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by Joe Pane

Joe Pane is a skilled advantage blackjack player and an experienced tournament player who has won over a million dollars in blackjack tournaments. Although most casinos have banned Joe from live blackjack play and blackjack tournaments, he still uses his tournament skills in both Poker and Dice Tournaments where he has recorded impressive wins in both games. Joe recently took down two Poker Tournaments in the same week, winning Event #1 at The Mesquite Open at the Eureka Casino on Friday, and then he took down the Tuscany Monday Night Poker Tournament three days later (Las Vegas). He hosts the "House of Pane" message board on His peers consider him one of the strongest and most feared blackjack tournament players on the circuit, and "All In Magazine" named him the #1 Blackjack Tournament Player.

In last month’s BJI, I shared with you the grueling test that was used to determine which of the 51 blackjack pros and authors in attendance at the 2011 Blackjack Ball would take their years of knowledge and experience on the green felt to rise above the stiff competition that Max Rubin had invited to this gala event. These 51 players, who are the cream of the crop, have put their knowledge to use to consistently beat casinos at their own game. These players have taken the edge that is built in to the games to ensure the casinos and their shareholders a bottom line profit every year, and turned it into their favor.

Keep in mind that the casino’s edge is relativity small but used 24 hours a day 365 days a year it becomes a devastating weapon against average casino patrons. However, these 51 players at the Blackjack Ball are not your average casino patrons. Some of them are in the trenches playing blackjack every day, others play once or twice a week, and a few have the skills to analyze the games in meticulous detail at home to discover new ways to exploit the hidden edges that exist, but few can see. A great example of the latter is James Grosjean’s new publication, Beyond Counting Exhibit CAA. The latter covers every casino game and a mathematical way of turning the edge in the player’s favor. After reading this book, you become the casino, playing with a small edge without all of the expenses and payroll that is required to operate a "real" casino. However, don’t expect to buy this much sought after book at your local Barnes and Nobles because it won’t be available to the public. You must know James Grosjean or be cleared by someone in Mr. Grosjean’s inner circle before you can get your hands on it.

Now let’s get back to the Blackjack Ball test that you hopefully tried to answer last month. Max Rubin put together 21questions on many different subjects that in some perverted way have a gaming theme to them. This test has become Max Rubin’s way of gathering, and then torturing, all of the world’s greatest blackjack pros and authors and now you, as a subscriber to the Blackjack Insider, can experience the same torture that we experience year after year (during the first week of the New Year, which is when the Blackjack Ball is held). I hope you gave the test a shot and did well. (The answers to the test questions are at the end of this article. I’ll wait a minute to give you some time to check your answers.)

So how did you fare?

Let me share this with you the following insider information. The highest number of correct answers amongst the 51 pros who took the test was 11 correct answers out of 21 (52% correct). Yep, you would think that the score would have been higher but then this was one hell of a tough test that Max put us through.

As it turned out, six pros wound up with 11 correct answers. Because the final round only accommodates five players, there was a tiebreaker question to eliminate one player.

The six players who tied were lined up in a row and each player in turn had to answer this question: Name a Caesars Entertainment casino, which they either own or manage anywhere in the world that deals blackjack. A casino could not be repeated (meaning the contestant that repeated the name of a casino would be eliminated).

Max went through the line of players three times before one player repeated the casino "Harrah’s Las Vegas" and was eliminated.

The five finalists who survived were:

Big Player, who was the 2010 Champion

Richard Munchkin, who is a two-time champion and a finalist for the seventh time

David Y, who was attending his first Blackjack Ball

Anthony Curtis, who is a three-time finalist

Michael Shackelford, who was making his second Blackjack Ball Finals

The Final two players that were left at the end of the competition were Anthony Curtis and Michael Shackelford.

The final test given to them was a head-to-head card counting speed drill. Anthony Curtis once again was the bridesmaid for the third time as he was beat by a split second by Michael.

By the way, Anthony Curtis and Michael Shackleford provide a wealth of information for players on their respective web sites. Anthony Curtis’ is the premier Las Vegas information website for all visitors planning a trip to Las Vegas (you can find which casinos in Las Vegas offer the best blackjack and video poker games on his site). Michael Shackelford hosts, a web site that covers every casino game and the percentages and strategy needed to fully understand the games that casinos offer. Do yourself a favor and visit both of these sites before you plan your next gaming trip.

So you won’t feel too bad if you had a low test score, part time AP player Kevin D got a meager four questions right and was named "The World Worst Blackjack Player." by Max. He also was presented with an autographed copy of attendee Kevin Blackwood’s book, "Casino Gambling for Dummies."

(Naturally, this was all done in jest ... Kevin D is not really the World’s Worst Blackjack Player.)

One last note: every year a new member is inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame, which is located in the Barona Casino in San Diego. This year the legendary blackjack player (at least to the AP's in attendance) Zeljko Ranogajec was selected and inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame by the attendees and via. absentee ballots (191 votes cast).

Ranogajec was one of the most prolific and innovative AP's of all time. Starting with a few hundred dollars decades ago, his feats of winning hundreds of millions dollars in blackjack (and in other gambling ventures) have been written about in numerous publications, and he is now known as "the world's biggest punter." (You can look him up on Google; be prepared to be amazed.). Ranogajec won by two votes. Closely on his heels was new nominee Bob Nersesian. Other nominees included Bill Erb, Ian Andersen, Don Schlesinger, Allan Wilson, and Jess Marcum. 

I hope you have enjoyed this article and through my words made it feel like you attended the much publicized and special gathering of the worlds most famous advantage players. I know I am honored to be invited to this event, where I say very little, observe brilliant minds at work, and try to learn from them.

Until next time, may all your aces have a little paint on them

Joe Pane

PS: Please direct any comments or questions about this article to me at


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