Blackjack is a game of luck and skill — and some people have both in high doses. The card game can look easy on the face of it and anyone can play blackjack if they know the rules.
But some people over the years have managed to turn a pastime into a career.
The greatest blackjack players of all time have made millions from the card game and shot to superstardom in the casino world.
They have impressed with their gambling techniques, their understanding of the odds and how to master the dealer.
This guide will take you through the greatest blackjack players of all time and how they earned their staggering fortunes. You will learn the tricks of the trade and the tactics used to secure massive wins.
Greatest blackjack players of all time
Here are just some of the legends blackjack has produced over the years…
The Godfather of card counting
Card counting in blackjack is when a player keeps a mental record of the cards used in a game, to predict the likelihood of other cards emerging from the pack during later rounds. It is a difficult technique that is frowned upon by some casinos, as players can theoretically gain an advantage from staying aware of what cards have been used.
The Godfather of card counting is a Chicago man named Edward E. Thorp, who arguably perfected blackjack strategy using card counting techniques. He even developed a computer simulation to more accurately predict which cards were likely to appear on the blackjack table in a round. The mathematics genius wrote the book Beat the Dealer in 1962, a guide which is used by professional and amateur gamblers to this day.
The big winner
Kerry Packer is a legend in the casino game. An Australian media mogul, the millionaire would certainly spend this cash when he had it. Packer was a notorious blackjack player who could seriously scare a casino when he arrived at the table. So good was he in fact that the Las Vegas Hilton supposedly made him a private room in which to play blackjack when he was in town.
Packer, who died in 2005, is said to have won an eye-watering $7m playing blackjack in one night. He also supposedly lost $10m in the same casino the next year! In 1995 Packer nailed his biggest ever triumph. The Aussie reportedly played up to eight hands across multiple blackjack tables in Las Vegas, placing $250,000 bets on each hand and winning 20 rounds in a row.
Packer is said to have walked out of the casino with $20m of blackjack winnings, although he handed $1m back to the dealers as a tip.
You may not have heard of Don Johnson, a man who played blackjack in Atlantic City and didn’t stop winning for a very long time. Mr Johnson played in several casinos from December 2010 to April 2011 and earned a staggering $15.1m in the process. His biggest individual win was a $5.8m windfall at the Tropicana Casino. Johnson was in fact offered deals to play at the highest stakes in some casinos as the 2008 financial crisis hit casinos in the United States. Johnson was able to negotiate additional terms when he played blackjack in the casino, including making the dealer stay on soft 17, and a 20 per cent rebate on his losses worth over $500,000.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s strategist Ken Uston used Beat the Dealer as his basis for competing on the blackjack tables. Uston created a strategy from which he could win big in casinos, rejecting any notion that luck is involved in blackjack. It is said Uston created the first card counting teams that could all monitor the packs the dealer was using. He is reported to have earned around $4.5m during his time at the tables.
What is blackjack card counting?
Many of the best players in world blackjack may have succeeded using card counting techniques. In fact, some actively encouraged it. Blackjack card counting is a method players use to guess the chances of higher cards being available in deals. It works by remembering - mentally - which cards have come before.
A typical blackjack game will use six decks of 52 cards, so that’s 512 cards in total. A basic card counter isn’t someone who remembers how many cards of each number are left in the deck, called a shoe. That would be very difficult to maintain. Instead, card counters use an index technique to guess how many high-value cards are remaining.
How to count cards in blackjack
A card counter will give each card a value. The player will keep a running score of which cards have been used. If cards 2-6 are used, they increase the value. Likewise, if cards 10-Ace are used, the value decreases. Cards 7, 8 and 9 do not affect the value. So, a player effectively keeps an index in their mind of how many low cards are used up, compared to high cards. This is called the True Count (TC). Once you know your TC, you can use it to improve your chances of winning as you know the ratio of high cards left in the deck.
So, if you know there are many high cards remaining, you are more likely to bet more than you usually would, in order to use that advantage. Of course, you could still lose as the dealer may strike lucky and nail those high cards you are chasing. But over a period of many games, card counting is proven to work in the player’s favour enough to make it worthwhile.
Card counting is not necessarily illegal but casinos have the right to deny players access to their tables if they suspect a player is card counting.
Can you count cards in online blackjack?
For those wishing to count cards in online blackjack you may wish to look away now! There is no way of counting cards in online video blackjack because the simulations used to deal the cards use continuous shuffle. This means there is just as much chance of one card emerging from the deck as any other, even if that card was used in the previous round.
Now, in live blackjack you could theoretically count cards as the dealer takes cards off the top of the shoe in order. But live online blackjack dealers will shuffle in the middle of the shoe, rather than going through the whole pack, so card counting is not exactly easy.
How to play blackjack online
If you want to know the rules of blackjack then head over to our How to Play Blackjack page here at Unibet. Once you know the basic rules it’s time to enter the Unibet Live Casino and test your skills on our live casino online with real dealers!
When you enter the lobby you will be able to choose from a vast range of blackjack tables. Each table has a live dealer who will oversee the game. You will play one-on-one with the dealer, who will turn over the cards when you require. The beauty of live blackjack is that you can chat to the dealer and also other players sitting around the table.
We have loads of various types of live blackjack available to players of all experience levels. You can enter the Blackjack Lobby and find a table with the dealer of your choice. You will see how many players are currently sat at the table — so choose if you want a more full or quieter table!
You will also see the table limits set on these games, so make sure you set a budget before playing live blackjack. Never bet above your limit and keep in mind what your balance is at all times.
Playing online blackjack in the Live Casino is meant to be fun. When you enter a game, you will be asked to select a vacant seat on the table. This will then be your seat for the duration of the game and you can leave at any time.
Once the most recent round has ended, you will be prompted to place a bet if you want to join in. There may be a bet minimum, so make sure you’re aware of what that is. Click on the chip amount you want to bet and then the centre of your screen, to confirm the bet. The dealer will then draw your cards and the blackjack game begins as usual.
Play blackjack at Unibet
Now you know about the greatest blackjack players of all time and know where to play live blackjack, it’s time to check out the Live Casino here at Unibet! We offer loads of different blackjack tables to cater for players of all experience levels. Make sure to join a table that has a minimum bet you are comfortable with and have fun chatting to other players and the dealer.
If you don’t fancy live blackjack, you can also play simulated versions of the popular game over in the Unibet Casino.