Hall members, who each name their top seven choices. The person with the most votes is the new inductee.
From the year 2006 on, members have decided that only one new name would be added to the list, in an attempt to keep the group exclusive and focused only on those people who made major contributions to the game or the way it is played.
In 2002, seven players were inducted as the original class of the Hall of Fame.
Al Francesco – Not only did Francesco famously teach fellow inductee Ken Uston how to count cards, he invented the concept of team play.
Stanford Wong – Writer of the popular strategy book Professional Blackjack, Wong (a pseudonym) is a mathematician who has gone after just about every game in the casino, looking for a statistical advantage and teaching other players how to use it.
Peter Griffin – Another genius at math in the Hall is Peter Griffin, considered the first man to use mathematical system to analyze and compare various card counting systems. Griffin’s research is still used in the present day, and his influence on generations of gamblers is probably the reason he got inducted so soon.
Ken Uston – Probably the world’s most famous player for twenty years, Uston was a professional that advocated combining various techniques to gain an advantage. A proponent of card counting, team play, hole card strategy, and even concealed devices, Uston also wrote The Big Player, the first book that described big player team strategy.
Edward O. Thorp – The legendary author of Beat the Dealer is considered the father of card counting. Thorp was an early adopter of computer simulations to determine ideal strategy.
Tommy Hyland – Hyland is famous for running the longest-lived and reportedly most successful blackjack team in history. His team, which is still operating after more than thirty years, is said to have won millions of dollars from various casinos through team strategy and card counting.
Arnold Snyder – Snyder wrote lots of material of interest to advantage gamblers. His most important book for 21 players is The Blackjack Formula, a book about card counting that was the first to establish the concept of penetration and how it affects counter’s win rates.
At the 2004 Blackjack Ball, voters added two more names to the list.
Keith Taft – An inventor, Keith Taft spent the better part of two decades developing technology to help him beat the house.
Max Rubin – The induction of Rubin highlighted the value of his 1994 book Comp City, which was awarded for sharing new techniques for gaining an advantage that even the most casual (read: non card counting) players could use.
In recent years, additions to the Hall of Fame have slowed. In 2005, two more names were added, namely Julian Braun and Lawrence Revere. Braun is not a familiar name to most gamblers, but his use of computers to simulate the playing of billions of blackjack hands paved the way for Edward Thorp and other strategists to come up with their own methods for beating the casino. Lawrence Revere created the Revere system and produced the book Playing Blackjack as a Business, his attempt to clarify and improve the basic tactics introduced by Edward Thorp in the 1960s.
The induction of James Grosjean in 2006 proves that his book Beyond Counting had a big impact on the game. He’s also famous for winning lawsuits against casinos and their detective agencies on the grounds that they violated his civil rights.
John Chang’s picture adorned the walls of the Hall in 2007. As the former manager of the infamous MIT Blackjack Team, Chang was a shoe-in for recognition by the world’s best players.
2008 was an odd year for inductions, the first time since 2005 that more than one name was added to the list of the world’s most important blackjack minds. A group known collectively as The Four Horsemen (Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott) were honored for their mostly unheralded contributions to basic strategy. Using only standard desk calculators, these men were the first to develop basic game strategy. Their work, published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, no doubt influenced all 21 experts that came after them.
Richard Munchkin was added to the group in 2009; a prolific blackjack player and writer, Munchkin also happens to be a Hollywood film director and producer.
Darryl Purpose was the Hall’s selection for induction in 2010. Probably known better as a folk singer and songwriter, Purpose’ first career was as a professional gambler. Though Purpose now works full-time as a touring musician, he was selected for the Hall by his peers for his lifetime of achievements at the game tables.
In 2011, the founders added Zeljko Ranogajec to the Hall for his years of prowess playing 21. Ranogajec was so good at gaining an advantage against the house, he found himself banned from all the casinos in Australia and moved his game to the US where he was a virtual unknown.
The newest member of the Hall is Ian Anderson, whose 1978 book Turning the Tables on Las Vegas included information on how to convince the casino that you’re not an advantage player. A sequel, 2003’s Burning the Tables in Las Vegas, further explored the human side of advantage gambling, helping players gain a psychological advantage against the dealer and the casino.