A Guide to Blackjack Film and Literature
Blackjack is without a doubt, one of the most well-known and widely played card games in the world. We have seen blackjack in popular culture for over a century, whether it’s being played in some old tavern in a 1930’s spaghetti western or its mathematical premise being broken down and analysed in literature. It fascinates us. In recent times, we have seen Hollywood plots focused entirely around the game of blackjack. And why not? It’s the classic battle of good versus evil. The average Joe underdog taking on the might and muscle of the establishment. Throw in the glitz and glamour of a high stakes Las Vegas casino and you have the recipe for one hell of a blackjack film. That being said, we are very pleased to bring you the definitive guide to the greatest blackjack movies and some of the best blackjack books ever written.
The Best Blackjack Movies, and Honourable Mentions
There have been many great movies about blackjack over the years, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to our top picks. When choosing the best blackjack film, we took into account the film’s success, blackjack’s role in the story and its overall legacy. You can see our best ones to watch below.
Stacy’s Knights (1983)
A cult favourite among card counters, Stacy’s Knights tells the story of Stacy, a down on her luck novice blackjack player and Will, a 28-year-old card counting genius who team up to beat the casino. At first, the couple is on a hot streak but it’s not long before the casino steps in and evens the score. This leaves Stacy with no other choice than to return to the casino with one thing in mind – sweet revenge in the form of cleaning out the casino’s coffers.
Starring Kevin Costner and Andra Millian, this blackjack film set the benchmark for later establishments in the genre by cashing in on the ‘us versus them’ trope of the ongoing struggle for dominance between the casino and the player. No matter who you cheer for, this movie is a thrill-ride. Especially if you appreciate a good 80s vibe and some cheeziness to boot!
Inspired by the true story of the MIT blackjack team, 21 pits six MIT students managed, by ambitious maths professor, Kevin Spacey against Vegas casino boss Laurence Fishbourne. With millions up for grabs, this tale of brains vs. brawn is set in glamourous Vegas setting. But be warned, not all is what it seems when push comes to shove and our protagonists find themselves in the position of disgraced guests, alienated by the man who got them into this mess to begin with.
Look out for the sneaky cameo appearance from real MIT Blackjack team member Jeff Ma, upon whom the original story is based, and enjoy this reimagined real-life story that turns the tables on the ‘casino versus player’ setup with an intriguing twist. Whether completely real or not, this movie packs a punch with a twisted blackjack backstory and an excellent cast.
Rain Man (1988)
By far the biggest critical success, award-winning juggernaut Rain Man roped in four Academy Awards including Best Picture in 1988. With $3 million in the balance, Hollywood royalty Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise travel cross country on a trip that ends up changing both their lives.
Fall in love with the autistic Raymond, played by Hoffman, and be dazzled by some of the greatest card counting scenes in blackjack film history, for instance, when Raymond hits on a hard 18 and, unsurprisingly, busts. Nevertheless, his penchant for numbers shows the complexity of card-counting and shows the true potential when someone who’s a maverick with digits finds themselves sat at the casino table.
The Hangover (2009)
Three friends on a Vegas stag-do have the most un-memorable night of their lives and must fight tooth and claw to find the lost groom. Follow their shenanigans around Sin City, complete with a tiger, a baby and Mike Tyson in tow. Making a whopping $467.5 million at the box office, The Hangover, starring Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, is one of the greatest Vegas movies of all time, also responsible for two successful sequels.
It’s got all the glam, the recklessness and the swagger of Las Vegas nights against the backdrop of the most iconic casinos in the world. And while blackjack only plays a minor role, it is one of the best scenes in the entire film as we witness the eccentric Alan (Zach Galifianakis) transform into a card counting genius.
Holy Rollers (2011)
If you like the sound of card counting Christians utilising ‘prayer’ as a strategy, you need to check out 2011 comedy – Holy Rollers. As hilarious as it is bizarre, the film follows the rise of one of the most well-funded blackjack teams in America consisting entirely of churchgoing Christians. Not exactly a box office success, the blackjack movie has gone on to achieve cult status for its unique take on the balance between Christian values and high stakes gambling.
The Cooler (2003)
An under-the-radar Vegas romance classic starring William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin revolving around card game tables, roulette wheels and of course, blackjack. The Cooler sees lonely casino worker Bernie Lotz (Macy) with the innate ability to jinx gamblers around him into losing. Bernie’s life starts to pick up when he starts dating attractive waitress Natalie (Mario Bello) much to the dismay of casino boss Shelly (Alec Baldwin).
There are many different casino movies where the central plot revolves around blackjack or that have some incredible blackjack scenes. As with any listing for the top blackjack films around there are always some that do not quite make the cut. Below you will find a collection of our honourable mentions that are also worth checking out.
The Best Blackjack Books Ever Written
Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the game or you’re interested in discovering gripping stories from famous blackjack players who became millionaires. We’ve put together the most comprehensive list of the best blackjack books ever written. You can check them all out below.
Beat the Dealer – Edward O.Thorp (1966)
Widely considered as the father of card counting, Edward Thorp’s Beat the Dealer is the origin story of all modern card counting techniques. Written in a ‘teach yourself how’ format, Thorp succeeds in bringing a well-researched topic directly to the masses, without getting bogged down by peer review. Thorp explains his innovative point system which has been widely adopted by professional players all over the world.
The book has sold more than 700,000 copies, and this New York Times Bestseller quite literally changed the game with casino managers everywhere scurrying on the defence as they came under attack from a horde of amateur blackjack card counters. A must-read for any budding blackjack player, Beat the Dealer is the ultimate self-starter manual.
Blackjack Attack – Don Schlesinger (2005)
Blackjack hall of famer Don Schlesinger brings serious blackjack players an in-depth guide to some of the most advanced card counting techniques ever written. This book is most definitely not aimed at beginners. Schlesinger skips over many of the basics which fill most blackjack books and instead focuses on explaining some of the game’s most intricate notions such as his now famous ‘Illustrious 18 indices’ or the oft-misunderstood ‘floating advantage’.
Are you a blackjack pro with some burning questions? We won’t give anything away here, but Blackjack Attack is widely considered as one of the best blackjack books ever written for professional players – so you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.
The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book – Lance Humble (1980)
The ‘World’s Greatest’ and ‘Humble’. Three words you don’t expect to see in the same line but we can let it slide – this book is amazing. Sometimes referred to as the ‘blackjack players’ bible’, it is one of the earliest books to provide in-depth strategies outside of just card counting. For instance, how to choose which casinos to target, what conversational tones and body language to adopt with the dealer and when to get the hell out of there. In addition to this, Humble provides you with one of the most detailed explanations of the Hi-Opt One card counting system initially developed by Charles Einstein in 1968.
If you’re expecting a comprehensive guide to all of blackjack, The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book is probably not for you, but it still holds its merit as of one of the best guides to playing not only in the US (Atlantic City specifically) but also worldwide.
Million Dollar Blackjack – Ken Uston (1982)
Accepted to Yale at the tender age of just 16, prodigal son Ken Uston went on to become one of the most successful card counters of all time, until one day he spoiled it all and wrote a book. Uston was one of the first players to exploit the team card counting game but nearly destroyed it all when he revealed exactly who all his team members were in his first book titled ‘The Big Player’.
Banned from every Casino in the US, Uston fought for the rights of card counters everywhere and eventually overturned his ban in court and essentially made it legal for players to count cards in casinos. A true hero of our time. Million Dollar Blackjack is the definitive story in what is one of the most popular blackjack books ever written.
Theory of Blackjack – Peter Griffin (1979)
Probably one of the most influential blackjack books ever not written by an experienced blackjack player. As the title suggests, Theory of Blackjack brings a much more scientific take on the card game. Credited for his humorous easy-to-read writing style, Griffin founded two of the core concepts in modern card counting including the Betting Correlation (BC) and the Playing Efficiency (PC). His enormous contribution to the game is shown by the respect he held from other blackjack legends such as Edward Thorp, and was culminated in 2003 when he was posthumously inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
Blackbelt in Blackjack – Arnold Snyder (1983)
Blackjack Hall of Famer Arnold Snyder takes the game to a new level with hisBlackbelt in Blackjack book. Written for the hardcore professional player, Snyder reveals his own tips and tricks for those looking to win real money. Prepare yourself for a judo-chopping 21-chapter course on how to defeat blackjack, touching on all his favourite card counting systems. Snyder has been an avid blackjack player and educator all his adult life and you can see that wealth of experience come through in this one.
Our best blackjack book selection is merely the tip of the iceberg. Whether you are looking for a deeper understanding of the complex methods of card counting or looking for true accounts of professional blackjack players making millions, there is something for everyone. We have compiled a selection of what we believe are the best. However, if your thirst is still not quite quenched, we have put together our honourable mentions and you can check them out below.
Blackjack’s Role in Popular Culture
From Las Vegas to Atlantic City, Monte Carlo to Macau, the glitz and glamour of casino gambling has always fascinated us. The shiny lights, the extravagantly dressed patrons and that get-rich-overnight feeling. Whilst blackjack may not have played as big a role in popular culture as casino games like roulette and poker – reference every James Bond movie ever – it has always been the everyday man’s casino game. Perhaps it is because the game is easy to understand and play. Or maybe it’s the human test of nerve drama in action that it serves when compared to games based almost entirely on luck, such as roulette and slots. In recent years, movies about blackjack have seen a rise with films such as Rain Man and 21 seeing both commercial and critical success. In literature the theme remains the same – blackjack is a contest between a man’s wits and the greedy, money-making, casino machine. With countless tales yet to tell, there’s no doubt that blackjack in popular culture will continue to see a steady rise in the future.
There you have it, the handpicked guide to the best blackjack books ever written and movies about blackjack. Whether you are just starting out or an experienced player looking to expand your knowledge, we would highly recommend this introduction to blackjack online. Keep practicing and who knows, maybe we’ll be writing a review on a blackjack movie or book about your conquests one day. If you are interested in learning more about the online casino industry, check out this guide to online casinos in the UK.