Max Rubin’s 2017 Blackjack Ball
by Nicholas Colon

On a cool Saturday evening in late January, in the shadows of the most well-known Casinos in the world with the distant glow of the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip in the background, the most elite professional gamblers in the world gather to attend the super secretive Blackjack Ball. The gala is hosted by long time organizer and advantage gaming legend Max Rubin. Max spends countless hours in preparation, creating a magnificent soirée so that this profession’s elite can have a fantastic evening. Year after year Max’s efforts do not disappoint.

The evening starts with drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and this gives the guests (many whom have known each other, and played together) time to converse and about the past years happenings. Players in the caliber of Don Johnson, James Grosjean and Arnold Synder were all present. World class poker icon Phil Ivey even made an appearance.

After dinner, voting for the 2017 Blackjack Hall of fame inductee commenced. To no one’s great surprise Don Johnson was voted in to one of the most exclusive groups in all of gaming, the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Don is arguably the most famous blackjack player in the world. And his exploits reached legendary status when several years ago he whacked a few Atlantic City casinos for $15 million over a few week period while utilizing their loss rebate programs. This historic win elevated Don to the top tier of advantage players.

Next, the chore of crowning the 2017 world’s greatest blackjack player commenced. A series of 21 questions are given to the field of attendees. They are a combination of gaming probability theory questions and general gaming knowledge questions, and they are tough. The top 5 high scores proceed to the final table where a skills test determines the ultimate winner. The 2017 Grojean Cup took the form of a 15-liter bottle of Luc Belaire Rare Rose Champagne and was awarded to Anthony Curtis, publisher and owner of the Las Vegas Advisor website and president and CEO of the Huntington Press publishing house, which is the largest publisher in casino gaming related books in the world. Anthony is also the proprietor of the Gambling with an Edge website. It was fitting considering that Curtis has taken 2nd Place in 6 of the 20 previous competitions.

Anthony Curtis at the Ultimate Blackjack Tournament
Anthony Curtis at the Ultimate Blackjack Tournament photo courtesy Anthony Curtis

Anthony Curtis With the 2017 Grosjean Cup
Anthony Curtis with the 2017 Grosjean Cup

Close Up Of The 2017 Grosjean Cup
Close up of the 2016 Grosjean Cup

The 2017 Ball orbited largely around arguably the most influential man in advantage gaming, Edward O. Thorp. In 1962 Thorp published the classic text Beat the Dealer. It was the first book made widely available to the public that showed a firm mathematical approach to beating the game of 21. After this Thorp went on to make noteworthy contributions in Stock Market Analysis, where his original research helped launch the derivatives market.

Ed Thorp in 2015
Ed Thorp in 2015 photo courtesy of Ed Thorp

Ed Thorp at the 2017 Blackjack Ball
Ed Thorp at the 2017 Blackjack Ball photo courtesy of Nicholas Colon

In his new book A Man For All Markets, Thorp discusses his whirlwind life and gives a full and complete answer to the question: How did you do it? It’s a must read for anyone who wants a look into the mind of an out of the box thinker that has made a significant impacts on the world in so many areas.

The importance of Thorp’s contributions can’t be ignored. And his original thesis provided the foundation for much of the work that followed. I was able to speak to a few of gaming’s most influential personalities about Thorp’s contributions. Mike Shackelford is the creator of the Wizard of Odds website, the quintessential gaming probability site and he stated:

“It would be hard to understate the impact Ed Thorp had on the game of blackjack. He was the first to widely publish both a basic strategy, to get the odds almost break even, and how to beat the game by card counting. His book ‘Beat the Dealer,’ will go down in history as the quintessential book that changed the game.”

Distinguished advantage gaming author, player, member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and founder of Blackjack Forum Online, Arnold Snyder summed up Thorp’s impact on advantage play by saying:

“Had Thorp not arrived on the scene when he did, card counting would eventually have been discovered by others. As computers became smaller, more powerful, less expensive and more easily accessible, it would have been inevitable. But the card counting revolution would likely have been delayed 10-15 years.”

The black tie setting of the Blackjack ball is only one-half of the weekend’s events. The second part is the after party held at the home of Blackjack hall of famer and author of the classic book Gambling Wizards, Richard Munchkin, published by Huntington Press. Food, fun and friends come together on the Sunday after the Ball to discuss game strategy, new tactics and techniques and most importantly to trade war stories of this unique profession. The Munchkin after-party extends the opportunity for this elite field of players, all of whom are usually spread out all over the world, to get together and share stories of the past year’s exploits.

The Munchkin after party gives Advantage Gaming’s most influential players time to get together in a relaxed setting, away from the Blackjack Ball’s black formal setting. It also extends the time that these players get to mingle with people who understand their unique mind set and those that share their unique drive to reverse engineer casino games for profit.

Munchkin’s party is in its second year, and is fast becoming been a part of the Ball’s weekend events. The game’s elites trade their slacks, blazers and patent leather shoes for jeans and sneakers. The open house event extends from the Sunday’s early afternoon to the late evening. There is a copiousness amount of respect for each other’s abilities. And a conversation with any one of these people is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but having all of them together at one time is something very special.

Kudos to Max and Munchkin for having the foresight to put together this most awesome event so many years ago, and more importantly to keep it going. What started as gathering of a dozen friends so many years ago, and has grown into a widely anticipated event where the gaming elite come together for a single weekend. It is a truly awesome affair.

As an 18-year veteran of the casino industry, Nicholas has been involved in all aspects of gaming, from advantage player/manager with the infamous M.I.T Blackjack teams, to a consultant to the “house” in the capacity of gaming mathematician and data scientist. Nicholas has been a visiting lecturer at DUKE, Clemson, and Michigan State Universities. He’s also a published author in the game-theory arena, with an emphasis on economic applications, and is a contributor to many casino gaming and financial sites and publications, including, Forbes, and Bloomberg.