Don Schlesinger is a blackjack aficionado, card counter, mathematician, educator and the world’s most profound authority on advantage play. The author of Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pro’s Way, some of the foremost strategies that appear the book may not have originated with Schlesinger, but he has perfected and polished them in a way no one else could. His edifying wisdom, including the introduction of the “Illustrious 18” card counting indices, earned him a spot in the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2014.
The Scholar Becomes the Educator
Born in New York, Don grew up with a superior level of intelligence that was evident from a young age. As an early teen, he was already diligently studying the intricacies of probability theory; in particular its application to casino gambling and sports betting.
In 1962, when Edward Thorp published the first authoritative book on card counting, Beat the Dealer, Schlesinger snatched it up and read it cover to cover, along with any other texts he could find on the subject of game theory. That’s when Don began focusing his studies most heavily in the direction of casino 21.
Oddly enough, despite his estimated proficiency in such matters, it would be many years before Don made his way to any blackjack table. In the meantime, young Schlesinger was busy continuing his education, earning a B. S. in mathematics from City College of New York, then going on to City University of New York where he graduated with an M. A. and M. Phil. in French.
All the while, Don continued to learn about blackjack game theory, reading the exceptional strategic texts of Lawrence Revere (Playing Blackjack as a Business, 1969) and Stanford Wong (Professional Blackjack, 1975), both of which are now members of the esteemed Blackjack Hall of Fame alongside Schlesinger.
After finishing his scholarly lessons, Schlesinger went on to become an educator, teaching mathematics and French within New York City’s public school system. It was around that time that he finally made his way to Las Vegas to test out all of the knowledge he had been absorbing since he was a teenager.
Unlike most Blackjack Hall of Famers, who were over-confident and thus destroyed by Vegas in their initial attempts to count cards, Schlesinger had spent so much time studying game theory and advantage play that he actually did well for himself from the start. But his most important role in the gambling community was as an educator to other players.
He began letters from the blackjack community asking about the application of his strategies, and never one to turn down a mentoring role, Don did his best to answer them. The most studious way to do it, however, was to publish the answers for the public, rather than answering the same questions over and over individually. That’s when he teamed up with another future Hall of Famer, Arnold Snyder, who had been running his own periodical, Blackjack Forum, since 1980.
Snyder offered Schlesinger a column in his magazine to respond to the questions of players who sought his knowledge. Not only did he respond, he delved deeply into each inquiry, and while Blackjack Forum’s audience was a small one, it gave the gambling community a whole new outlook on the game.
From 1984—the same year Don changed jobs, transitioning to a role as Executive Director of an astute investment bank on Wall Street—to 1996, he contributed to more than 50 issues of the periodical. For the last several years of his involvement with Blackjack Forum, Stanford Wong encouraged Schlesinger to compile all of his knowledge and professed strategies into a single text, and he finally did.
Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros’ Way
In 1997, Don Schlesinger authored one of the most insightful and enlightening books the blackjack world have ever known. He called it Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pro’s Way, but admitted that the name was derived from his editor’s request for a “snappy” title that would grab the attention of readers. He said a more appropriate title might have been, Blackjack: The Finer Points.
Unlike just about every other manifesto on the subject, Don’s book is not a resource for wanna-be card counters. It does not explain blackjack rules or offer page after page of basic strategy charts. This book did something no other book had ever done, detailing those “finer points” of the game and giving expert advice that even the most experienced blackjack players could—and still do this day—appreciate.
With that said, Blackjack Attack probably shouldn’t be the first book a novice player reads, but it should definitely become an early edition to their library.
The Illustrious 18, SCORE and Floating Advantage
One of Schlesinger’s most famous philosophies is known as the “Illustrious 18”. Having studied card counting indices intensively, he came up with just 18 indices that impact a player’s edge significantly enough to be worth following.
Don was responsible for the introduction of SCORE (Standard Comparison of Risk and Expectation). By using his SCORE method, players have been able to compare blackjack games under specific circumstances and come up with an optimized evaluation of advantage play for different scenarios.
He also developed what’s known as the Floating Advantage, which designates the advantage for players in carrying a true count deeper into the shoe.
All of these techniques and philosophies are detailed in Blackjack Attack.
Blackjack Hall of Fame
Don retired from investment banking in 1998, one year after publishing Blackjack Attack, finally able to focus his full attention on family, as well as playing blackjack and educating others in the ways of advantage play. His superior knowledge has been referenced and/or acknowledged by well-known authors of three dozen other blackjack books.
In 2014, Schlesinger was inducted to the Blackjack Hall of Fame for his multitude of contributions to the game, including research and edification of optimal betting strategies, back counting, advantage play, risk analysis, card counting system comparison, camouflage and team play.
To this day, Schlesinger still plays blackjack, mostly in Las Vegas and the Caribbean, but as a devoted family man, he now only makes a few trips a year. He also continues to host lectures as one of the finance industry’s most respected consultants.