Every year in Vegas, there's a blackjack convention -- but not just any blackjack convention. This one is an exclusive affair attended by a select cadre of card-counters. Their king is Edward Thorp.
Known as the Blackjack Ball, the event began 16 years ago when Max Rubin, a Las Vegas–based card counter, threw a party to share some tricks of the trade. Today, it’s sponsored by the Barona Resort & Casino. Those in attendance have agreed never to play there, but everywhere else is fair game, so a burly bouncer guards the guest list. They’re competing for the title of the world’s best blackjack player. Yet Thorp, whom several in attendance described as the “Godfather” of card counting, is the big draw.
Fifty years after Thorp’s bestselling book, Beat the Dealer, was released, blackjack has transformed from an obscure game offered only in Nevada into one of the most popular attractions at casinos worldwide. Today blackjack can be played at roughly 2,000 gambling houses, including some 700 in at least 34 states, according to casinocity.com. It has received the Hollywood treatment—from Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, the 1988 Oscar-winning film, to 21, Kevin Spacey’s 2008 movie based on a card-counting team from MIT.