When it comes to blackjack legends they don’t get much bigger that Al Francesco. Al Francesco is widely regarded as the man who introduced the concept of blackjack team play and the “Big Player”, which has been used successfully by blackjack players the world over, including the famous MIT blackjack team. Francesco is a blackjack pioneer.
Like many other professional gamblers, Francesco began betting on card games when he was growing up in Gary, Indiana. He showed an affinity for various styles of rummy, and before long he was making about $5,000 each year betting on cards. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s this was a considerable amount of money. Being able to win consistently convinced Francesco that he should set his sights on card games which offered an even higher profit margin.
When Edward O. Thorp published Beat The Dealer in 1963, Al Francesco was living in California. The card counting concepts described by Thorp seemed simply enough to Francesco and he was eager to try them out at the blackjack tables. With only a basic grasp of the principles in Thorp’s book, Francesco hit the casinos. In his first blackjack session using the Thorp method, Francesco was forced to leave after just 20 minutes of play due to the fact that he had developed a massive headache. He now understood that card counting was very complex and required hours of practice and learning.
Instead of immediately returning to the casino, Francesco spent hours of practice at home. He mastered the art of counting cards and when he returned to the blackjack tables he became an unbeatable player. The casinos became aware of Francesco’s ability to count cards and he found himself being banned in one casino after another. Francesco became discouraged and quit playing blackjack for eight long years.
He knew that he had to develop a better way to play blackjack. Card counting as an individual wasn’t going to work anymore because the casinos were too smart. They shared information with one another. If you were caught counting cards in one casino the other casinos knew about it. This made it almost impossible for Francesco to make a living playing blackjack. He began to think about ways he could outsmart the casino and the concept of team blackjack play was invented.
The year was 1971 and Francesco had been mastering a new counting method created by Lawrence Revere. Francesco decided to assemble a team of blackjack players who would work together in tandem to beat the casinos at blackjack. His teams consisted of seven members. Six of these were props. Their job was to locate the tables with a high count. The other member was the Big Player. The Big Player would be signaled by another member of the team and sit down at the hot table. The Big Player would portray himself as a tourist or first-time gambler who just got lucky. This system worked very well because it fooled the casino. The Big Player did not, as a rule, count cards. They simply stepped into a table that was identified as hot by one of the other players. In addition, the other members of the team always bet the table minimum so it was impossible to identify them as counters.
Francesco would personally recruit the members of his team. Not long after he began using team blackjack play, Al recruited a young man who was a prodigy. He became one of the most profitable players to ever join Francesco’s team. The young man’s name was Ken Uston, and he wrote about his experiences with Francesco’s team in The Big Player. Unfortunately, Uston was somewhat indiscreet and could not avoid detection by the casinos. In addition, the publication of his book virtually exposed Francesco’s team. In the aftermath of Uston’s book, many players on Francesco’s team refused to work with Uston again. The team was torn apart by infighting and Francesco’s success as a team manager came to an end. Francesco did not hold a grudge against Uston, however, and the two remained friends until Uston’s death.
Because of his contributions to the game of blackjack, Al Francesco is a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. He is retired from professional blackjack now, but he does maintain an interest in sports betting and horseracing. Francesco has also used the aliases Frank Schipani and Frank Salerno throughout his long gambling career.
It can be argued that all of the successful blackjack teams who have had amazing success in Las Vegas and Atlantic City owe a debt of gratitude to Al Francesco. All of them used a system which was very similar to the one Francesco invented and all of them made millions. Francesco’s system of team blackjack play is still used today and the Big Player is still attacking the casinos. Visit http://www.alfrancesco.com for more.
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