Uston's initial blackjack education stemmed directly from the work of Edward Thorpe, and Lawrence Revere. He mastered Revere's Advanced Point Count, and went on to develop several card counting systems of his own, including the Uston Advanced Point Count and the SS Count.
Ken and his teams played blackjack in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and around the world and earned millions of dollars in blackjack profits. The team members played literally thousands of hours in the casinos and amassed a combined playing expertise unrivaled in the world. They developed, through experimentation, study and computer analyses, previously unknown approaches to the game, advanced techniques, and new ways to maximize blackjack profits.
In January, 1979, Ken and his team beat Resorts International in Atlantic City for $145,000 in 91/2 days of playing. This led Resorts to bar Ken and other players from playing blackjack, the first time in the short history of New Jersey gaming that such an action was taken.
Ken challenged the legality of the exclusion of skilled blackjack players. He told Harry Reasoner on "60 Minutes" in 1981, "Basically I am just using skill in a casino. I'm not cheating, I'm not doing anything other than trying to use my brain. And the fact that I'm not allowed to play bothers me. It would be as if Bobby Fisher not allowed to play chess, or Pete Rose not allowed to play baseball, or Charles Goren isn't allowed to play bridge. And I like to play blackjack and I feel that in a way my skill is-effectively hampered me in this profession, and it's unusual. Sort of against the American Way."
Claiming violations of the public accommodations law and his civil rights, Uston's first actions were filed against the Las Vegas Dunes and Sand's in 1975. Similar cases were filed against the Flamingo Hilton, Holiday, Las Vegas Hilton, Marina, MGM, and Silver City in June 1976. Ken sought $85 million in damages. After the New Jersey Casino Control Commission allowed casinos to eject card counters in 1979. Uston sued the Commission. In 1982, the State Supreme Court ruled that barring card counters was illegal. But the Casino Control Commission tightened the rules to make it more difficult for the card-counter to win.
Ken wrote several books on his experiences and his strategy. "The Big Player" chronicles his first assault on the House. In "One Third of a Shoe" Ken describes the exciting caper of organizing and administering the team that beat Resorts International, and which contains basic and intermediate instruction on how to beat the casinos at blackjack, both in Atlantic City and Nevada..The Blackjack Bibles, "Million Dollar Blackjack" & "Ken Uston on Blackjack "detail practically everything Ken knows about blackjack. They include basic strategy, simple and advanced counting systems, and the tumultuous story of Ken Uston's experiences.
The Ken Uston story has been printed in hundreds of newspapers in New York, Atlantic City, San Francisco, Las Vegas and elsewhere. Ken was featured on the cover of the "New York Times Magazine" and on the front pages of the "International Herald Tribune" and the "Wall Street Journal" in an article entitled,"Has System Bettor An Inalienable Right To Beat The House?" . The magazine articles written about Ken include "Playboy," "Newsweek," People Magazine," "Sports Illustrated," "Time Magazine," "Money Magazine," and the "Saturday Evening Post."
Ken appeared on over one hundred radio and television shows, both nationally and internationally including"60 Minutes," with Harry Reasoner, "The Mike Douglas Show,"the Merv Griffin Show, "The Today Show with Tom Brokaw," "The Tomorrow Show' with Tom Snyder, and a David Hartman Special (ABC) entitled "Gamblers: Winners and Losers" starred Ken in a $50,000 blackjack match at the Horseshow casino in Las Vegas, where Ken won before a national audience.
Along the way, Uston became fascinated with computers and video games. He was a game addict. He wrote nine books entitled "Ken Uston's Illustrated Guide to Adam, the Apple 11e, the Commodore 64, the Compaq, IBM PC, IBM PCjr, Kaypro and the Macintosh. He became an expert at beating the top video games such as "Pac-man", "Asteroids" and "Space Invaders". He played PAC-MAN on television with Merv Griffin, David Frost, and Jane Pauley. His "Mastering PAC-MAN " was on the nations best-seller list. His books on video games established him with major electronic manufacturers such as Coleco and Atari. They gave him their newest games to test before releasing them to the general public. Ken designed his own computer games, including games about Blackjack and Poker (released by Coleco).
Ken taught blackjack seminars at his "Uston's Institute of Blackjack." He marketed and distributed teaching materials and videos. He started "Fun and Games, Inc., which developed easy-to-understand computer guides and created state-of-the-art computer software. Being constantly restless for a challenge in 1985, he accepted a consultant job in South Africa to determine the cause of why their Sun City Casinos were losing money. He went undercover, discovered the problem and was back home within 30 days writing about it. He wrote a screenplay about his exploits and planned on making a movie based on his life.
In 1986 ,the government of Kuwait recruited Ken as a consultant. He worked for the Minister of Finance, advising the government on how to put in a computer system to keep track of Kuwait's enormous investments around the world. Estimated at $80 billion, it was the largest investment portfolio in the world. He found the job interesting and extremely challenging. "There was billions of dollars dropping between the cracks due to inefficiency. I was shocked at the lack of controls over government wealth and that the largest portfolio in the world has virtually NO management information or controls. " At one point he told his boss that he could not help them and would return to the U.S. unless things were changed (they were).
Amid severe political and international tension in the region, and extreme circumstances at work, Ken was forced out of Kuwait completing his assignment and being told that "he could leave". A place that he did not want to go to in the first place, he was ready to depart, but also reluctant to say goodbye to the special people he befriended. It had been a culture shock. An incredibly intriguing life altering experience but he longed for freedom. He longed for a cheeseburger and bacon, which were forbidden at the Hilton, his residence, along with activities such as playing music, dating, drinking, or until recently dancing. Most importantly he missed a fun -spirited atmosphere in which to live. He wrote that when he returned to Kuwait after a weekend away it felt as if he was returning to prison.
Ken left Kuwait in August 1987 to retreat in Paris, France with enough stories to write a book. At his favorite outdoor caf he wrote "An American in Kuwait", his 15th book. He enjoyed relaxing and taking in the sights of Paris. "It was one of the most relaxing times, with my favorite moments being playing piano at the corner jazz club with the band and going to The Cathedral of Notre Dame. Five weeks later, on September 19th he was found dead in his apartment. His plan was to leave Paris soon, to travel to Rio de Janero before coming home to the States returning to his long time home, San Francisco.
Ken communicated with his family and close friends that often he felt as if he was being
spied on or followed.. Because of his trusting and genuinely open-hearted nature, Ken made a lot of friends. Due to his highly publicized life in blackjack and the sensitive nature of his business abroad he also made some enemies. Ken wrote in Kuwait, everyone here is worried about war, evacuation and if the airport will be bombed. At the embassy parties that I attend I am warned to have my passport, cash and other measures to leave Kuwait in place in case of an emergency" Ken wrote. "I fear for my life, always checking behind me."
The Hilton had surveillance cameras installed in the various entrances and elevators. The eye-in-the-sky was still watching Ken. "I invariably reminisce on my blackjack days when I had to donn a disguise in order to play", Ken reflects. "The casinos barred me but I played anyway. The Griffin book eventually gave me away. I have run in to hostility, made some enemies in South Africa, now here in Kuwait, I am an American who looks like a Jewish guy from New York, employed for a year to work for the Minister of Finance in a war zone. The Basra Crisis is 60 miles from me".
To this day we do not know what happened in the end of Ken's life. It would take investigation to prove a conspiracy theory. Foul play in his death was ruled out, and the French authorities did not investigate further. Family members claimed the body in Paris, and an autopsy was performed which concluded that he died from heart failure. Ken was cremated at Pere Lachese, and his ashes are scattered in the San Francisco Bay.
It is a shame that he was taken away from us. There was so much more life for him to live. Children, grandchildren, and a family that loves him. He would be fascinated with the communication super highway and could have succeeded along with Apple and Microsoft. Ken was looking forward to publishing his book "An American in Kuwait"and returning home to the San Francisco Bay Area to be back with family and friends. The technology Age was upon him and exploding...
Ken's hobby of writing books would have spurred many opportunities as the 1990's and new millennium approached. He is known to have predicted in the 1970's the wave of the future in computers. "My little Apple computer" will advance to a level of refinement in which we will be able to play games and music, watch movies, and pay bills. And it can be portable. Everything at our fingertips."
Ken's family and friends miss him, "It doesn't seem possible that we have been living for 17 years without him now, he'll forever remain in our hearts and mind, an intense memory etched forever ". He was a brilliant, beautiful, giving, generous human being with extraordinary character and talent. Thanks to the prolonged interest in blackjack, and to the MIT guys who beat the House, Ken's legacy lives on. "I'd like to think that Ken is still alive, playing blackjack in disguise, out-witting the casinos, but if you believe in God,
heaven and hell, then you know that he is in the Casino in the Sky and the Jazz Festival in the sky with Erroll Garner today.
Copyright 2009 by BAUM PRODUCTIONS. No reprint without permission