Gambling Tips > Blackjack

2013 BLACKJACK BALL - Part 1

By Henry Tamburin

For the 17th consecutive year, professional players from around the world gathered at an ultra-secret location in Las Vegas to share some tricks of the trade. As always, Max Rubin, a former blackjack card counter and pit boss, organized and hosted the party. The sponsor was Barona Casino. (This might surprise you that a casino is sponsoring a party of professional card counters; however, it’s actually a smart move on their part because every pro in attendance promises to never play blackjack at Barona, whereas all other casinos are fair game.)


You must be invited to attend the Ball, and security is tight because, according to Rubin, “If a casino person could infiltrate this gathering and secretly take photos, it would make his career.” Invited guests must bring one bottle of premium champagne to the party to share with their colleagues (preferably a bottle received as a comp from a casino).Rubin greets guest and makes sure each person entering the Ball is on the invitation list.


There were 102 guests at this year’s Ball, including yours truly. The list of attendees included the greatest collection of blackjack professionals in the world, including Dr. Edward Thorp (author of the classic 1960s book Beat the Dealer); Al Francesco (one of the originators of the blackjack team concept); Tommy Hyland (manger of a long-running blackjack team); Arnold Snyder (former blackjack professional player and author of several blackjack books); and James Grosjean (professional player and author of the classic Beyond Counting). Also present were several members of the following blackjack teams:  M.I.T., Asian Assassins, and Christian. (Even if these names are not familiar to you, they are to a serious blackjack player.)


Besides the “ol’ timers” that were in attendance (many of them blackjack legends), there where a number of up and coming “youngsters,” who have already made their mark (and profits) at the game of blackjack. One of them, Louden Ofton, wrote the following about his experience at the Blackjack Ball in the April 2013 issue of my Blackjack Insider Newsletter ( “You have no idea how huge this is to a player to be in the company of these famous blackjack celebrities… Here I am, shaking hands with, and speaking to, the men I always admired because of their tremendous contribution to the game of blackjack.”


After dinner, the 102 pros competed for the title of the “World’s Greatest Blackjack Player.” The competition began with a 21-question test administered by Rubin. The five players who had the most correct answers were Bob Dancer (14), Richard Munchkin (13), Wally Simmons, and “JT” (tied for third place with 12 correct answers), and Anthony Curtis and yours truly (11 correct answers).


Since only the contestants with the top five scores on the written test can advance to the next round of the competition, Rubin gave Anthony and me the following tie-breaking question. We had to alternate naming states that have legal blackjack games, including “cruises to nowhere,” that is listed in the most recent edition of Current Blackjack News. If one of us repeats or misses a state, “you are out.”


After calling out about 25 states, it was my turn, and I had three in mind that neither Anthony nor I had mentioned: Connecticut, Louisiana, and Maryland. Coincidentally, I had been following the fledging casino industry in Maryland (I had graduated from University of Maryland), so I blurted out “Maryland,” and Rubin responded “wrong.” (It turns out that table games were legalized for the Maryland slot parlors in November 2012 but hadn’t been implemented until March 2013, which was two months after the Ball was held.) I was disgusted for getting so close to advancing to the second round of the competition but satisfied that I had gotten more test questions correct than 97 of my peers. (In my column next month, I’ll share with you a sampling of the test questions with their answers.)


The stage was now set for the next round of the competition with five contestants: Bob Dancer, Richard Munchkin, Wally Simmons, “JT,” and Anthony Curtis. They competed in a series of card-counting contests. For example, in one contest, the contestants had to estimate how many cards were stacked in a discard tray. In another contest, each player was given a deck of cards in which some of the 7s, 8s, and 9s had been removed (the neutral cards in card counting). Each contestant had 45 seconds to look at the deck of cards and announce the exact number of neutral cards that had been removed from their deck.


The first two contestants that were eliminated were Bob Dancer and “JT.” That left three standing: Richard Munchkin, Wally Simmons, and Anthony Curtis. (How’s this for irony … they were the same three finalists at the Blackjack Ball that was held 16 years ago.) Anthony Curtis wound up in third place, Wally Simmons took second, and this year’s champion was Richard Munchkin.


(Note: Here’s a little history about the Blackjack Cup that the winner receives (see photo). Several years ago, James Grosjean beat his peers in the Blackjack Ball competition three out of four years, and took second place the other year. Because of this extraordinary feat, Rubin told Grosjean, “Your game’s too good,” and barred him from further competition. However, the Blackjack Ball committee also acknowledged Grosjean’s accomplishment by renaming the Blackjack Cup the “Grosjean Cup.” Now that Richard Munchkin has won for the third time, it remains to be seen what “sanctions,” if any, Rubin will place on him.)