Don Schlesinger

Don Schlesinger is a blackjack player with a career that spans that last 30+ years. He's probably best known for his book Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way. He was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2014 for his contributions to the study of the game.

This page provides an overview of his career as a blackjack expert and author.

Don Schlesinger Biography

Schlesinger was born in New York City, where he went to City College of New York and earned a bachelors degree in math. He later earned masters degrees in French from the City University of New York.

He started playing blackjack in 1975 in Las Vegas, and he learned to count cards in 1976 after he read Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere.

Until 1984, he taught math and French in the New York City public schools, but he became an executive director at a Wall Street investment bank.

Could it be that the same set of skills that makes someone an effective advantage gambler contributes to the success of executives in the investment banking community?

We're convinced that it could.

He retired from investment banking in 1998 and now concentrates his career on the study of getting an advantage at the game of blackjack. The game had always been a hobby for him; now it's probably more of an avocation.

Blackjack Contributions

Schlesinger is best known for studying and publishing information about the following blackjack topics:

  • Back counting
  • Camouflage
  • Comparing card counting systems
  • Floating advantage
  • Optimal betting
  • Risk analysis
  • Team play

He created the "llustrious 18", which is a condensed set of card counting indices. He also created the Desirability Index and the Standard Comparison of Risk and Expectation (DI and SCORE, respectively). These are methods of comparing games in different situations.

He's also collaborated with a large number of blackjack experts, including the following:

  • Arnold Snyder
  • John Auston
  • Karel Janecek
  • Katarina Walker
  • Norm Wattenberger
  • Peter Griffin
  • Edward Thorp
  • Stanford Wong

He's contributed to Blackjack Forum magazine and to Viktor Nacht's Advantage Player website, and he's been mentioned in the following books:

  • Basic Blackjack by Stanford Wong
  • Beyond Counting by James Grosjean
  • Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder
  • Blackjack Autumn: A True Tale of Life, Death, and Splitting Tens by Barry Meadow
  • Blackjack Blueprint by Rick Blaine
  • Blackjack Diary by Stuart Perry
  • Blackjack Essays by Mason Malmuth
  • Blackjack for Blood by Bryce Carlson
  • Blackjack: Play Like the Pros by John Bukofsky
  • Blackjack: A Professional Reference, the Encyclopedia of Casino Twenty-One by Michael Dalton
  • The Blackjack Zone by Eliot Jacobsen
  • Bootlegger's 200 Proof Blackjack by Mike Turner
  • Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Andersen
  • The Doctrine of Chances: Probabilistic Aspects of Gambling by Stewart N. Ethier
  • Dynamic Blackjack by Richard Reid
  • Extra Stuff by Peter Griffin
  • Finding the Edge: Mathematical Analysis of Casino Games by Olaf Vancura, Judy A. Cornelius, and William R. Eadington
  • Frugal Video Poker by Jean Scott
  • Fundamentals of "21" by Mason Malmuth, Lynne Loomis
  • Gambling 102: The Best Stratgies for All Casino Games by Michael Shackleford
  • Gambling for Winners: Your Hard-Headed, No B.S. Guide to Gaming by Richard Stooker
  • Gambling Theory and Other Topics by Mason Malmuth
  • Get the Edge at Blackjack by John May
  • Hollywood Blackjack by Dave Stann
  • Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura, Ken Fuchs
  • Legends of Blackjack by Kevin Blackwood and Larry Barker
  • Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways by Andrew Brisman
  • Modern Blackjack by Norm Wattenberger
  • Play Blackjack Like the Pros by Kevin Blackwood
  • The Pro's Guide to Spanish 21 and Australian Pontoon by Katarina Walker
  • Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong
  • Repeat Until Rich by Josh Axelrad
  • Risk and Reward: The Science of Casino Blackjack by N. Richard Werthamer
  • Silver Fox Blackjack System by Ralph Stricker
  • The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic by Richard Arnold Epstein
  • You've Got Heat by Barfarkel

Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way

Don Schlesinger is best known for his book Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way, which is in its 3rd edition. It's not a cheap book'even a paperback copy costs $30 new, and good luck finding a used copy for less than $25. Amazon describes Blackjack Attack as the most important blackjack book since Ed Thorp's Beat the Dealer, which is high praise indeed when you consider that Beat the Dealer is the origin of all this card counting hub-bub to begin with.

Customers at Amazon have interesting things to say about the book, too. One customer called Schlesinger the #1 world authority on blackjack, and he went on in his review to compare Blackjack Attack with other blackjack books like The World's Greatest Blackjack Book, Beat the Dealer, Theory of Blackjack, and Burning the Tables in Vegas, and he determined that Blackjack Attack is the best of the bunch.

Blackjack Attack focuses on answering the mathematical questions about blackjack that his readers often ask. These mostly relate to the topics mentioned above—risk analysis, team play, optimal bet sizing, etc. Answering questions is how Schlesinger got started writing about blackjack. According to an interview with Ready Bet Go, he began by answering letters one by one. This was before the Internet, so the letters were written on paper and everything. That led to him writing a regular column, "The Gospel According to Don", for Arnold Snyder's Blackjack Forum. Those columns were eventually expanded into Blackjack Attack.

According to that same interview, Schlesinger observed that his book Blackjack Attack just plain contains a lot of information about the game, the math, and getting an edge that can't be found anywhere else.

The Illustrious 18 is the one concept that Schlesinger is best known for. He first wrote about that in a September 1986 article for Blackjack Forum titled "Attacking the Shoe!: A Revealing Study of the Relative Gain Available from Using Basic Strategy Variations for the Hi-LO System in a 4-Deck Game". One of the discoveries he points out in that article is that index numbers contribute little to player win rates.

We should pause to point out what "index numbers" mean in the context of counting cards. Most people are aware now that card counters gain most of their advantage from raising the size of their bets when the deck is rich in aces and tens.

But there's another aspect to counting cards:

Basic strategy changes based on the count.

For example, in some situations where you would normally hit but might stand if the count was at a certain number. That number is called an "index number".

"The Illustrious 18" identifies the 18 most important basic strategy changes you can make according to the count, in descending order of how much it adds to the player's expectation. The insurance index, by itself, accounts for 1/3 of the entire potential gain to be had from counting cards and adjusting your strategy accordingly. In fact, the first half of the chart (the top 9 numbers), accounts for over 83% of your potential gain.

Some card counters have memorized over 100 different index numbers. Schlesinger's discovery made ti clear that you could memorize far fewer index numbers and give up very little in terms of expectation versus the casino.

What We've Learned about Blackjack from Don Schlesinger

One of the quotes from Schlesinger's interview at Ready Bet Go that stood out to us was his reply to a question about how many other blackjack books he reads. He pointed out that he reads a lot of them, but he warns that there's a lot of junk out there. In our opinion, that's even truer of the Internet than it is of the blackjack books that are in print.

He also points out that math skills are useful to a card counter, but counting cards isn't calculus. Practice is probably more important than a large formal math background. It's just arithmetic. You have to be able to do it quickly.

We discussed it earlier, but when he explained his "Illustrious 18" concept, he clarified that you don't have to learn 50, 100, or 150 different index numbers. More than 90% of your edge can be gained just from the top 12 index numbers on his "Illustrious 18" list. That's an important distinction to make. Less time spent memorizing index numbers means more time spent playing and winning.

SCORE (Standard Comparison of Risk and Expectation) is a concept that Schlesinger introduced that enables advantage players to compare different blackjack games in various situations in order to estimate their advantage play potential relative to each other.

Floating Advantage is a concept he developed that estimates how much of an advantage a player has when carrying a true count deeper into the shoe.

These three concepts are explained in detail in his book Blackjack Attack:

  1. The Illustrious 18
  2. SCORE (Standard Comparison of Risk and Expectation)
  3. Floating Advantage

Conclusion

Don Schlesinger, like most other members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, is a giant in the field. His book Blackjack Attack, now in its third edition, is one of the most accurate and information-packed tomes on the subject. The concepts that he's responsible for popularizing—The Illustrious 18, SCORE, and Floating Advantage—are all huge contributions to the field.

What's next for Schlesinger?

We don't know, but we do know this—even if he offered no further contributions to the world of blackjack knowledge, he's ensured himself a place in the hall of fame for years, and probably decades, to come.

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