After 27 years as an editor, librarian for gamblers, Marketing Director, and now owner of Gambler's Book Shop (Gambler's Book Club) in Las Vegas, I've formed some opinions about the best books everHoward Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," is the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he has held since 1979. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry. Howard's website is www.gamblersbook.com in more than three dozen categories of books in the store. Of course, it's my opinion and I don't expect everyone to agree, but having met and known many of the players and writers, there’s some basis for my opinion so here goes anyway. Understand though, I truly believe blackjack players often have fragile egos. One man's favorite can be on another man's bottom of the barrel.
I am not a gambler, but I have a "feel" for good books -- why they are unique and what the feedback is from happy players. Often the established reputation of top counters/experts dictates customer reaction.
Here are what I consider to be the most important books on blackjack and with my subjective rationale.
Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorp
Published more than 40 years ago this is perfectly subtitled A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty One, and it's estimated that more than 500,000 copies have been sold in hardbound and paperbound over the years.
Twelve chapters include Thorp’s rules, the basics of the game and his strategy for winning. The chapter titled "My Ideas Are Tested in Nevada" had to be one of the most fascinating events ever for its time. He follows with his simple count, then his complete point-count system. For the era, the section on beating casino countermeasures must have thrown every "suit" (i.e., casino executive) into a panic. Then too were his claims of being cheated. Clearly, this book for the first time made the game beatable for many players.
Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere
Originally published in 1969, its color charts and solid advice on counting and money management made this work a must read. Although more one-deck games were available when Revere wrote his book than today, it's still widely recommended by players (and by dealers who see some very bad players). Interestingly, the late Julian Braun, who did much of the computer analysis of the game for Thorp's book, also contributed heavily to Revere's work. Revere is gone now, but his landmark work lives on today.
Million Dollar Blackjack by Ken Uston
Originally published in 1981 (Uston, the blackjack guru of his generation, died in Paris in 1987), this soon became the "must-read" book. These were the "golden days" of 21, with Uston and his teams winning millions in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The highly-flamboyant Uston was flashy, yet talented, attracting a new generation of players to the tables with his book. He got New Jersey to rule that counters couldn't be barred; his advanced point count method was imitated by many; and he exposed advantage play methods such as front-loading and spooking. His book was one of the first to explain an intelligent method of playing in tournaments. The book went out of print for a while and people were willing to pay $50 for a used, battered copy.
Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong
Professional Blackjack was originally published by Gambler's Book Club in the mid-l970s. The most recent edition, revised and updated in 1994, written by Stanford Wong (real name John Ferguson), was snapped up immediately by those fascinated with his High-Low System; his strategy for No-Hole Card play and because few books if any at the time examined variations like 6-7-8; Over-Under 13; Double Exposure and shuffling.
Wong, who holds a doctorate and taught finance at Stanford University, has since branched out into other areas of gambling such as sports betting and craps. His book was called "the card counter's bible" by the respected author Don Schlesinger.
Theory of Blackjack by Peter Griffin
Peter Griffin, a quiet genius who taught statistics at Cal State Sacramento, wrote what might still be considered one of the most advanced mathematical analyses of blackjack ever. His work, The Theory of Blackjack (The Compleat Card Counter's Guide to the Casino Game of 21) was initially published by GBC Press in 1979... It is now in its sixth (1999) edition, updated by Huntington Press. Griffin, who many believe was the true successor to Thorp in his knowledge of the game, died in 1998. He said that he never took the game seriously, preferring to show he could beat 21 (he later even analyzed the game of baccarat in his book) and be in the company of people who enjoyed having fun and drinking beer.
Chapters of his book include sections On The Likely Consequences of Errors in Card Counting Systems and Interactive Approximations to Facilitate Rapid Blackjack Computations. You'll need some level of higher mathematics to fully comprehend his work, but it's a landmark book even today.
Blackjack Attack by Don Schlesinger
Blackjack Attack is now in its third edition (2005). Originally published in 1997, the low-key, but highly respected Don Schlesinger has contributed hundreds of hours to advising and editing other books on the game. This is his only book to date, and anyone who is a potentially serious counter should have it in his or her library.
The sections on back-counting a shoe, betting techniques and win rate, camouflage, risk or ruin, team play and his work on what he calls The World's Greatest Blackjack Simulation, make this an immediate Top 10 of all time.
Ian Andersen, author of Burning the Tables in Las Vegas says of Schlesinger's book "Of all the blackjack books ever written, I think Blackjack Attack is the most useful." I concur.
Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder
Arnold Snyder wrote Blackbelt in Blackjack in 1983. Subtitled Playing 21 as a Martial Art, the work was an immediate success, and the book, now revised and updated (2005) contains The Red Seven Count; The Hi-Lo Lite; True Count and Zen Count, plus team play and shuffle tracking. It continues to sell as well as any on the market.
Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Andersen
Burning the Tables in Las Vegas is the second book by the mysterious author now living outside the U.S. His first work, Turning the Tables in Las Vegas, published in the 1970s, established him as a man who knows how to manipulate casino personnel, dealers, and con the "eye in the sky." Thorp, Revere and Griffin were his idols so to speak.
Much of the book is devoted to "casino comportment" (camouflage); but he supplies plenty of information and ideas on disguises; table etiquette to enhance your "new persona" and how to "fly under the radar." Casinos have gotten wiser with computer photo files on identifying counters, but Andersen (who holds several doctorate degrees and was an astute stock market player) kept many a player from being detected with his ploys.
All the books I've discussed are still in print, which attests to their value. I expect there will be those who will be angered by my choices. Certainly there will be suggestions of omission. But that's life -- the best movies, the best sports teams, the greatest gamblers—the all come down to personal interpretation. Hopefully, you'll discover one of these great 21 classics and it'll make you a better player. My goal was to offer a personal "checklist" on the basis of several decades of selling books. Let the band play on, for there may be a classic or two yet to be discovered. That is what life is--constant discovery, different opinions.
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