Blackjack royalty assemble for ball

by William Brown Last Updated
US gambling industry recovers in third quarter but challenge remains 

At a secure location in the shadow of Las Vegas’ Strip that’s a closely guarded secret, more than 100 of the world’s greatest gamblers recently gathered for Max Rubin’s 24th annual Blackjack ball.

The Review Journal reports that a handful of billionaires were among the invited guests at the exclusive event who socialised, voted for the Blackjack Hall of Fame and competed for the title of “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player.”

The competition, preceded by a charitable Calcutta auction of contestants, commenced with a complex quiz of 21 gambling-related questions.

The five finalists then headed to a blackjack table for a test of their card-counting skills.

They estimated the exact number of cards in a discard tray, cut a certain number of cards in a deck and calculated the value of three cards removed from two decks.

The after-party took place at Rubin’s house, where some of the most successful gamblers of all time swapped stories until the wee hours and planned their next blackjack attack on a casino.

Legend Bill Benter in attendance

One of the most prominent players to attend the event was Bill Benter.

The philanthropist is one of the wealthiest gamblers ever, along with fellow guest Zeljko Ranogajec from Australia.

Benter, 62, won almost $1 billion betting on horse racing in Hong Kong, where he developed a wildly successful algorithm that essentially cracked the code of the sport of kings.

But like most of the guests, the Pittsburgh native got his start as a card counter and professional blackjack player.

Benter left college and his physics studies behind in 1979 and boarded a bus for Las Vegas, where he played low stakes at El Cortez and other downtown casinos before eventually joining a card counting team and turning pro.

Benter and countless others were inspired to pursue careers as pro gamblers by Ed Thorp, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology math professor who wrote the book on card counting in 1962’s “Beat the Dealer”.

Thorp’s best seller mathematically proved that the house advantage in blackjack could be overcome by card counting, which, simply put, is keeping a running tally of the number of high cards and low cards that have been played.

When the deck is filled with big cards, the player has the edge and bets accordingly.

“After his book came out, blackjack exploded across Las Vegas because people thought they could win. But it’s not that easy,” originator of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and Blackjack Ball Rubin said.

“Card counting is not a simple thing. Casinos aren’t just handing out money. They’re not banks. But the smartest of the smart can do it. That’s the beauty of the game.

Thorp, 87, has a PhD in math and created the first wearable computer.

He’s also a legendary investor, who made his estimated $800 million fortune on Wall Street.

Thorp’s investments averaged 20 per cent annual return over 30 years, according to Forbes.

John Chang was the inspiration for Kevin Spacey’s character in the movie 21.

The film was based on the book ‘Bringing Down the House’, which chronicled the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team – of which Chang was a player and manager in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The book got about half of it right, and the movie got rid of that half,” Chung said with a chuckle.

Back to top