Keith Taft, Computers and Blackjack
Blackjack Hall of Fame member Keith Taft is not known as a big tournament winning champion, as the author or designer of a sure-fire strategy, method or best-selling manual, but as the designer and effective user of a portable computer that effectively beat the casinos. In fact, Taft is credited with allowing millions of dollars to be won from casinos throughout the 1970s and 80s by the use of his equipment and techniques.
Today his devices are considered illegal and a casino can eject, or even press charges, against individuals found to be wearing the equipment and using it to win at a game of Blackjack. The Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino houses some of his most notorious of “gizmos” in their museum facility.
In the beginning however Taft’s devices were perfectly legal, and remarkably successful. Beginning with “George” in the early part of the 1970s, which was a fifteen pound computer that was programmed to count cards and select the player’s most effective winning strategy, Taft was able to quickly refine his technology. His work has allowed some computer scientists and engineers to credit Taft with creating some of the earliest computer networking systems and tools, building the first microcomputers and being the first to capture a video signal digitally in a computer. Additionally, today’s “basic Blackjack strategy” is formulated, in part, on some of Taft’s own findings and analysis.
After the success of the larger machine Taft, and his son Marty, worked to devise ever smaller and smaller units for analyzing and winning at Blackjack, including tiny cameras mounted into the belt buckles of “team” players which would record the “hole card” of a dealer and transmit the data to the player. This removed the mystery of what the dealer held in his hand, and delivered the best move for the player to quickly beat the “house”. This technology actually relied on the camera, a satellite dish mounted to a vehicle in the parking lot of the casino and an accomplice in the casino to interpret the data.
Taft and his son would eventually team up with another member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, Ken Uston, to form an incredibly successful casino Blackjack team. Relying on a team of sixteen people – eight players and eight camera operators – the group took in over one hundred thousand dollars in approximately five weeks of play. This was in the 1980s, so the profits were considerably substantial.
However the group was soon caught out and legal action was pursued. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought in to analyze the issue, but they soon determined that Taft and Uston’s equipment were not “cheating devices” and the case was dropped.
While Taft was not banned from playing in casinos, his partner Uston was and had to transition his technological focus to creating good and thorough disguises and costumes in order to enter a casino to play.
Taft’s interest in developing a better method of card counting, his development of a computer and devices intended to help the player beat the house, and his eventual induction into the Blackjack Hall of Fame all offer proof of the high regard that the professional Blackjack world holds for this most creative of gambling intellectuals.