By Michael Dalton.
On October 1, 2022, the annual Blackjack Ball was held once again in Las Vegas. This was no ordinary Blackjack Ball!. Max Rubin, Richard Munchkin and I am sure others on the Ball committee pulled out all the stops for this event. This is the one big yearly event that professional blackjack players, experts and authors gather to reconnect, renew old relationships and create new ones. It is an honor to be invited!
The last Blackjack Ball was held in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, the Ball was canceled in 2021. This year had to be extra special as it was the 25th Silver Anniversary! So, a decision was made to hold the event at the coolest building in Las Vegas – the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which looks like a bombed out building from the outside. Inside is an amazing ballroom where 180 attendees could mingle, eat, drink and dine all night. Cost for the event was between $250 and $10000 (depending on what you wanted to contribute) and you didn’t have to bring a bottle of champagne this year. All champagne was contributed by Luc Belaire.
On March 15, 2022, the Blackjack Hall of Fame became a 501c3 non-profit corporation which allows the Blackjack Ball to have a charitable purpose. The plan, going forward, is to donate monies collected at the Ball to a new charity or cause each year. This year, the cause is the UNLV Center for Gambling Studies and Health. It is estimated that over $25k will be donated to this cause in 2022.
After arriving at the Ruvo Center around 6pm you are directed to the outside garden where cocktails and appetizers are set up and the mingling begins. As people gathered in the garden some of us were mesmerized by card expert Jason England who baffled us with cheating moves and explained how some of the classic cheating devices he brought worked. One thing is certain! The untrained eye won’t catch many classic cheating moves. Also, if you walked around the garden you could find framed newspaper pages from the 1960s depicting articles on blackjack and casino cheating.
Then, around 7:30pm, we all moved inside for a wonderful gourmet dinner and dessert. The evening consisted of several planned events including the usual “Calcutta” where guests bid to wager on the players who they think will win the coveted Grosjean Cup. The bidding during the Calcutta ran into the thousands of dollars for some groups of players.
Unfortunately, Ed Thorp didn’t make it this year, however, he presented a video that we all watched on the big multi-media screens. Essentially, he said that due to his age (he is now 90) and circumstance, he had an 18% chance of dying if he caught Covid. That convinced him to pass this year. However, in honor of Thorp’s contributions, it was announced that the Blackjack Hall of Fame members would start an Ed Thorp Lifetime Achievement Award which automatically also gets you in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. This year’s special honoree was Blair Hull, who was instrumental in setting up the 501c3 non-profit status.
General voting also occurs for the Blackjack Hall of Fame. The ballot nominees, this year, were Cat Hulbert, Colin Jones, Maria “The Greek”, Mark Billings, Norm Wattenberger, Rick Blaine and Robert Loeb. After all the ballots were collected, the clear winner was Cat Hulbert who sadly passed away this year.
Now on to the fun stuff… the test for the World’s Greatest Blackjack Player and the Grosjean Cup! Some of us study for weeks. Others are so knowledgeable that they often make the top 10. These test questions are tough. Some questions have nothing to do with blackjack. Some are multiple choice. Others, you have to fill in a blank. There are strict rules. All questions must be answered. Leave something blank and you are disqualified. Change an answer and you are disqualified. This year, Anthony Curtis made the highest score with 12 correct out of 21 questions.
But you don’t win simply by getting the highest score on the written test. Subsequent tests included estimating the number of cards in the discard tray, cutting cards in a deck to force a card to the dealer, naming an Indian casino in each state, memorizing as many cards as you can and counting down a deck.
Well, when all the dust settled, Darryl Purpose and WRX made it to the top two. Counting down a deck was the contest. Results were based on speed and accuracy. Darryl Purpose was in his element here as he is often credited to be one of the fastest counters on the planet. His claim to fame was being able to count a deck of cards in 8 seconds flat. Well, he didn’t break his record here as his only goal was to win and indeed he did. WRX, however, gets the second place trophy called the Munchkin Award.
For additional details on this year’s Blackjack Ball be sure to listen to the Gambling With An Edge podcast.