The world of professional Blackjack players is full of colorful and startlingly intelligent individuals. Even among these notable figures, Ken Uston stands out sharply. It is well said that he is perhaps the most famous professional Blackjack player of them all.
Banned from many casinos and forced to rely on disguises in order to continue playing, he was also a famous author and his work includes guides to successful Blackjack playing such as “The Big Player”, “Million Dollar Blackjack” and “Ken Uston on Blackjack”. He also wrote more than ten other guides to computers and video games.
Like so many of the major figures in professional Blackjack, Ken Uston was an Ivy League School graduate, but unlike many others he did not head into gambling during his college career. In fact he had a remarkably successful professional life before turning his considerable efforts towards Blackjack. He stated that success wasn’t really all that successful unless it was “heartfelt”.
He earned an MBA from Harvard University and became a member of the management team for the Southern New England Telephone Company, then moved on to management in the American Cement Company. After moving to San Francisco he became the Senior VP at the Pacific Stock Exchange, and it was at this point in his life that he turned some of his spare attention to Blackjack.
Uston encountered famous Blackjack team builder Al Francesco over a poker game. Uston discussed his all ready well-developed card counting techniques and was soon recruited into the team where he quickly became one of its “big players”. The team’s unusual method involved numerous players spread throughout a casino, they would all count cards, and when their deck was at an advantageous point the “big players” would be cued to enter into play. This kept them from detection by the pit bosses.
By 1978 he had headed back to the East Coast and into Atlantic City, New Jersey. Building his own card counting, Blackjack team, Uston was soon recognized as a formidable threat to the casinos and found himself being barred from play at many.
He then brought a highly publicized lawsuit against one of the casinos, and the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that casinos did not have the right to forbid “skilled players” from entering and playing in their facilities. What the casinos could do was make it very difficult to successfully employ card counting tactics.
Today many casinos still rely on the tactics they began to employ to combat the card counting teams that were rapidly appearing at the time. Their efforts include the use of multiple decks and “shoes”, increasing or moving up the “shuffle points”, all as a method of destroying the work of the card counters who would be measuring the distribution of cards that remained in an active deck.
After ending his team’s efforts, Uston found he would need to don various and creative disguises and develop cloaking tactics in order to continue to be successful with his Blackjack strategies. He soon became a master at “card counting camouflage”.
Ken Uston is a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, and he died in Paris, France in 1987.