Unless you’re a high-level blackjack player, you’re unlikely to have heard of the Blackjack Ball. But if you are an advantage player at the game, one of the highest honors is to secure an invite to the Blackjack Ball.
The 24th annual event was held last weekend in Las Vegas in a secret location near the Las Vegas Strip. More than 100 people were invited amidst tight security. Attendees were required to bring a bottle of premium champagne and contribute $100 to seed the “calcutta” pool that would be awarded to the winner of the skills competition and take home the coveted Grosjean Cup, named after legendary advantage player Jean Grosjean.
One of the highlights of the event includes the nominations and election to the Blackjack Hall of Fame, which is housed in the Barona casino in California. Previous winners include Ed Thorp, the author the 1962 classic Beat the Dealer, Max Rubin, a former casino executive and the host of the ball, Stanford Wong, who perfected card counting systems; Steve Forte, the author of many books on beating blackjack, and many more.
Only one person can join the hall each year, and this year, despite stiff competition, Anthony Curtis, the publisher of Huntington Press and the Las Vegas Advisor, was overwhelmingly elected to the Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Curtis noted that he had published books by nine members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and paid tribute to them and others.
The skills competition begins with a 21-question quiz and finishes with a seat at the blackjack table. But nothing gets started until all the betting is finalized. Organizers arrange some of the players in teams and attendees can bid to back those teams at various odds. The “field” bet is the most popular, and the bidding was hot and heavy, with the winner betting almost $8,000.
The quiz itself was grueling and sometimes confusing. The “winner” of the quiz competition correctly answered on 13 of the 21 questions, and the six players qualified with a low of 8 correct answers.
Attendance is limited to current and former advantage blackjack players, but also includes hedge-fund managers, software developers, Fortune 500 executives, the lawyer for the players, and others who used blackjack as a stepping stone to business and high finance. In fact, Ed Thorp has long retired from blackjack and is now known for his mathematical expertise as a hedge fund operator and has amassed a fortune that dwarfs his blackjack earnings.