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by Loudon Ofton

"Loudon Ofton" is a highly successful card counter, as well as a staff writer for Blackjack Apprenticeship. The pros at Blackjack Apprenticeship provide hands-on card counting training several times a year through Blackjack Bootcamps.

Like clockwork, the luminaries of the blackjack world came together in January at an undisclosed location in Las Vegas for there annual gathering known as the Blackjack Ball, to celebrate the game and the beating of it. (At last, I have someone that will listen to my inside jokes.)

Card counting and advantage play are often very "isolated" careers. The better you get at beating the casino at blackjack, the less likely you want to make yourself known. With all this hiding, ducking, and changing appearance, you’d think we were criminals. (I know because my friends and family still ask me about my clandestine avocation.) However, and let me say this emphatically, we are NOT criminals. Nevertheless, even non-criminals need to go on the lam from the norm occasionally. At the Blackjack Ball, attendees check their secrecy and isolation at the door, because they are here to p-a-r-t-y.

The crowd of blackjack luminaries at this year’s Ball swelled to over one hundred (102 to be exact). In recent years, attendance has hovered around 80 so many more invitees showed up this year.

On hand, as always, were the uber echelon of blackjack heroes, such as Tommy Hyland, James Grosjean, Richard Munchkin, and many more. Dr. Edward Thorp, who was honored at the 2012 Blackjack Ball on the 50th year of the publication of his classic best-selling book Beat the Dealer, returned this year to the delight of many, and even brought his three (grown) children with him.

You have no idea how huge this is to a player to be in the company of these famous blackjack celebrities. These are the men who invented, improved, or handed down card counting directly to me (and just about everyone else in the room). For years, I’ve read their books, and wondered what they actually looked like. I’ve heard vague whispers about their rumored current activities on blog forums. Now, here I am, shaking hands with, and speaking to, the men I always admired because of their tremendous contribution to the game of blackjack. (This is like being a huge baseball fan, going to a baseball game, and finding that your seat is between Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken.)

At the Ball, aliases are as common as names on nametags; therefore, you have to take every introduction you make at face value, and likewise protect any shared names, or information shared with others. Nevertheless, for the most part, the attendees are open and warm, some a little awkward, but no more so than me. Actually, let’s just say very awkward because the Ball has all kinds of characters. This includes mystery men, class clowns, foreboding lurkers, the poor, the rich, the mega-rich, soft-speakers, loudmouths, rockers, tech geeks, and old farts. This crowd understands the call of the game, my stories, aches with my aches, and truly celebrates my victories. (This must be blackjack heaven.)

Entry requirements to the invitation-only Blackjack Ball included bringing a comped bottle of "high-end" champagne. During the cocktail and hors d’oeuvres, guests were treated to a slide show honoring the members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. The event is hosted by former card counter and table games’ manager Max Rubin, and is sponsored by Barona Casino in San Diego, California, where the Blackjack Hall of Fame resides.

I’ve always wanted to show up at the Hall of Fame at Barona with a camera crew, nail a framed picture of myself on the wall, and then run like hell. Therefore, if this really happens Max, it wasn’t me. (Unless it is my picture, I guess. Oops.)

This was the first year that a vote was not taken to induct someone into the Hall of Fame. Instead, the vote has been moved to every other year. (Therefore, voting will occur at the 2014 Blackjack Ball.)

After the catered dinner, the infamous Blackjack Ball competition commenced to determine the Blackjack Player of the Year (i.e., the winner of the Grosjean Cup). After the written test (see 2013 Blackjack Ball article in issue #158), the playing field was whittled to five finalists, who then went on to compete in specific counting and betting contests to determine who would be the last person standing and winner of the coveted Grosjean Cup.

A test in a room full of competitive egos—you get the picture—I wanted this BAD and so does everyone else. The questions are...

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