Blackjack takes about five minutes to learn and another ten to understand basic Blackjack strategy- choosing whether to twist, stick, double or split depending on yours and the Dealer’s cards, by simply following the laws of probability.

Over the years some players have been much better at it than your random recreational player. Here are five of the best.

This isn’t necessarily a list of the five best Blackjack players in the purest form of the word ‘best’, but rather a selection of how different characters and strategies can be brilliant in their own right and in their own way.

If you find their stories inspiring, you can play blackjack at this online casino.

Stu Ungar

Ungar, also known as The Kid or The Comeback Kid is widely regarded as the best card player of all time.

He is one of only two men to have won the World Series of Poker Main Event three times and is considered to be the greatest player of Gin Rummy that ever lived.

Ungar just seemed to be born to play cards. He could remember every single card in the deck that had come out and by extension, was well aware of what cards were still there.

How good was his card counting? He once bet 100,000 Dollars that he could count a six-deck shoe and reveal the final card. He won.

When practically broke in the mid-90s partly as a result of prolonged drug abuse, he got back on his feet after winning 3000,000 Dollars over six months at the Lucky Lady Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, playing Blackjack. Foolishly, the Casino agreed to let Ungar play single-deck Blackjack, which just played into his hands because the less cards there are, the easier card counting becomes. Eventually he was banned from playing at any Las Vegas or Atlantic City Casino.

Sadly, with genius sometimes comes a volatile and vulnerable personality. He died of a heart attack at just 45 as a result of years of drug abuse.

James Grosjean

What better way is there to be considered the best of the best than to officially win the official title of ‘The world’s best Blackjack player’ more times than anyone else?

Every year the Blackjack Ball’s World’s Best Blackjack player’ competition is held, a mixture of playing the game, answering questions to do with probability and responding to situations in the game of Blackjack. Contestants are the cream of the cream of the world’s best pro players, plus Blackjack theorists and analysts.

Grosjean won or ended as runner-up in every single edition he took part in, to the extent that he’s now barred from entering it. Instead, the trophy has been named after him.

He certainly has the background for the game. A graduate of Harvard University in Economics, he’s clearly got a head for numbers and analysis, though that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As Max Rubin, who has been in the Gambling industry for almost fifty years and organizes the competition every year once put it: “In all the years I have thrown the Blackjack Ball where success is measured in terms of skill, will and focus, no-one even comes close to Grosjean.”

Edward O. Thorp

Every single player who has successfully used card counting to win money at Blackjack, can thank Thorp for his contributions to the game.

A professor of mathematics by trade, he used the 1954 -made IBM 704 computer to help him understand the probability behind Blackjack and came to the conclusion that the house’s edge in Blackjack can be overcome by successful card counting.

He put his findings into practice when during the early 60s he visited several Vegas and Reno Casinos, often disguised, to count cards and beat the house.

In 1966 he released the book ‘Beat the Dealer’, the bible for card counting to this day and the first of its kind. These days his methods would be considered outdated due to changes in the way cards are dealt and extra shuffling but for the time, he was a pioneer and champion player.

The MIT Blackjack Team

Ok, this is a team of players rather than an individual player, but who’s counting (no pun intended)?

If you’ve watched the movie 21, you’ll know the basic story. A group of MIT math’s whiz kids work as a team to hit the Vegas Casinos for millions of dollars, using secret signals to tell each other when a deck is ‘hot’ (favourable to the player), when it’s turning ‘cold’ or even when to make a run for the hills when the Casinos are onto them.

Over three decades students came and went as regards being on ‘the team’ and at one stage there were almost 80 members on the roster.

Even though there were some additional strategies used to the basic card counting one to give them more of an edge, it was the levels of organization, investment, discipline and control that made it such a successful operation. 

Don Johnson

No, not the Miami Vice actor (although apparently, he’s one hell of a Blackjack player, too!) but the legendary American gambler who is said to have banked 15 Million Dollars of Casinos’ money.

He was already known as a brilliant Blackjack player before his 2008 masterstroke. With the recession hitting Atlantic City (AC) Casinos hard, Casino Managers and PR Teams had no option but to offer high rollers slightly better playing conditions than before, in an attempt to lure them back to the tables.

Big mistake.

Johnson negotiated a deal with the Borgata Casino in AC that gave him better odds in a number of ways, the most important of which was that he was paid out whatever he won, but got 20% returned if his losses reached 500,000 Dollars. Soon the Tropicana and Caesar’s agreed to the same deal, desperate for his custom.

Key to the deal was that there was no minimum play requirement. So, if ‘he wasn’t in the zone’ or felt the deck was ‘cold’ he was under no obligation to play but he could still take advantage of the ‘discount’ on another day. Look at it this way: a typical house edge in Blackjack is 0.26% but because of his deal, he had a 20% edge in terms of actual cash. When he won, he won 100%. When he lost, he lost 80%.

Having taken the Tropicana for 6 Million, he then moved on to the Borgata (5 Million) and then Caesar’s (4 Million).

He was watched for hours on end on camera to see if he was at best card counting, at worst cheating by using some other method to get an edge.

He wasn’t. He beat the Casino fair and square; the secret was in the terms of the deal.