James Grosjean – The Blackjack Pro Who’s Too Good for the Blackjack Ball

by Michael Stevens
on December 2, 2018
6

Minute Read

Blackjack is filled with legendary players who’ve crushed casinos and furthered strategy. Some of these greats include Bryce Carlson, Al Franceso, Tommy Hyland, Peter Griffin, and Edward Thorp.

Many more blackjack pros have followed these players’ footsteps to win profits. And despite casinos improving their methods for catching advantage players, there are still numerous blackjack pros working the tables today.

But which of these pros is the world’s best?

Some blackjack players ponder this question when thinking about all of the good card counters, shuffle trackers, and hole carders out there.

And the best way to determine the world’s best player is the Blackjack Ball. This annual event sees players compete in a number of blackjack-related competitions to see who rises to the top.

The Blackjack Ball is certainly a competitive event when considering how the game’s best players are invited. But the absolute top player is somebody who’s not even invited to compete.

James Grosjean is so good at blackjack that he’s been banned from the competition so others have a chance. This single fact makes him one of the most-fascinating gamblers in the world.

I’m going to dive into Grosjean’s interesting background, while discussing his Blackjack Ball dominance, how he’s made millions through advantage play, and other details about this gambling icon.

Who Is James Grosjean?

Despite his impressive gambling feats, James Grosjean is far from a household name. In fact, countless poker pros are better known than Grosjean, despite not making nearly as much money.

Grosjean’s most-notable accomplishment from a public standpoint is writing the 2000 book Beyond Counting: Exploiting Casino Games from Blackjack to Video Poker. This work details advantage play in blackjack and a number of other casino games.

Grosjean became interested in blackjack when he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. He applied math from his economic studies to quickly learn card counting and making a living through it.

But Grosjean has gone beyond simply becoming a professional gambler. He’s one of the best minds to ever sit at a casino table.

The Harvard grad has made a fortune playing casino games. He must keep a low profile while doing so, which is a big reason why the general public has no idea about him.

What Is the Blackjack Ball?

The Blackjack Ball is an underground event that invites over 100 people who are great blackjack players and/or have made big contributions to the game.

Those invited come from all around the world to attend this event. And the attendance list doesn’t just include professional gamblers, but also top business executives and even billionaires.

The common thread that brings them together is that they’re excellent blackjack players. Many of the invitees still earn a living through the game.

This makes it no surprise that the Blackjack Ball is held in a secretive Las Vegas location every year. After all, the pros don’t want casinos to spy on them and find out their identities.

Simply being invited to the Blackjack Ball is a feat in itself. Attendees must be nominated by a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and also approved by a separate committee.

Forbes writer Nicholas G. Colon in 2016 and made a number of interesting observations. He was fascinated by the high level of security, which included a 7-foot high steel door and armed guards asking for IDs.

The heavy security and secretive location make the Blackjack Ball more than just a gambling gathering. It’s also a meeting of great minds, many of whom have had success in other walks of life.

Grosjean Dominated the Blackjack Ball — Now He’s Banned from Competing

Max Rubin, a 49-year gaming industry veteran, invented the Blackjack Ball as a means of bestowing the World’s Best Blackjack Player title.

This competition sees players answer complex questions revolving around blackjack and gambling in general. The questions include both non-technical and math-based problems.

The player who performs the best wins the Grosjean Cup. This alone shows what Rubin and other peers think of Grosjean’s blackjack abilities.

The only problem is that Grosjean himself can’t compete in the Blackjack Ball. He was barred from the competition in 2010, because he placed first or second place every time.

His performances have earned him the highest praise from the event’s founder.

“In all the years I have thrown the Blackjack Ball,” said Rubin, “when success is measured as function of skill, will, and focus no one even comes close to Grosjean.”

James Grosjean Has Made a Fortune Through Card Counting & Other Advantage Play

It’s incredible that Grosjean is so good at blackjack that he’s not allowed to compete for the title of World’s Best Blackjack Player. But casual observers may be more interested in all the money that he’s won off casinos.

Journalist Michael Kaplan documented Grosjean’s through a 2017 piece. And he found that Grosjean plays with a much higher edge than the average blackjack card counter.

“They are the equivalent of salamanders and I am a fully formed human,” he said while scoffing at the average blackjack pro’s edge.

Many successful card counters never gain above a 1.5% advantage. But Grosjean has used his brilliant mathematical mind to increase his blackjack edge beyond this.

He creates proprietary computer programs that help him take casinos for way more profits than most pros. Grosjean also uses an advanced form of holecarding, which involves finding blackjack dealers who tilt the hole card up just enough to where a savvy player sees the value.

“Holecarding is difficult for casino personnel to police,” he said. “For that reason they tend to be reactive.

“And there are plenty of times in which I am spotting the dealer’s cards and the casino has no clue as to what is going on.”

Grosjean and his team have won up to $225,000 in a single night through hole carding.

They’ve also found particularly bad dealers who enabled them to make up to $100,000 in a single hour.

While Grosjean is a master at hole carding and making advanced blackjack systems, he’s also made a fortune off other games too. This includes “carnival games,” which have such high house edges that players are advised to stay away from them.

Some of the carnival games that he’s crushed include Mississippi Stud, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, and Bacalette — a card game that mixes in roulette elements. Kaplan also noted how Grosjean’s team destroyed a game that offered a combination of craps and cards.

“Casinos feel that anyone who plays carnival games is an idiot,” Grosjean explained. “Those games have high house-edges, people rarely win big on them; and when they do win big, they dump the money right back. Casinos did not take those games seriously”

Grosjean uses advantage play techniques in games that aren’t commonly considered prime suspects for winning profits. This includes holecarding in three-card poker and Caribbean stud.

“If you see all the holecards at three-card poker, you are playing at a 30percent advantage,” he said. “If you see all four hole cards at Caribbean stud, your edge is more than 60percent.”

Considering the edge that he’s developed through his keen eyesight and mathematical abilities, Grosjean can make big profits on a regular basis. But he also needs to have the right games in order to do so.

When he finds a juicy table game — namely one where the dealer exposes the hole cards too often — he pours hours into exploiting it.

“The most successful people in this business are the ones who work hardest,” he explained. “If someone called me now and said there is a great game somewhere, I could very likely be on a plane, heading there, in three hours.”

Grosjean’s profession sometimes involves heading to casinos in the middle of the night based on a hot tip. This is why he claims to “never be off” his job.

Grosjean Is Revered for Taking Down Griffin Investigations

Grosjean has already become a legend for his impressive advantage play exploits, writing, and Blackjack Ball titles. But he’s also lauded by the gambling community for defeating Griffin Investigations.

This private investigation agency made a name for itself by systematically taking down the MIT Blackjack Team. Griffin Investigations employed PIs to identify team members so that they could be blacklisted from casinos.

The agency continued pursuing card counters after their victory over the MIT Blackjack Team. But it was Grosjean that stopped them and won a victory for advantage players everywhere.

Grosjean was caught using advantage play techniques at both Caesars Palace and Imperial Palace (now Linq). And Griffin Investigations played a key role in exposing him.

He and his gambling partner, Michael Russo, took the matter to court. They sued Imperial Palace for $599,999 over illegal detention and won.

The duo sued Caesars Palace and Griffin Investigations for defamation of character for wrongly accusing them of being cheaters. Caesars Palace was ordered to pay $25,000 each to Griffin and Russo.

A judge ordered Griffin Investigations to pay $15,000 to Russo and $10,000 to Grosjean. The combination of legal fees and losing the lawsuit caused Griffin to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Casinos still have plenty of ways to identify and catch card counters. But they lost the use of a dedicated agency when Griffin Investigations went bankrupt.

Conclusion

The Blackjack Ball invites some of the world’s greatest minds to compete in the premier blackjack competition. And Grosjean is so good at both math and blackjack that he’s won top honors multiple times.

This proves that he’s exceptional among the exceptional when it comes to blackjack. He’s also developed an acute ability to spot hole cards in a variety of games.

Grosjean has even found ways to beat casino games that are seemingly safe from advantage gambling, including Caribbean stud, pai gow poker, and three-card poker.

This puts him in the conversation for the world’s greatest gambler. It also means that Grosjean has made millions of dollars in his gambling career.

He and his team boast of having earned $225,000 in a single night and up to $100,000 in an hour. The average American doesn’t make $225,000 in 3-4 years, let alone in one night.

Grosjean’s profits are what aspiring advantage player’s dream of making. That being said, you can take note on how skillfully he uses hole carding to win big.

You can also use his illustrious gambling career as motivation to beat the casino yourself.

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