Keith Taft (Blackjack Player and Tech Genius)

Keith Taft might be the most famous person in the blackjack world who isn’t known for playing blackjack. Taft single-handedly forced the casino industry to lobby for laws outlawing electronic devices in casinos.

I have to warn you before you read the rest of this post. I’m a big fan of what Keith Taft accomplished. I’ll try to stick to the facts and not come across as too much of a fan. But if you see a little peaking through, you know why.

The things Keith Taft did with technology, computers, and electronics in the 1970s and 1980s still amaze me. I think they’re going to amaze you too. Keep reading to learn how Taft influenced the blackjack world.

Computers, Switches, Electronics, and Machines

Keith Taft earned degrees in physics and music at the undergraduate level. He followed these degrees by earning his Masters in physics and spent five years teaching music before teaching physics for three years.

But he had a fascination with computer technology, switches, electronics, and machines. Remember, this was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This made it far before the modern age of computers. And this makes what Taft accomplished even more amazing.

He built his first device for blackjack in 1972. The first device weighed over 15 pounds and Taft wore it under his clothes when he played. He named his first blackjack device George.

His first device didn’t result in immediate riches though. Taft lost money and gave up on blackjack until 1975.

The San Jose News interviewed Taft in 1975 and ran a story about his gambling device. This drew Taft back to blackjack and he built new machines. He built machines in boots, in belts, machines worn under pants and shirts, and even developed a way to communicate with a mouthpiece the casino couldn’t detect.

Eventually, his machine became smaller and more sophisticated. And the machines helped Taft and the teams he worked with start winning.

The Blackjack Player

Taft’s fascination with blackjack started innocently enough. He took a vacation to Reno, Nevada in 1969. On this trip, he visited the Harrah’s Auto Museum, where he picked up coupons for the casino.

He grabbed a seat at a blackjack table and won $3.50. These experiences lead to a lifetime of figuring out how to beat the casinos.

At this time he lived in Mountain View, California, where he worked for Raytheon. Taft read the book Beat the Dealer by Edward Thorp and started working on his card counting skills.

Keith Taft used many different methods at the blackjack tables over the years, including card counting, hole card play, and electronic devices. You’re going to learn more about each area Taft attacked in sections in this post.

But from 1972 until 1985, Taft used computers and electronics in combination with basic strategy, counting, and hole carding. And he didn’t work alone. Taft also worked with some of the biggest names in blackjack history.

Revolutionizing Blackjack Advantage Play

At the time Taft built his first blackjack device, smart advantage players were already attacking the tables and winning using card counting. Blackjack legends like Al Francesco and Ken Uston were running blackjack teams and winning.

But Keith Taft revolutionized blackjack advantage play when he added electronics and programming to the equation. The two main areas Taft influenced are card counting and hole carding. The next two sections include additional information about these two areas.

Card Counting

To understand how important what Taft did was, you need to understand the basics of card counting. When certain cards are removed from a deck of cards, blackjack players get an edge. But they only get the edge using a perfect blackjack strategy.

This means that when more low values cards come out of the deck first, players get an advantage because the remaining cards have higher values.

Taft created an electronic device used to track the cards played and the cards remaining. This information was used to make the best strategy plays, and tell players when they have an advantage, so they can bet more.

Card counters track cards using their head. But with Taft’s devices, you don’t have to remember everything and make calculations.

Hole Carding

If you know the value of both of the cards the dealer has instead of just one card, can you beat blackjack? Of course you can. And one of the devices Taft invented helped players see the value of the dealer hole card.

The device was basically a camera installed in a belt buckle. And this device ended up bringing the Taft electronic device empire down.

Taft also developed a device to record cards as they’re shuffled or cut. The information gets fed into a computer and a player gets signaled how many hands to play and how much to bet.

Keith Taft Gets Busted

The state of Nevada made using electronic devices while gambling illegal in 1985. While some may think there were other things responsible for the ban, you’ll never convince me it was anything other than Keith Taft and his inventions.

Ted Taft, Keith’s brother, got caught using a mini camera in his belt buckle to track hole cards. The camera captured the hole card value and relayed the information to a truck or van parked in the parking lot.

They used a satellite dish to relay the information. Remember, this happened before wifi and other modern communication systems.

Ted went to the truck to change shoes and security followed him. The police came and arrested Ted and Rod, Keith’s brother-in-law. They also took Keith into custody soon after but didn’t have anything on him so they had to let him go.

Soon after this, Nevada passed the law I mentioned above. Keith Taft and his son Marty traveled to Atlantic City to use devices because they weren’t yet illegal there. But it wasn’t long before Keith Taft retired from using blackjack devices and playing blackjack.

Keith Taft and Ken Uston

Keith Taft worked with Ken Uston and some of his blackjack teams. You can read more about Taft’s partnership with Uston in Uston’s book Million Dollar Blackjack. And there’s also a fascinating interview with Taft and his son Marty Taft that includes some information about working with Uston at Las Vegas Advisor.

Ken Uston, who’s also a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, sued and won in Atlantic City to keep casinos from banning card counters. But what some people don’t know is how Uston formed and ran blackjack teams to beat the blackjack tables.

Uston had financing and blackjack players in place, so combining forces with Keith Taft and his electronic devices seemed like a match made in Heaven.

While they combined for some success, it wasn’t all perfect. And it didn’t last forever. Read the interview I linked to above and read Uston’s book for all of the inside details and secrets.

Keith Taft, Blackjack Hall of Fame Inductee

Inducted to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2004, Taft doesn’t have much in common with most other members of the Hall. He played blackjack, but not like most members. And some members wrote important books for blackjack players. Taft didn’t write any books.

But I think Keith Taft absolutely belongs in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. His computer and electronic devices were far ahead of his time. And he absolutely changed the game in many ways.

The Blackjack Hall of Fame Museum, located in the Barona Casino in California, has many pictures of Keith’s blackjack device and a pair of his computer shoes on display.

Marty Taft

Not much has been printed about Marty Taft, Keith Taft’s son. But he spent a lot of time working with his dad, using the devices, repairing the devices, and playing blackjack.

In other words, Marty Taft was involved in almost everything Keith did during his time playing blackjack and building machines.

I knew who Keith Taft was before writing this post, but I had no idea who Marty is. While researching this post I learned a lot about Marty.

The interview Richard Munchkin did I linked to above is with both Keith and Marty Taft. It’s the most complete picture of the father and son team I found. And it really shows the important part Marty Taft played during the time Keith built and used gambling devices.

Conclusion

The first time I used a computer was in 1987 when I was 16 years old. At that time, computers weren’t common, at least where I lived. Now, computers are everywhere. But Keith Taft was building computers and computer-like devices in the early 1970s.

While the devices he constructed are primitive compared to today’s technology, he was a genius in his time. And even with everything I know, I couldn’t build what Taft built 50 years ago.

If you want to learn more about beating blackjack today, Keith Taft doesn’t offer much. But he’s truly one of the giants of the blackjack world in the last century.

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