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Blackjack Cheating Device Brought Fame but No Fortune to Keith Taft

Mar 7, 2011

The first blackjack card counting computer
Blackjack Computer

Beating the house at a game of blackjack is a long lasting dream of gamblers, many tried, but only few came close to realizing it.

The legend of Keith Taft began with a single win at a Blackjack table back in the late 1960s. Someone gave him a free deposit bonus coupon for a local casino, and he decided to try his luck at one of the blackjack card games offered there. He instantly was dealt a Blackjack and won $3.50. Taft was hooked on the game instantly – began reading works of Revere, Thorp, Wilson and others to gain an understanding of blackjack strategy.

He had problems implementing even the simplest card counting system despite understanding the strategy. The problem Mr. Taft experienced, along with most blackjack card counters, was the inability to accurately remember the count while still remembering to use the optimal strategy. At some point he always wound up making mistakes either by losing the count or hitting when he should’ve split.

No matter what memory tricks he tried, he just couldn’t beat the game. Taft never gave up. He believed the house could be beaten and intended to prove this. That’s how the idea was born of inventing the first electronic device to assist players with counting cards.

Two years later, the world’s first microcomputer powered blackjack cheating device named George came into this world, weighing fifteen pounds and the size of three ‘Advanced Mathematics’ textbooks. The device fitted around the waist, surrounded by batteries, and was controlled by switches attached to big toes inside custom made shoes.

Taft immediately became a winner, beating casinos for twelve weeks in a row at small stake blackjack games. Yet he suffered a blow, losing a significant amount of money after playing at higher limits. The uncertainty as to whether the device failed or the small time casino cheated remains unknown, but it resulted in shelving George for two years.

Fortunately his failure was short lived. Rumors began to spread about the unique device throughout the tight knit community of hardcore blackjack players. And Keith Taft was eventually contacted by a famous blackjack aficionado, and now the Blackjack Hall of Fame member, Ken Uston. Together they devised a new computer and named it ‘David’. The new device didn’t require lightning fast toes. It was operated by a small keyboard, strapped to one’s thigh.

Keith and Uston formed the first blackjack team to use ‘David’ in an organized effort to beat the casino. One member of the team only wore the device and counted, but made no bets. Another one or two members bet small and waited until ‘David’ signaled that the remaining cards in the deck were in favor of the player. At that point the team would place very large sized bets knowing that the casino is at a disadvantage.

But again failure awaited the team. The geeky looking electronics wizards who created and operated ‘David’ were not smooth talkers or Shakespearean actors, and certainly could not play the part of a high roller. Fearing broken bones or worse if discovered by casino owners, a new team was born which was made up of Keith’s friends and family.

The new team members managed to stage quite a show on the casino floor, fooling pit bosses and taking home $35,000 and $50,000 during the first two outings. Their early fears of being caught were realized soon enough. After being threatened with electrocution by the mafia enforcers at one casino, the team backed off blackjack for a while.

Al Francesco soon came into the picture, making a few adjustments to ‘David’- making it wireless. As the computer and batteries were now hidden in the shoe heels, the new device was renamed – The Frankenstein Boots. Yet again the renewed team failed to produce sufficient results, having small wins and large losses, so the boots also went dormant.

Soon after that a PBS TV show called ‘Secrets’ contacted Keith and persuaded him to wear his old buddy George to a casino where the show was secretly filmed. The show created a stir and a brand new batch of blackjack cheating devices and card counting teams was born. But that is another story.

Regardless of his failure to beat the house using his original devices, Keith Taft earned his place in history of the blackjack game and his membership in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

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