It is probably a pretty good "bet" that the general, non-gambling
public has never heard of Keith Taft, but most serious blackjack
players have. Taft is a gifted electronics whiz who has dedicated
the last 30 years of his life devising hi-tech ways to beat the
system and the casinos, particularly at the blackjack table.
A Blackjack Hall of Famer, Taft produced the first blackjack-beating
computer in the early 1970s; that "little" piece of equipment
weighed in at over 15 pounds. But technology advanced quickly and
within a few years he came up with equipment that weighed only a few
ounces that could compute the perfect blackjack strategy. Along with
his son Marty, Taft spent the next decade or so inventing gadgets
that were small enough to hide and smart enough to beat the house.
Finally, in the mid-1980s, Nevada outlawed devices brought into
casinos for the purpose of strategizing. It is said that this change
happened after a casino found a miniature video camera on Taft's
brother, a camera that was built into his belt buckle and that could
photograph the dealer's "hole card," after which the information was
relayed back to Taft. That was all the information he needed to play
his hand after that. Not only is Keith Taft a member of the
Blackjack Hall of Fame but a number of his more ingenious devices
are on display at the museum in the Barona Casino in California.
Keith Taft's educational background did not immediately indicate the
direction his knowledge would take him. He received an undergraduate
degree in both music and physics and then taught music for 5 years.
Eventually he received his Masters degree in Physics. He taught
music for five years and physics for three, and then completed his
masters in physics. Taft "discovered" blackjack on a trip to Reno
that he took in 1969. A few hands later - after winning a grand
total of $3.50 - Keith Taft was hooked. He started reading every
blackjack book he could get his hands on, concentrating on the
science of card counting. Pretty soon he felt read to go back into
the trenches - the casinos.
But card counting wasn't Taft's forte and he set out to find a
computer-based strategy that would be more of a surefire way to win.
In 1972, he produced "George," the 15-pound computer that he
actually strapped to his body when he headed back to the tables.
Based on mathematics and statistics, George would calculate the
house advantage for the each hand and figure out how much the player
should bet. By card counting electronically (i.e., keeping track of
which cards had been played), George could tell the players whether
to hit, stand, double down, etc. This was one of the forerunners of
today's blackjack Basic Strategy.
Eventually, Taft partnered with Ken Uston, another blackjack hero,
and they continued to devise miniature computers and cameras that
were eventually deemed illegal in casinos. The two of them trained
teams of gamblers to use their equipment. Ken found the personnel
and Keith was in charge of the electronics. In a short time their
team of blackjack players numbers sixteen - eight players and eight
computer operators. The team's success was legendary - they won 80%
of the time, which translated into over $100,000 in winnings over a
But while the casinos were friendly at first to the big winners,
thinking they were just gamblers on a roll that was sure to end some
time soon, they soon got suspicious as to their methods. Finally,
they were "busted." They were taken into a back room of Harrah's,
stripped and searched, and found to be covered with wires and
gizmos. The roll was over.
Eventually, the FBI got involved but when they analyzed the
equipment they declared them not to be cheating devices and all
charges against the team were dropped. But
For his huge impact on the blackjack scene, Keith Taft was inducted
into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2004. He did in August of 2006.