I was thrilled and honored when I received my invitation to the 2022 Blackjack Ball. As a long-time attendee, I looked forward to meeting and socializing once again with the many friends I’ve made over the past 30 years who share the same interest that I have, namely, beating the casino at blackjack.

Moreover, this year’s ball achieved a special milestone. It was the 25th year that some of the most dangerous players from all over the U.S. and abroad, as well as others who have contributed to the craft, gathered together in one place to:

  • socialize, renew old friendships, and make new ones
  • cast votes to determine who will be inducted into the prestigious Blackjack Hall of Fame
  • compete in a skills competition to determine who among the “best of the best” will win the title (and bragging rights) for this year’s “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player.

Note: There are 30 members in the Blackjack Hall of Fame, and 21 are still alive. Fourteen members, including this year’s inductees, were in attendance. Read further for a list.

What began as a sparse gathering in Max Rubin’s home 25 years ago, the Blackjack Ball soon outgrew that venue and moved to another “secret” location. However, the latter could accommodate only 130 attendees, resulting in a waiting list of players who wanted to join this elite event. However, because this year marked the 25th (silver) anniversary of the ball, organizers decided to make it a special and memorable event, and indeed it was.

Because of a family health emergency in the 11th hour, I was unable to attend this year’s Ball. Nevertheless, my good friends Rick Blaine (author of Blackjack Blueprint and nominee for this year’s Hall of Fame), Don Schlesinger (author of Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros’ Way and member of the Hall of Fame), and co-hosts of the ball, Max Rubin and Richard Munchkin, provided me with the details that I used to write this article. (Thank you, guys.)

Event changes

Since this year’s Ball was extra special, there were some remarkable changes compared to the previous 24 events. They include the following:

  • The event was moved to a much bigger venue, and one of the most unique buildings in Las Vegas, the Cleveland Clinic – Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. From the outside, the building has a unique and distinct architecture (see photo), however, inside there is a large ballroom that could accommodate 180 attendees, who could socialize, dine, and drink all evening in comfort.
Casino
  • Guests paid $250 to attend, or they could purchase a table for $5,000 or $10,000, with special reserved seating.
     
  • Every guest was required to wear either a tuxedo or a suit. Ladies wore formal attire.
     
  • An audio-visual company was contracted to prepare the slides, and they were projected on numerous screens located throughout the ballroom.
     
  • There was an open bar and a catered gourmet dinner. 
     
  • The Blackjack Hall of Fame became a non-profit corporation, allowing it to have a charitable objective.
     
  • This year, $25,000 from the Blackjack Ball was donated by the Blackjack Hall of Fame Inc. to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to help establish the UNLV Center for Gambling Policy and Health. The latter will be a center of excellence dedicated to the study of problem gambling and the development of policy recommendations for regulators and the industry to help minimize the harms of problem gambling. 
     
  • A new “Ed Thorp Lifetime Achievement Award” was created, and the recipient was automatically inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. (More on this shortly.)

Blackjack Hall of Fame

Before the Ball, co-host Max Rubin sent the following email to the existing members of The Blackjack Hall of Fame.

The Blackjack Hall of Fame Attendance Committee met online with Dr. Thorp and created the Ed Thorp Lifetime Achievement Award for deserving players and contributors to the craft.  

The award will be bestowed during the Silver Anniversary Blackjack Ball and infrequently, as necessary, in the future. Only members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame may vote for this honor.  

After the committee met with Dr. Thorp, we agreed that our first candidate, who will also be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, should be Blair Hull.  Thirteen members of the Hall of Fame have already wholeheartedly supported Blair’s award and we hope that you can join us in welcoming him into the fold. There will be a formal presentation at the ball, immediately before the guests, including you, elect a second new member to join us.  

Blair Hull was a big player on Al Francesco’s highly successful blackjack team in the mid-’70s.  Blair began playing solo in 1971 and continued to run his own team in the late ’70s.  In 1977 Blair was intrigued by the financial markets and became a market maker on the Pacific Stock Exchange where he founded Hull Trading. Using quantitative models, Hull Trading became one of the world’s premier market-making firms, trading on 26 exchanges in nine countries until being sold in 1999 to Goldman Sachs for $531 million. Worth Magazine named him one of ‘Wall Street’s 25 Smartest Players.’ 

In 2004, Hull sought the Democratic nomination for the US Senate in Illinois in a race that was won by Barack Obama. Blair currently serves as manager of Hull Tactical Asset Allocation (HTAA). HTAA uses macroeconomic, fundamental, and sentiment data along with machine learning techniques to predict moves in the S&P 500.    

Over 50 years after beginning his blackjack career, his boundless energy, financial support, and wise leadership were responsible for the Blackjack Hall of Fame’s success in getting through a Byzantine legal morass to form our own 501-C3 Charitable Foundation.

Additionally, Ed Thorp agreed to have his name on the “Lifetime Achievement Award” because “all the players that attend the Ball have benefited so much from gambling that it is appropriate that we give back to people who have been damaged by gambling.”

The event began with guests gathering in the outside garden for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Card expert Jason England demonstrated his cheating moves that baffled even the best card counters in the room, and there were also framed newspaper articles from the 1960s on blackjack card counting that guests could peruse.

Next up was the catered dinner followed by an introduction video by Ed Thorp that was projected on the large multi-media screens.

(Note: Because of his age, 90, Ed calculated that he had an 18% chance of dying if he caught the Covid virus from the large gathering of people at the ball; therefore, he passed on attending this year.)

2022 Nominees for the Blackjack Hall of Fame

Every guest that was either a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, a skilled blackjack player, or a contributor to the craft, voted for one of the following seven nominees. Every person cast one vote except Hall of Fame members who cast three.

Cat Hulbert 

Cat was selected as one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2016, an honor given to “high-profile women from the spheres of entertainment, sport, business, and politics.” Chosen for being the first woman to break through the glass ceiling of professional blackjack in 1978, she played on the Czech blackjack team in over 300 casinos worldwide and was the first woman to ever amass $1 million across the blackjack tables.  
 
Cat’s aggressive play and fearlessness changed many opinions on the mathematical and emotional capabilities of women to bet it up and win under pressure. 
 
Selected by Card Player Magazine in 1996 as one of the best and smartest card players in the world, she was one of only eight professional gamblers to be included in Richard  Munchkin’s book, Gambling Wizards.

Along with teaching a women-only poker class for many years at the Hollywood Park Casino, Cat also wrote Outplaying the Boys in 2005, a guide for women on how to become more competitive in life and at the tables. 
 
Cat was featured in L.A.’s The Daily Breeze and the Sunday Los Angeles Times for her top-notch card-playing abilities in blackjack and poker. Also a contestant on Blackjack’s Tournament of Champions, Cat has been a guest on numerous radio shows including NPR, Gambling With an Edge, and BBC’s The Conversation. She was often sought out due to her unusual successful life choices and her mission to change how women are viewed – by men and by themselves alike. 

On Dec. 7, 2016, the BBC published a biographical article based on her remarkable exploits that is said to have received a million reads the first day it appeared on the network’s homepage.

Colin Jones

Colin founded and co-managed “The Church Team,” one of the largest and most prolific card-counting teams in the 21st century. In 2008, Colin began building blackjackapprentiship.com, which has grown into the premier blackjack training and community worldwide. The site regularly graduates professional blackjack players to winning careers and costing casinos millions of dollars each year.  

BJA's secretive and infamous boot camps have sold out for the last seven years and counting. Colin authored The 21st Century Card Counter: The Pros’ Approach to Beating Today’s Blackjack and continues to be the voice and leader for the next generation of card counters. 

Maria “The Greek” 

Maria is the co-founder and one-time manager of “The Greeks” blackjack team. Having quit their day jobs as very successful New York attorneys, she, her brother, and highly-respected colleagues formed the largest single group of players in history. At one time she simultaneously managed over 40 individual players. 

She recruited only top talent, having the most notoriously difficult set of tests required to pass to get onto the team. Additionally, Maria’s team won countless millions utilizing a “slash and burn” technique in which BPs would wade into the middle of a game, often betting 3 x $10,000. Needless to say, each BP didn’t last long, but the enormous bets resulted in some of the largest card-counting wins in history. 

An extraordinary businessperson, she utilized her acumen, extraordinarily high I.Q., along with common sense to guide the most successful single card-counting team this century. 

Along with being a master at sequencing, tracking, and now a high-stakes poker professional, Maria is also the only woman to have ever won the coveted title of “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player” at the Blackjack Ball, even in the days when arm wrestling, chip shuffling, card tossing, and more were among the 11 events at the final table.

Mark Billings

Starting in 1981, Billings enjoyed a blackjack career that included many of the usual suspects (counting, shuffle-tracking, steering, etc.). In addition, he traveled the world as one of the very early computer players and was instrumental in pioneering advanced non-counting methods of getting an edge. Many of these exploits are recounted in his book, The Ultimate Edge.

Roulette was next, taking over where Doyne Farmer and the Eudaemons had left off and succeeded in a way that had to be seen to be believed. That adventure can be found in his latest book, Follow the Bouncing Ball. Throughout a 26-year career, Billings has played in over 500 casinos on six continents, and has been thrown out of some of the best of them.

Norm Wattenberger

Norm is the foremost blackjack software developer in the world today, and his line of Casino Vérité products has come to be known as the quintessential tool for analyzing virtually any problem associated with the game of blackjack.  The incredible graphics and the realism of the practice modes of CV have received the highest praise from the thousands of satisfied customers who have honed their skills on this magnificent product.   
 
Norm has made a great many of his computer studies and applications available free of charge on the Internet, and you will be amazed at the sophistication of his analyses, as you visit his website, at www.qfit.com.

A consummate programmer, Norm is an industry legend, who continues to provide computer simulations and studies to answer problems on his blackjackforum.com site, while continuing his blackjack research. His two-volume Modern Blackjack is perhaps one of the most original and comprehensive treatments of the game in print and represents hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of computer-generated insights into the game not to be found anywhere else.

Rick Blaine

Rick Blaine, known throughout the elite blackjack circles as “Night Train,” is a skilled, disciplined, and winning blackjack player. Rick has taken professional play as a part-timer to new levels while staying under the radar. 
 
During his career as a high-powered executive in the financial world, Rick was introduced to winning methods in the 1980s. While traveling worldwide, Rick mastered the art of expense-free play by combining business trips on corporate America’s dime with profitable casino visits. 
 
After being recruited onto an existing high-stakes blackjack team, Rick learned the ins and outs of team play. That experience, along with his managerial expertise prompted him to organize teams in the late 1990s. 

Blackjack

Sharing his unique insights, Rick authored Blackjack Blueprint: How to Play Like a Pro … Part-Time, which many consider the most comprehensive book on the game. 
 
At the Blackjack Ball in 2015, Rick “Night Train” Blaine won the intense competition to claim that year’s title of “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player.” Night Train is still active, and due to his low profile, is often sought out as a player by high-stakes teams.

Robert Loeb 

“Bob” Loeb is a criminal defense lawyer, law professor, and successful card counter, and has been a lawyer for the AP community for over 25 years. He is the co-author, with I. Nelson Rose, of Blackjack and the Law, the original book that covered the legal issues of card counting, countermeasures, barrings, arrests, searches, chip and cash seizures, civil forfeitures, taxes, Indian gaming, and Internet gaming. 
 
Bob first became an advocate for APs in a case involving a bogus airport seizure by federal authorities of over $100,000 from a Tommy Hyland team member. Since then, Bob has represented dozens of players in cases, resulting in the recovery and return of over $1 million illegally seized or that casinos have initially refused to redeem. 
 
He has defended APs against numerous serious criminal charges. One case involved five defendants who won $1.2 million in machine play and who were charged with a total of 84 counts of cheating, computer fraud, computer tampering, theft, and structuring. At trial, he obtained findings of not guilty on all 84 counts.

Bob has also defended criminal charges for hole-carding. Despite one misdemeanor conviction in a tribal court, he has won every hole-card case he has tried in state courts. Bob has also been a consultant with attorneys on several civil and criminal gambling cases in several states. He’s been an expert witness for Bob Nersesian in a case regarding the right to play anonymously. He has fielded hundreds of calls from the blackjack community over the years, counseling them at no charge on their legal rights in casinos.

Newest Inductee Into the Blackjack Hall of Fame

After the votes were counted, the winner was Cat Hulbert. Unfortunately, she sadly passed away just two weeks before the ball.

With the addition of Cat Hulbert and Blair Hull, the current list of members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and the year they were inducted (those in bold attended this year’s ball). The physical Blackjack Hall of Fame is at the Barona Resort and Casino in San Diego, California.

  • Al Francesco (2002)
  • Peter Griffin (2002)
  • Tommy Hyland (2002)
  • Arnold Snyder (2002)
  • Edward O. Thorp (2002)
  • Ken Uston (2002)
  • Stanford Wong (2002)
  • Max Rubin (2004)
  • Keith Taft (2004)
  • Julian Bruan (2005)
  • Lawrence Revere (2005)
  • John Chang (2006)
  • James Grosjean (2006)
  • Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott, collectively known as the “Four Horsemen of Aberdeen” (2008)
  • Richard Munchkin (2009)
  • Darryl Purpose (2010)
  • Zeljko Ranogajec (2011)
  • Ian Andersen (2012)
  • Robert Nersesian (2014)
  • Don Schlesinger (2015)
  • Bill Benter (2016) 
  • Don Johnson (2017)
  • Wally Simmons (2018)
  • Rob Reitzen (2019)
  • Anthony Curtis (2020)
  • Blair Hull (2022)
  • Cat Hulbert (2022)

Calcutta

Next on the agenda was the charitable Calcutta, which is sort of a pari-mutuel wagering where the attendees can bet on who they think will win the coveted Grosjean Cup and title of “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player.”

Below is the list of the seeds (i.e. The Players) where attendees were slotted into an appropriate grouping. The second column (Best Finish) shows the results for each seed in previous balls. Max posted the opening odds of winning (on his overhead slide at the Ball) for each seed and then started the bidding.

The first row titled The Field is everyone else that isn’t listed on another team. Attendees in each seed are also allowed to purchase up to 50% of themselves from the highest bidder. 

THE PLAYERS BEST FINISH
THE FIELD 1st Place 6 Times & 10+ Finals
THE G.O.A.T. $$$ MAN   Anthony Curtis 1st 2017 Plus SEVEN Finals
FINAL TABLE ALL-STARS  Peter W., Drew S & John Mauri Two 1sts, a 2nd, a 3rd + More Finals
THE MIT TEAM      John Chang, Andy Bloch & Tony S. 1st '18, a 2nd, Three 3rd's, a 4th
HOF FINALISTS Billings, Loeb, Night Train, Wattenberger, Maria & Colin Two CHAMPS Plus Final Tables
MEAT EATERS      David Y & Cody S. A 1st, Two 2nds,  a 3rd & Danger
BRAINS AND BRAWN    Jake "The Genius" and Smoke 2014 Champs 2nd Last Ball
COLIN'S APPRENTICES--a DOZEN + Current and Successful Pros New Team  Look Out!
HOF TEAM…Benter, Johnson, Schlesinger, Purpose, Zeljko & Wally 1st, Two 2nds, Two 3rds + Finals
THE LAW       HOF Bob Nesesian & WRX FINAL TABLE THREE TIMES! 
GAMBLING WRITERS Kaplan, Hill, Rodman, Colon New Tough Team With a RINGER!
SPORT SHARPS-- Art, Rufus, Spanky, Will, Elihu, Roxy, Capt. Jack & Frank B. SAVVY & Know- How to Win the $$$
OLD SCHOOL PROS--HOF Hull, HOF Francesco, Aiello & Long OLD     But Deadly
FLORIDA PROS--Geneva & Justin, Jamie, Rex, Ben & Naples AP Smart &   In Today's Game

Competition for “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player”

The competition for the title (and bragging rights) as the “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player” consists of several rounds. The first is a challenging, 21-question, written test followed by a series of subsequent rounds conducted on a blackjack table that tests the players’ card-counting skills. 

(Note: The written test includes a mix of questions on blackjack, gambling trivia, and general knowledge. This year there were seven true-false, seven multiple-choice, and seven fill-in-blanks questions. Max Rubin’s philosophy on the questions is this: “A world-class blackjack player should know lots of stuff because you never know when it might come in handy.”)

The instructions for the test were:

  1. You must completely answer each true or false question or multiple choice question and fill in the blank before we move on to the next question.
  2. All answers must be marked with dark ink. You cannot change your answer once you’ve marked your card. If there are any blanks or changed answers when your graded card is turned in, you will be disqualified. 
  3. Anyone who looks at their cell phones for any reason, other than to take an emergency call, in which case we will all wait until that emergency has been dealt with, will also be disqualified from play. 
  4. You are allowed to use the back of your playing card to calculate your answers. 
  5. You may only play with one card and only write on the back of that card. 
  6. Anyone who hasn’t completed their single cards within 45 seconds after the last question has been asked will be eliminated. 
  7. Score one point for each correct answer.

21 Questions

1. True or False? 

According to Wikipedia, Max Rubin is 106 years old.

2. During their heyday, Blackjack computer input specialists successfully operated those computers by inputting the data WITHOUT using which of the following?

A. their knees
B. their toes
C. their fingers
D. their teeth
E. they used all of the above 

3. What casino named its parking structure “Garage Mahal”?

4. True or False? 

There are more tribal than non-tribal casinos now operating in the United States.

5. Civilians hate 6:5 blackjack because the casino doesn't allow them to take even money. In the overall house edge, how much would the player benefit if the casino offered even money on a 6:5 eight-deck game?

A. 0.06% 
B. 0.6%
C. 1.6% 
D. 2.6%
E. 3.6% 
F. 6/5 players gain no edge with even money 
    
6. Out of respect for Max, the Blackjack Ball, and for hosting the Blackjack Hall of Fame, out of 989 casinos across the U.S., there is only ONE where you agree to NOT play table games. Name that casino. 

7. True or False? 

Over the past five years, Nevada has lost more than 500 blackjack games, yet the annual casino win on blackjack games has grown by more than $100 million over that time. 

8. In the 1950s, Vegas dubbed itself “The Up and Atom City,” and casinos invited guests to come out and see live nukes going off night and day 75 miles outside of town. There was also an annual beauty pageant to name a comely maiden to represent the unique festivities. What title did the annual pageant winner earn? 

A. Miss Atom Bombshell
B. The Atomic Showgirl
C. Miss Atomic Bomb
D. Miss American Freedom
E. Miss Nevada Freedom
F. Miss Up and Atom 

9. Within two pounds, how much does a million dollars in fresh $100 bills weigh?

Here’s a hint – five bills weigh the same as a new nickel. 
You have 60 seconds to write down your answer. 

10. True or false? 

In a heads-up Blackjack game against a basic strategy player, the dealer WILL BUST over 50% more often than that player. 

11. Over the past year, the average annual Win for a blackjack table on the Strip was:

A. less than $500k
B. less than $600k
C. less than $700k
D. less than $800k
E. less than $900k
F. more than $1,000,000 per table. 

12. Most states have self-exclusion lists so problem gamblers can prohibit themselves from playing. Which state has the most prohibited gamblers on those lists? 

13. True or false? 

According to the Current Blackjack News (CBJN), as of tonight, the Excalibur  Casino on the Las Vegas Strip offers precisely ONE TRADITIONAL BLACKJACK TABLE that pays 3/2 on a natural. 
    
14. In the gaming area, what’s the biggest casino on earth? 

A. The Venetian Macau
B. Resorts Singapore HINT—Photo of Dragons 
C. Winstar World
D. City of Dreams Macau
E. Genting Highlands
F. Sands Singapore

15. From the 1940s to the 1960s there were hundreds of billboards that littered both Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway advertising a single destination.    

The billboards said, RENO OR BUST. What else was written on those billboards? 

16. True or false? 

There are more blackjack tables of all stripes, including 6/5, 22-Hybrid, and more on the Las Vegas Strip than all of the other blackjack tables in the rest of the state of Nevada combined. 

17. In a full-pay, no RSA game, what is the value of blackjack after a split? That is, a two-card 21 resulting from a split is still considered a blackjack and pays 3:2. 

A. 0.06% 
B. 0.16%
C. 1.6% 
D. 0.2%
E. 0.3% 
F. Players gain OVER 2% with split Blackjacks paying 3:2

18. Write down the last name of one of the Four Horsemen. 

19. True or False?

Wendover has more than TWICE AS MANY full-pay single-deck games as the rest of Nevada combined.

20. This casino has the most full-pay double-deck games in the Las Vegas Valley. 

A. Orleans 
B. Red Rock Station 
C. Sam’s Town 
D. Santa Fe Station
E. South Point
F. Sun Coast 

21. Nevada is the state with the most casinos at 334. In order, what states are ranked No. 2 and 3? 

Note: You’ll find the answers to the test questions in Part 2 of this article (including the names of the players who had the most correct answers) as well as a summary of the subsequent rounds in the competition for the “World’s Greatest Player,” and who won the competition.

About the Author
By

Henry Tamburin is one of world’s most respected blackjack experts and a world-class player. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, and Blackjack: Take The Money and Run. He edited the monthly Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and was a featured blackjack columnist for Casino Player magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Gaming South magazine, Southern Gaming magazine, New England Gaming News, Jackpot, Bingo Bugle, and Casino City Times.