Al Francesco – The Godfather of Blackjack

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Al Francesco

Blackjack Hall of Fame Al Francesco was born as Frank Salerno (Schipani) on December 2, 1933, in Morgantown, West Virginia. He is widely recognized as the creator of the “team play” concept, the “big player” strategy, and the “drop card method“. His innovative strategies and techniques revolutionized the game of blackjack and earned him the title of “The Godfather of Blackjack”.  In 2003, because of his long and lasting influence on the game, he was one of the seven inaugural members elected into the Blackjack Hall of Famenow a 501-c3 non-profit organization that honors the greatest blackjack experts, authors, and professional players in history. Al Francesco passed away on February 4, 2024, at the age of 90.

Early Life

After moving to Gary, Indiana at an early age, Al Francesco was drawn to gambling and card games. By his late teens (19-21), he was already honing his skills in neighborhood games of Greek Rummy and other games. His talent for the game was evident, and before long, Francesco was winning regularly. Eventually, he was earning about $5,000 per year – then the equivalent to a regular job’s annual salary at the time.  Thus, a career in advantage play began.

“If you’re committed to being a professional gambler, and you want to be the best you can be, you spend every waking moment trying to figure out a way to beat the game.”
Billy Walters interview
“No one exemplifies this more than Al Francesco.”

Richard Munchkin: Author of Gambling Wizards

The Birth of a Legend

In 1963, Al Francesco moved to California and in that same year, Edward O. Thorp’s book, “Beat the Dealer” was published. This ground breaking book demonstrated with mathematical proof that card counting could overcome the casinos’ advantage in blackjack.1)As long as you were not cheated on.  Al Francesco has reported many instances of dealer cheating during his early blackjack playing days.  He has commented that he believes he was knowledgeable enough to catch most of the cheating moves… but not all of them.  After much study and practice, Francesco found consistent success at the single deck blackjack tables using Thorp’s 10 Count System for card counting. During this time, he was mostly playing in Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos. However, because he was winning so frequently many casinos began harassing and barring him from their blackjack tables.  Disillusioned, he stopped playing blackjack for about 8 years.

A Better Way to Play

Francesco was always looking for a better way to play.  What got him back to the tables was the introduction of 4-deck shoe games and Lawrence Revere’s new Advanced Point Count system, which he started using.  But he had the same problems with the casino harassing him with this method.  The story goes that he was watching his brother, a small-stakes card counter, betting $1 and $5 on vacation in Lake Tahoe.  Casino’s typically don’t bother with you if you are betting low stakes.  Each time he saw his brother bet $5, Francesco would back it with $100.  If his brother lowered his bet to $1, Francesco would stop betting.  Ah-ha…. a “better way” to play!

Al FrancescoThe Big Player Strategy

Beginning in 1971, Francesco personally recruited and trained disciplined card counters to work together in teams to beat the casinos around the world. It has been reported that his teams won millions. Francesco’s teams of blackjack players would station themselves at various blackjack tables to count the decks, and when the mathematical odds turned in their favor, the counters would signal a big player to come to the table and place large wagers.  When the player advantage disappeared, the big player would move on. Francesco’s unique team concept helped his players evade detection and continue winning. At its peak, Al Francesco’s team was taking casino trips with up to 22 members, including individuals such as Ken Uston, Bill Erb, and Blair Hull.

Legacy

In 1977, after team member Ken Uston published a book called “The Big Player” which exposed the group and their methods, Francesco and his associates were largely barred from casinos, and the team fell apart. Although he personally retired from serious professional play until the 1990s, Al Francesco’s system of team blackjack play lived on. It was adopted and replicated with great success by the MIT blackjack team, the Czech team, the Hyland team, and the Greeks team. Francesco’s methods were featured in the book Bringing Down the House, and in the 2008 Hollywood film 21.

During the 1990s, Francesco joined Arnold Snyder’s short-lived blackjack team called CRAPS.  According to Francesco, the CRAPS team didn’t make any money after a year or so but it inspired him to form an ace-sequencing team which supposedly did much better.

His innovative strategies and techniques continue to influence the game of blackjack, and his legacy lives on in the hearts of blackjack enthusiasts around the world.


From Gambling With An Edge

IMAGE CREDIT: BlackjackHallOfFame.com

SOURCE CREDITS: [ BlackjackHallOfFame.com ] [ ARCHIVE:  alfrancesco.com ]  [ WIKIPEDIA: Al Francesco ] [ WIKIPEDIA: Blackjack Hall of Fame ]  [ 21 Snyder Radical Blackjack 285 ] [ ARCHIVE:  blackjackbomb.com/al-francesco/ ]  [ INTERVIEW: Richard Munchkin ] [ PODCAST: Aug 26, 2011 ] [ OBITUARY: Legacy.com ]

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1As long as you were not cheated on.  Al Francesco has reported many instances of dealer cheating during his early blackjack playing days.  He has commented that he believes he was knowledgeable enough to catch most of the cheating moves… but not all of them.

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