Blackjack Legends: Ken Uston and Al Francesco

Two blackjack legends whose legacies are tied together are Ken Uston and Al Francesco. The main reason why Uston and Francesco are linked is because they played on the same blackjack team together. Now most people would consider Uston the more famous out of these two because he went on to write several major blackjack books, and appeared on TV shows too. But it’s still worth discussing both of these blackjack legends in-depth because many within the blackjack community actually consider Francesco more of a prominent figure.

Playing on the Same Team

Al Francesco is widely credited with inventing the team blackjack concept, where a group of individuals work together to count cards and avoid casino detection. In addition to this, he also developed the “Big Player” strategy where the team works around the big player, who brings in most of the team’s money.

Now Ken Uston comes into the equation when he met Francesco while still working in the corporate world. Enthralled with the idea of blackjack card counting, Uston expressed his desire to learn, and Francesco took him in as a player. This is where reports get conflicted because Uston says that he eventually became the team’s big player, while Francesco claims that Uston never really made the team much money. Regardless of what the reality was, Ken Uston did learn how to become an expert card counter through Francesco’s tutelage.

The Big Player

After learning everything he needed to know about team blackjack, Ken Uston wrote a book called The Big Player in 1977. Much like the famous book Beat The Dealer in 1962, The Big Player gave the masses access to blackjack card counting strategy they’d never seen before. Unfortunately, it also alerted casinos to the activities of blackjack teams across the United States. This turned out to be bad news for Al Francesco and his team because they were subsequently banned from every Las Vegas casino following the publication of The Big Player.
But this was hardly the end of Uston’s blackjack career because he wrote another hit book in Million Dollar Blackjack. Uston also continued to play blackjack across the US, and even challenged Atlantic City casinos when many of them banned him. The result was the court deciding in favor of Uston and his argument that casinos shouldn’t be allowed to ban skilled players from the blackjack tables; this ruling still stands in Atlantic City today.

Sadly, Uston didn’t live too many years longer after writing Million Dollar Blackjack since he died in 1987 of heart failure. As for Francesco, he doesn’t really play any blackjack today, but is still a living legend in the game for inventing team blackjack.

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