Those into gambling may be familiar with the name Stanford Wong, a renowned card counter and author of numerous books on betting with an edge.
But before we talk about Stanford Wong, we must talk about John Ferguson.
The Teenage Prodigy
John Ferguson grew up like any other kid in America in the 1940s. But from a young age he had a fascination with card games. He also had a highly competitive streak and wanted to beat his classmates at all sorts of games, including tic-tac-toe.
When Ferguson was just 12, one of his friends from school introduced him to blackjack. He was instantly hooked.
Ferguson enjoyed the simplicity of blackjack, but also felt there was a lot more to the game than there first appeared. So he set about calculating the odds on various hands to try and find a way to beat the dealer.
There was still one big problem for Ferguson though. At only 14 he was seven years shy of being able to legally gamble in a casino in the US. So instead of testing his skills out at the tables, he set about learning everything he could on the subject of blackjack and gambling. That included studying Ed Thorp’s great text, Beat the Dealer.
Ferguson eventually finished top of his class and earned a scholarship to Oregon State University. While at University he finally turned 21 and was able to step foot in a casino.
Early Gambling Days
Ferguson decided that on his first visit to a casino in Reno, he would use Ed Thorp’s 10-count system. That was the system he felt would be most reliable. He started with a $300 bankroll and quickly won $150 playing $1 to $4 tables.
The early wins were enough to get him hooked on the game and he started spending a lot more time at the casinos. He was still pursuing his studies, however his real passion was gambling and understanding the maths behind the games.
For a period of time in the late 1960’s, Ferguson had to give up gambling all together. He had began teaching at Oregon State University and had a lot less time on his hands. Following that, before he was drafted into the Vietnam War.
Upon returning home, he started a new chapter in his gambling life.
Ferguson was keen to build a bankroll so he threw everything he had into blackjack. It’s been said that he won more than $100,000 in only a few months upon his return to the US.
It was around the same time that he started working on his first book, titled Professional Blackjack. The book was an extensive guide to card counting and included more advanced techniques.
Knowing that if he revealed his true identity the casinos would quickly ban him from play, he decided to use a pen name. He came up with Stanford Wong to hopefully throw them off the scent. Stanford Wong’s book was a huge hit in the gambling world and continues to sell well to this day.
One of the techniques made famous in the book is called ‘Wonging’. The technique is when players will bet less and actually spend more time watching other players. When the shoe is partially dealt and the odds are in the player’s favour, then you jump in and place large bets.
This is how many blackjack teams operate. They use different members of the team to track the count on each shoe, and other large bettors come in and actually place the bets only when they have the odds in their favour.
Finding An Edge
Over the years Ferguson studied many other casino games, and ‘Stanford Wong’ wrote more books on how players could find an edge.
He published books on dice games and craps, which controversially suggested that players can use controlled dice throwing techniques to gain an edge over some games.
Ferguson has looked at video poker and would track the payout rates of various machines and models. Doing so allowed him to look for opportunities where they are overdue for a win based on how they were manufactured.
In Sharp Sports Betting, he looks at how you can gain an edge in sports and simple techniques that can help. One such example is the first game of a new season. When a team returns after an extended break, it’s often the underdog that wins and the prices don’t incorporate all of the changes that have taken place over the off-season.
In another venture, he looked extensively at tournament blackjack, and built a computer analyser to examine the various strategies that could be used. He tested them thoroughly with a team of gamblers over many years.
Ferguson also developed bj21.com in 1996, which was a pioneering website that covered all elements of blackjack and professional gambling. It remains extremely popular.
Eventually – and perhaps inevitably given the success of his books – Ferguson’s true identity was outed. It made it virtually impossible for him to continue to play at casinos around the world.
Ferguson was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2002 for his contribution to professional gambling.
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