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by Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the "Ultimate Guide to Blackjack," editor of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and host of

For the 20th consecutive year, Max Rubin hosted the Blackjack Ball at a secret location in Las Vegas. This year 80 invited blackjack professionals and guests, from arounbd the world, attended the gala that features some of the world's best active and retired blackjack players (as well as a smattering of gambling writers and attorneys). This unique group of professionals meets annually to renew old acquaintances, make new ones, exchange playing experiences, and compete for the coveted Grosjean Cup and title as the "World's Greatest Blackjack Player." . (The Blackjack Ball Cup was renamed the Grosjean Cup because blackjack pro James Grojean won three times and was banned from competing by Max; however, to recognize Grosjean for being the best of the best three times, the Blackjack Ball Cup was renamed the Grosjean Cup in his honor.)

The list of attendees included some of the greatest blackjack professionals in the world, including Rick Blaine, Andy Bloch, John Chang, Al Francesco, James Grosjean, Tommy Hyland, Don Johnson, Richard Munchkin, Darryl Purpose, and Arnold Snyder. Also present were members of several blackjack teams: Asian Assassins, Washington Solos, MIT, and others. In total, 11 out of 15 living members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame were in attendance. (Even if the above names are not familiar to you, trust me, they are to every serious blackjack player on the planet.)

The gala began at 5:00 p.m. and included champagne, cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres followed by a delicious buffet courtesy of Barona Casino. (They sponsor the Blackjack Ball and in return, the players in attendance agree not to play blackjack in their casino ... pretty smart move on the casino's part). The only requirement to attend the Ball is that you must bring a bottle of "premium champagne" (preferably earned as a comp from a casino). The bottles of champagne are opened and consumed during the Ball (and in an after-the-Ball party, which ended at 3 a.m.). Attendees must also pay $20 at the door to help "seed" the pot for the evening's Calcutta auction.

Security is tight. A security guard checks that you are on the official list of invited guests, and then Max (or one of his staff) greets you at the door. (Max knows everyone, and according to him, the reason for the tight security is because, "If a casino employee could infiltrate the Ball, it would make his career.")

Max Rubin does a yeoman's job organizing this event. He claims to spend "more than 100 man hours" on it, which involves tracking down APs to send them an invitation (many APs change their handle and email addresses so this isn't as easy as you think), responding to many emails from players who want to attend (you must be approved by the BJ Ball committee to be on the invited list), putting together the challenging 21 test questions, organizing the seeds for the Calcutta, and as the host of the event, keeping things moving along. Max says the Blackjack Ball is a labor of love; I know I speak for all blackjack players in thanking Max for taking on this task, and for a job well done.

The evening's festivities began with hors d'oeuvres and drinks (with plenty of chilled champagne, of course). We had music this year provided by a young lady named Minnow, who sang Frank Sinatra's "I Did it My Way," an appropriate song to sing to a group of advantage players. (Minnow, by the way, is a strong blackjack player and the fiancée of a long-time player.)

Blackjack Hall of Fame Nominees

What follows is the process used to choose nominees for induction into the Hall of Fame (written by Max).

"The living members of the Hall of the Fame sent names to me for suggested nominees, and all names were then discussed and voted upon. The six prospective nominees that received the most votes were then placed on the ballot. 

"Much to their consternation, this process has prevented several well-known but lesser accomplished "one trick ponies" that have written introductory-level books or excelled at running numbers from joining the mix of truly worthy candidates that have achieved the highest levels of success, either on the tables or through their contributions to the craft." 

The list of the six nominees this year and a short synopsis of their accomplishments follow. Note: This year all bona fide professional blackjack players at the Ball selected only one name on their ballots (rather than two) out of the following six worthy candidates.

Bill Benter - Bill is one of the brightest minds in blackjack history.  He was an expert shuffle tracker, and also was one of the earliest Ace trackers.  He headed some massive blackjack projects in the days of the covert legal blackjack computers, which were responsible for harvesting tens of millions from Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos before the "Great Expansion of Casinos" across America in the 90's.  He ran his extraordinarily successful teams with a calm, decisive demeanor and to this day, people who haven't played blackjack in years still fondly remember the days that they enjoyed working with Bill. 
Around 1990, Bill took his blackjack earnings and became an expert in analyzing and betting the horses. The rest is history.  Bill is currently believed to be one of the two most successful professional gamblers in history!
Bill is also known for his philanthropy and incredible generosity.  He has given more money to the less-fortunate than most of us have made in our lifetimes. 

Don Johnson - Don is without question the most famous blackjack player in the world (which is a pretty fair qualifier for inclusion into the Blackjack Hall of Fame). His exploits grew to epic proportions after he beat three Atlantic City casinos for over $15 million several years ago by pummeling their casinos' loss rebate programs. While luck certainly was a factor in his extraordinary A.C. wins, most in the blackjack community aren't aware that Don is an exceptional player in his own right and personally reaped extraordinary profits over a decade ago while executing a variety other Advantage Plays. 

Despite Don's fame for beating casinos at their own games, a few casinos under strict conditions still allow him to play to their disadvantage. His amazing ability to charm his way back into the casinos' good graces is nothing short of legendary. He also manages an extremely successful horse-betting syndicate, along with a number of other ventures, which virtually all become successful when exposed to his near-magical golden touch.

Mike Michalek - Mike was one of the earliest card counters to realize that there were opportunities in blackjack beyond straight counting.  Credited by many for creating some of the earlier shuffle and ace tracking methods, he was one of the very few AP's that could walk through a casino, see a game or procedure, and design unique plays to exploit new opportunities, often "on the spot."  When Mike's name comes up among those in the know, the word "creative" often begins that conversation.  As the brain behind many successful sports and blackjack projects, many famous Advantage Players relied on the lessons learned from Mike to accumulate massive bankrolls, and most all of them attribute money they've made over the years to his influence.  Renowned professional blackjack players, including Tommy Hyland, Bill Benter, John Chang, Peter Wagner, Richard Dougherty, and many, many more, often pay homage to Mike for taking their games to new heights.   
Although Mike has been inactive for more than ten years due to serious health issues, some of his more clever blackjack "Inventions" is still being used by talented AP's across the globe to harvest money from casinos that remain unfamiliar with the unique playing and betting techniques that he created decades ago.    

Richard Dougherty - Richard has long been one of the blackjack players casinos fear most....and most often.  Casinos have sent out literally hundreds of flyers, bulletins, and alerts about Richard during his more than three decades as a blackjack "Road Warrior" and yet he still marches on.  Throughout his long, illustrious and (in)famous career, blackjack has been Richard's virtual only source of income, and no matter how many times the casinos back him off, assault him, have him arrested for his legal activities, he never stops his relentless attack on their games.

Not only does Richard refuse to be intimidated by casino and surveillance personnel, he's also "turned the tables" on casinos and extracted hefty scores via. profitable lawsuits after suffering through illegal "back roomings," and outright beatings in front of the public on the casino floor on the Las Vegas Strip! As if that weren't enough to put Richard in the casinos' crosshairs, as a fearless and fun-loving casino prankster, he's also pulled off a number of clever and legendary practical jokes that leave everyone (other than the casinos) laughing with glee. 

Rob Reitzen - There are few, if any, players that have won more money in the history of blackjack than Rob Reitzen. From simple card counting to shuffle tracking/sequencing to bottom steering to advanced computer play, Rob has beaten games in more innovative ways than most professional blackjack players even know exist.

The founding partner of CORE, which became the largest and most profitable player-banking operation ever, Rob was featured in an Esquire Magazine article in which the reporter followed him and watched him beat Caesars Palace in Las Vegas out of more than $500,000 using a sequencing technique he dubbed "The Hammer" on a single weekend!     

Wally Simmons - Wally Simmons is quite likely the most underrated name in the blackjack world.  Although he hasn't played in some 20 years, in the early days he was a very skilled multi-faceted player that used sophisticated techniques long before they were well-known or fashionable to win millions.

As a computer programming genius, he also developed some of the first shuffle tracking computers that harvested additional millions, as well.    
Along with Bill Benter, Wally went on to parlay his blackjack money into incredible success as a technically savvy horse racing prognosticator. 

If there were a "Nice Guy Hall of Fame," Wally should be the first inductee.  He is also known for hosting the second most famous party for blackjack players, dubbed "Wally's Super Bowl Party," which went on for about 15 years, and was attended by many of the more famous and successful practitioners of the blackjack arts.  Sparing no expense, the cost of one of Wally's infamous parties would have easily funded most blackjack professionals' entire starting bankrolls. 

The ballots were distributed to the attendees, and they could circle one candidates' name. Ballots were scored and Max announced that the worthy winner was Bill Benter, the newest member of the illustrious Blackjack Hall of Fame (Note: Don Johnson was a close second in the voting.)

Congratulations to Bill Benter for being voted by his peers into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Don now joins an illustrious group of blackjack dignitaries in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. (You can view the physical Blackjack Hall of Fame at the Barona Casino.) The members (and the year they were inducted) include: 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 (2013), Don Schlesinger (2014) and Bill Benter (2015).


Next on the agenda was the usual Calcutta, which is a sort of a pari-mutuel wagering where the attendees can bet on who will win the coveted Grosjean Cup. Below is the list of the seeds. Each attendee was slotted into an appropriate grouping. Max posted the opening odds of winning for each seed, and then attendees bid anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars up to $4000 on who they thought would win the Grosjean Cup. (The Men's Field, consisting of any male less than 60 years of age that was not on any other team, is usually the best bet, which is why it bid up to $4000.)

Bidding was lively amongst this group of advantage players. (The reason, of course, was due to the overlay created when we all chipped in $20 at the door to seed the pot. There was some serious money to be won in the Calcutta, and the group of advantage players knew it.) Max, of course, was the auctioneer, and he kept extolling the virtues of players in each seed to bump up the bidding, which was often fast and furious. (Note: The money collected from the highest bidder for each seed goes into a pool, and the prize money was disbursed to the persons who purchased the finalists finishing first, second, and third (win, place, and show), and 10% was awarded to the winning bidder for the fourth place finisher, in the competition for the "World's Greatest Blackjack Player.") Also, the attendees in each seed are allowed to purchase up to 50% of themselves from the highest bidder.

THE RECENT CHAMPS Rick Blaine, Mr. Yuk & Smoke

Anthony Curtis & Gambling Sharp Frank B

THE MIT TEAM John Chang, Andy Bloch & Nicholas Colon

The Final Table All Stars Pete C, Drew S, & Joe Pane

David Y and the "Butt Naked Baby"

Hall of Fame Team Schipani, Purpose, Snyder, Hyland & Zeljko

Hall of Fame Nominees Reitzen, Bill Benter, Wally & Don Johnson

Tony S & The Washington Solos

The Gambling Writers Rodman, Bob Dancer & Henry Tamburin

Other Gambling Writers Billings, Hollywood Dave & Barry Meadow

The Gambling Girls Cat, "Ruby in the Dust" & "The Queen of Hearts" *

THE GEEZERS-Anyone Not on List 60 Years or Older (Not in the Field)



Blackjack Ball 2016

Round One Questions

Here's the instructions from Max prior to all of us taking the test.

As always, to prevent advantage play, as you fill out your game card, you must mark every true or false question or multiple choice question and fill in the blank before we move on to the next question and they must be marked with Black Ink. You cannot change your answer once you have marked your card. If there are any blanks or changed answers on your card then when it is graded or handed in, you will be disqualified. It's happened before and it wasn't pretty, was it Dave?

Please write your name on your card now to make sure that your pens are working. If they aren't, hold up your hand and we'll bring you another one.

Also, 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. You are allowed to use the back of your playing card to calculate your answers.

I'll repeat each question twice. Ready?

(Copy of the BJ Ball Test is below.)

This year's test was very tough. Out of a possible 21 correct answers, two players had 10 correct answers (they were Blackjack Hall of Famers John Chang and Tommy Hyland). Ten players tied with nine correct answers; therefore, Max held a playoff to determine which four would advance. The ten players lined up and in sequence had to name a casino in the south. All ten made it through the first round, three were eliminated the second time through, and finally blackjack legend and Hall of Fame nominee Don Johnson was the last person eliminated when he repeated the name of a casino that already been named. The final six contestants, who advanced to the skills part of the competition, were Lee Jensen, John Chang, Tommy Hyland, J, WRX, and David. (Full names are excluded to protect the anonymity of the contestants.) These five contestants then competed in the next round of the competition (mostly card counting drills ... I'll describe them in next month's BJI).


Note: In next month's BJI, I'll share with you the answers to the Blackjack Test questions (courtesy of Max Rubin), the details of the semifinal and final round skills tests, and the names of the persons that won the coveted Grosjean Cup (for finishing first) and the Munchkin Award (for finishing in second place). (The Munchkin Award is in honor of Richard Munchkin, who also has been banned from the competition after winning three times.)

Until next month when I provide the answers, try answering the Blackjack Ball Test questions. Remember, you have only 30 seconds to answer each question and you can't use any mechanical or electronic device to help you answer a question. Good luck.

Henry Tamburin

Note: Special thanks to Max Rubin for reviewing this article and making additions/corrections to ensure its accuracy.


Blackjack Ball 2015

Round One Questions...

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