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al-francesco-230514Al Francesco

Al Francesco was an original inductee to the blackjack hall of fame. While he is no longer with us he left behind a wealth of knowledge and insight for aspiring players.

Al Francesco was one of seven original inductees to the blackjack hall of fame in 2006. While he didn’t invent card counting, without his work it likely never would have become the blackjack staple it is today.

Francesco developed the concept of team play and mentored Ken Uston, also one of the greatest players ever. While he is no longer here to give advice to aspiring players, here is some of the wisdom he left behind.

Learn to count cards

Mastering blackjack basic strategy is crucial to becoming a successful player. Unless you know when to hit, stand, double down, split or surrender you’ll never get very far. While it is necessary to becoming a pro, it isn’t sufficient.

Basic strategy players still face a house edge of .5 percent, meaning that will lose some of their money even if they play their cards right. In order to consistently beat the house, one needs to learn to use a card counting system.

Francesco first became interested in card counting after reading Ed Thorpe’s Beat the Dealer in 1963. Recognizing that this was the only way to consistently win, he started learning to count and never looked back.

Today he is revered as one of the foremost pioneers of counting. He didn’t invent the concept, but his impact is almost as great as those who did.

Practice at home

Most aspiring players are impatient and want to start playing blackjack in a casino immediately. This “learning on the job” is unwise because for most players it involves losing a lot of money.

After some tough evenings as a beginner blackjack player, Francesco was humble enough to go back to the drawing board. This meant countless hours spent at home working through drills designed to improve knowledge of strategy and recognition of cards.

Al recounts a moment from the beginning of his blackjack career in 1963:

“The first time I counted cards, I got a headache within twenty minutes. It was an extremely tough system. I thought I was ready for it, but I wasn’t. I went home and studied some more, and then when I went back I was ready and could keep up with any dealer.”

Back in Al’s day there was no such thing as the internet and one had to hunt for resources on blackjack tips and tricks. Players have it much easier now, and the internet provides a wealth of free information. There are even free-to-play online and mobile blackjack apps available for players to learn the trade before moving on to live casino play.

Bankroll management

This is a blackjack tips few beginning players think about but is crucial to having long-term success in the game. It boils down to managing your bet size in relation to the size of your bankroll in order to minimize “risk of ruin.”

Ruining means running out of money, the worst thing that can happen to any gambler. The first rule is that the bankroll should be large, usually around 50-100 times the minimum bet. The second is that wagers should increase or decrease as the bankroll fluctuates.

Francesco learned this the hard way as a young gambler: “I was making $10 and $20 bets. It was a high. I lost $200 and ran out of money. I ran home to get some more, but by the time I got back the game had broken up.”

Bringing a bankroll worth only 10-20 times the bet size turned out to be insufficient. A string of back luck can quickly ruin a player lacking proper financing.

Never stop learning

This is without a doubt the most important lesson that Al Francesco’s wisdom can teach an aspiring blackjack professional. The game is full of nuances. The more one learns, the more one realizes how little he knows about the game.

Always keep striving to learn new strategies for beating the house. A blackjack hall of fame player like Francesco didn’t get there by talent alone. He spent days, months, years plying the trade. Each time he had an unsuccessful night at the casino, he went back to the laboratory to figure out what he could do better.

Francesco was one of the original pioneers of card counting during the 1960s and 70s. When casinos started to wise up to him and change the games to make his techniques obsolete, he developed new innovations to keep winning.

That’s how Francesco’s world famous team play concept came about. Casinos started to develop techniques to sniff out individual counters. The team play concept got around this by using “spotters” and “big players.”

Spotters would count while flat betting in order to avoid detection. Once the count became sufficiently high they would signal over to the big player, who would come in and lay down large bets, taking advantage of the count.

He originally introduced fellow hall of famer Ken Uston to the concept of team play. Francesco is arguably the most impactful blackjack player ever, and his lessons are just as valuable today as they were decades ago.