Blackjack History and Ken Uston

The War Over Blackjack

Casino games are so arranged that in the long term, the house will always win more money than the gamblers. But gamblers are not to be beaten. There have always been those few determined individuals who try to find holes in the casino's rules for their own profit. These are known as professional gamblers or advantage gamblers.

No other game is as prone to attack by advantage gamblers as blackjack. The very structure of blackjack leaves it open to mastery by various math-based advantage gambling techniques.

Ken Uston

Among the few who succeeded in this underground practice was Ken Uston, one of the great heroes of blackjack history who rose to the pinnacle of gambling success in the 1970s. Ken Uston was born in New York to a middle-class family. He obtained a scholarship and went to Yale and Harvard to study. Uston loved music but he made his fortune working in stock exchange and computer programming.

Uston was definitely a genius - his IQ pegged at 169 - and he used this to succeed in gambling. He first heard of blackjack card counting from friends who arranged a meeting between him an advantage gambler who played blackjack for a living. After learning the basics of the secret trade from this person, Uston went on to create a blackjack card counting team.

Uston's Card Counting Team

Ken Uston was not the first advantage gambler to use card counting in blackjack history. That honor belongs to Edward Thorp. But Uston was the first to use card counting in a team to make it more effective. How the team operated was simple enough: Using the Hi Opt 1 system, small players would bet low at the blackjack tables while the shoe/deck was unfavorable. When the count turned favorable, they would signal to the big players to come in. These big players come as high rollers and bet high. A favorable count is at around 1.5%-2.5% advantage.

So Ken Uston and his team went from one casino to the other gaining huge success. At one time Uston made $27,000 in less than an hour. When the team made too much money - as much as $200,000 in one casino - the houses took notice and banned them. Uston disguised himself and replaced his team members to avoid further detection.

Later Uston was introduced to "George," a computer device that fits in one's shoes and helps with card counting and basic strategy. Uston reported that he and his team won about 80% of the time using the device.

Ken Uston's last few years in blackjack history saw him writing books on blackjack and battling casinos in court. He loved video games and computers and wrote about them as well. Ken Uston died in Paris in 1987, possibly from heart attack. He remains one of the towering figures in blackjack history.