Stanford Wong was born in Georgia in 1943 and his real name is John Ferguson, but he is better known by his pen name. He is most famous for his gambling book, published in 1975, called Professional Blackjack.
His family moved around a great deal when he was young, but eventually settled down in Beaverton, Oregon. As a young man his passion was solving puzzles; any puzzles would do. As long as there was an algorithm to be devised, he was happy. Following on from High School, be enrolled at Oregon State University, gaining Batchelors and Master’s degrees in business administration. After graduating he became professor of mathematics at the university but found the role insufficiently challenging so in search of excitement and adventure he embarked on a military career which included tours in Vietnam.
Wong discovers Blackjack
He returned to civilian life after two years, returning to his studies. This time he enrolled at Stanford University for a PhD in Finance while also taking on teaching duties. Those were magic days at Stanford. It had been discovered that Blackjack was a game that could be won consistently by playing an advantage game counting cards. Edward Thorp had published his classic Blackjack strategy book “Beat the Dealer” in 1962 and it was that book that inspired Wong.
Soon he was making substantial gains from the game of Blackjack, applying Thorp’s strategies and devising his own algorithmic approaches to the game. He was earning far more at blackjack than he was from his role as a professor, so he minimised his university duties taking a huge drop in salary in order to devote more time to gambling.
Wong’s new approach to winning at Blackjack
Wong achieved all this by building substantially on Thorp’s strategies. When Thorpe published his book on card counting, casinos typically used a single deck of cards. This was easy to read, and accounted for the early success of several card counting teams. But casinos were able to counter this in several ways. To foil the card counters they began using multiple decks in a blackjack shoe. They also stopped permitting players to double down on any two cads and hitting soft 17. This had the effect of undermining Thorp’s strategies to the extent they were no longer profitable.
Publication of Professional Blackjack
It was during this time that he penned “Professional Blackjack”. Realising that authoring a book that showed people how they could routinely win at blackjack would make him unpopular with casino owners everywhere, he chose to publish it under the pseudonym Stanford Wong. It became a best seller, and is still a favourite amongst professional blackjack players.
It was the changes casinos made to the game that were addressed by Wong’s approach. He devised new counting techniques and mathematical analysis of each of these changes. He also employed another of his passions, computer technology, to create “Blackjack Analyser” to help him analyse these variants.
Blackjack mid-shoe entry and the practice of “Wonging”
His techniques relied on entering a blackjack game after analysing it for some time and determining that the remaining shoe had a positive count. He could then enter the game and make consistently high bets with a considerable advantage over the casino. This was called mid-shoe entry and, following the publication of his book, was adopted by many blackjack players. The technique became known as “Wonging”, though many casinos neutralised the strategy by banning mid-shoe entry to the blackjack tables.
Wong followed up the publication of the book with a blackjack newsletter called “Current Blackjack News” which is still published. The newsletter runs to 70 to 80 pages and lists just about every blackjack table in every casino across the US. Each table is analysed for the casino edge, the number of decks in a shoe, the cut, minimum and maximum stakes, and specific table rules. Even individual dealers are sometimes commented on. If any blackjack players wish to select the best table for their games, “Current Blackjack News” is essential reading.
Wong’s Blackjack tournament team
In 1985 Wong put together a blackjack tournament team consisting of five male and one female highly talented blackjack players. Their target was blackjack tournaments where they could make money quickly. Unlike other blackjack teams such as the famous MIT team as featured in the movie “21”, by playing only in tournaments they were able to avoid spending months grinding away counting cards at blackjack tables. Their target extended further than blackjack too; craps, keno and handicapping tournaments were all fair game. They were amazingly successful and gained the reputation as being the most successful legal gambling team in history. Within two years they won eight major tournament prizes raking in almost half a million dollars.
Wong on dice control in craps
One of Wong’s more controversial theories is that the game of craps can be controlled by developing specific skills at throwing dice. He equates the necessary skills with those needed to hit a golf ball from a tee on the golf course. He claims that at one time he was able to win using these techniques, but he has now lost his ability to do so. This was the subject of his latest book published in 2005 called simply “Wong on dice”.
A quiet retirement in publishing
Currently he lives with his wife in La Jolla, California. He spends much less time in casinos than he used to, now he occupies his time doing other things including writing and publishing his own and other writers’ books through his own Las Vegas based publishing company called Pi Yee Press.