Ian Andersen

The clandestine nature of card counters is paramount to their success. No one knows this better than professional blackjack player Ian Andersen. Up until the publication of his first book, Turning the Tables on Las Vegas (1976), hardly anyone knew he existed. Now, he’s a shrine to the gambling profession, and an elite member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

Ian Who?

Writing a biography isn’t easy work. Hours upon hours of research go into such manuscripts, digging to the very bottom of a story to present a panoramic scope of the subject’s fascinating life. In the case of Ian Andersen, the job is curiously difficult, and that’s just the way he wants it.

You see, Ian Andersen has myriad qualities that have made him one of the world’s most successful professional blackjack players, but the most profound among them is him surreptitious character. While traversing the casinos of Las Vegas and beyond for untold years, Ian managed to avoid any limelight or notable mention by following a specific skillset.

His proficiency in mathematics plays a leading role, of course, but he doesn’t just invoke strategy amidst the cards. Andersen strategizes against the entire casinos and each of the staff members he encounters by including aspects of psychology and mental positivity. Even in situations where the house is acting unfairly, despite Ian being well aware of his right to protest, he maintains his calm, knowing that acquiescence is better in the long term.

The one thing most experts can agree on is that Ian Andersen is not his real name. It is merely the pen name he used to author a pair of renowned books—Turning the Tables on Las Vegas (1976) and Burning the Tables in Las Vegas (1999)—both of which are considered to be some of the most sagacious texts ever written on the subject of blackjack.

It is speculated that Ian Andersen is an extremely well educated man with numerous doctorate degrees, and is a dexterous trader of stocks. As you may have guessed, to maintain his anonymity, he did not attend the ceremony for his honored induction to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2012, nor has he ever appeared at Max Rubin’s annual Blackjack Ball.

Turning the Tables on Las Vegas

In 1976, a new blackjack strategy guide appeared on the shelves of local bookstores. It was called Turning the Tables on Las Vegas, authored by Ian Andersen. It wasn’t exactly an instant best seller since, up to that point, no one knew who this guy was, but as more people began reading the book, its popularity soared—as did the desire to learn more about the author.

Ian’s book taught some of the most amazing things that previous texts rarely even touched on. Yes, card counting and basic strategy was involved, but more importantly, Andersen taught readers how to avoid being detected by casinos. He showed people how to play and win like a professional, while exuding the façade of an amateur.

The strategic system taught by Andersen is now entirely out dated. Anyone looking to enlighten themselves as to the wily ways of card counting would do better to find a more recent publication. But the material on camouflaging your professionalism is still recommended as a must-read for gamblers to this day.

Burning the Tables in Las Vegas

After publishing his first book, Ian Andersen went underground for more than two decades. He was neither seen nor heard from, at least not that anyone knew of. Finally, in 1999, he reemerged with the publication of a second book, entitled Burning the Tables in Las Vegas. This time, Andersen’s approach was to teach new blackjack players how to rise to professional status without being noticed.

Andersen finally revealed a bit of information about himself in the Introduction of the book. He states that he spent the last many years between publications continuing to play high-stakes blackjack and other casino games with advantage play qualities. He acknowledged that he averages at least 500 hours and 50,000 hands per year, investing his winnings and managing a strong portfolio.

The Dedication also revealed a bit of information about his covert background, like the fact that his passion for the game was derived from reading Edward Thorp’s Beat the Dealer (1962). He also bestowed his thanks upon theoretician, Peter Griffin, and Lawrence Revere, who “convinced me that I could make a decent living from the game”. Whether that conviction came by way of a personal relationship or by delving into Revere’s renowned book, Playing Blackjack as a Business (1969), is unclear.

Of worthy note, all of the above mentioned names belong to professional blackjack players who would also go on to earn a place in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

One of the most interesting strategies Ian wrote about in his second book was a systematic technique he called S-O-F-T-E-N. This practice deals with the psychological and mental soundness of the player, not to count cards, but to ease the minds of casino staff that may otherwise label them a dangerous card counter.

The term S-O-F-T-E-N stands for:

S = Smiling
O = Open Posture (arms and legs uncrossed)
F = Forward Leaning
T = Touching (briefly and lightly)
E = Eye Contact
N = Nodding while Listening

Andersen says these qualities, when practiced and mastered, give players a heady advantage over the casino staff, helping to develop lasting and respectful relationships.

He also touched on the importance of maintaining control, discipline and a positive attitude at all times. Ian wrote of a particular situation in which the dealer dealt a hole card to herself needlessly. He had two hands, one a blackjack and the other previously busted, but the dealer continued to deal herself another card anyway, and it happened to be a 10.

Andersen pointed out the mistake, and said that the 10 should be his first card for the next hand. The pit boss intervened saying the card must be burned. Andersen politely said that since the fault was not his own, he should be given the choice of keeping the card, rather than being penalized for the dealer’s mistake. He asked for a ruling from the shift boss, who agreed with the pit boss, citing it was “state law” to burn the card.

Andersen knew very well that wasn’t true, but instead of arguing he consented, thanking the shift boss and pit boss, and even going so far as to say that the error was totally understandable and not the dealer’s fault. In doing so, he may have lost a great card for the next hand, but he gained something much more important – the respect of the staff and renewed longevity of the game.

Blackjack Hall of Fame

Ian Andersen was first nominated for the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011, but the honor was instead bestowed upon worthy opponent Zeljko Ranogajec. The following year, Andersen’s name appeared on the ballot once more, and this time he won. Never one to give away his true identity, he did not attend the ceremony.