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Biography of Keith Taft

Keith Taft pioneered the use of high-tech electronics in beating the casinos. He, along with son Marty, has spent over 30 years perfecting this art.

Taft did his undergraduate studies in music and physics and his masters in physics. His tryst began when he decided to play blackjack when he received some free play coupons in a Reno casino. Taft got a blackjack and never looked back. Though Taft studied every aspect of blackjack his initial foray was a financial failure. The problem was that card counters when detected were thrown out and Taft could not count cards without being detected. Hence he decided to build a small computer to count the cards for him. In this he sought the help of his son Marty. His first computer named George built in 1972 was the size of a book, had 2000 joints and weighed 15 pounds. It fit into specially modified shoes and the cards dealt were keyed in with his toes using a special code. But it did not help him to win. His second attempt created a lighter device using microchips, which he named David. It was the size of a pocket calculator with a keyboard the size of a credit card. The keyboard was strapped to the thigh so that it could be operated with hands inside the pocket. David was tested in a casino in 1977. Because card counting now was not constrained to mental calculations very comprehensive systems were used in David. Taft made $40,000 in the first week. He used in partnership with Ken Uston. The exploits are narrated in Uston’s book Million Dollar Blackjack. Taft then went into production. David was sold like hot cakes for $10,000 a piece. Taft also trained the people how to use it. The casinos caught on and Taft was searched and the computer found on his body. But because the casinos and the FBI could not figure out how it worked, he was let off.

The father and son duo were the first to capture images on a computer. It was a miniature video camera named “belly telly” fitted in the belt buckle of the player and could also see the dealer’s hole card. The images were relayed to a satellite receiving dish mounted on a pickup truck parked somewhere close to the casino. A person read the images and through a computer worked out the optimum move and signalled it back to the player. Taft’s brother was caught with one of these devices. In 1985 the Nevada Devices Law made it illegal to use card counting machines. The penalty was ten years.

The Tafts also built Thor, a computer for shuffle tracking. The casinos had begun to shuffle cards more frequently in order to counter card counting. The next step for players was to ascertain how the cards would lie if shuffled perfectly. Another of Taft’s devices was Naina, the sequencing computer. For his pioneering work involving computers, Taft was taken in the Blackjack Hall of Fame in January 2004.

Today Taft resides on a ten-acre estate in Elk Grove California. He still pursues his passion of tinkering with electronic devices.

Thomas Johnson