Stanford Wong - Blackjack Champion
John Ferguson, better known by his pen name Stanford Wong, is a very well known author who has written a variety of gambling related books. The book that sold the most copies thus far is, Professional Blackjack, but he wrote several other popular ones as well.
Stanford Wong didn't just write about blackjack, but he actually played it too. He created a plethora of unique card counting strategies that helped him win thousands of dollars from the casinos over the course of his career. To learn more about the books he wrote, the techniques he developed, and to see why he was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame, please feel free to read his extended biography.
Before "Stanford Wong"
Although John was born in Georgia in 1943, that isn't where he would consider his home town to be located. His family moved several times when he was younger, as both of his parents found it difficult to hold a job for very long. The family finally settled in Beaverton, Oregon by the time John was ready to start kindergarten. His teacher taught the class how to play tic-tac-toe, and John became obsessed with finding the best possible strategy to beat his classmates. No one in his class, including the teacher, could beat John at a game of tic-tac-toe, and he was very proud of that fact.
John was a very competitive individual who would get very frustrated if he didn't win. He enjoyed family game nights, if he won every game they played. He enjoyed playing card games with his friends, but he would obsess over every detail of the game to ensure that he would win. When he was twelve years old, one of his friends introduced him to blackjack. He immediately started calculating the odds to see which hands would produce the best opportunity to beat the dealer.
By age fourteen, John believed he had developed a basic strategy for playing blackjack that was almost guaranteed to produce him a win. Since he was confident about his blackjack playing abilities, he longed to go to a casino and try out his techniques there, but he was years away from being old enough.
Some people would have acquired a fake id or found another way to sneak past the security at the casinos, but that wasn't John's approach. Instead, he chose to read as many books as possible on the subject including Edward O. Thorp's, Beat the Dealer. He wanted to learn as much about blackjack and card counting strategies as possible before he set foot in the casinos.
Since John was still quite a few years away from being twenty-one, he decided to pour his time and energy into his school work. He excelled in almost all of his core classes, eventually graduating at the top of his class. He was awarded a generous scholarship to attend Oregon State University, which he happily accepted.
The day came when John turned twenty-one, and he was finally old enough to enter the casinos legally. John and several friends from school travelled to Reno to step foot in a casino for the first time together. John decided to use Thorp's 10-count system at the tables, as after he thoroughly researched different card counting strategies, he deemed that one to be the most reliable.
John had $300 in his bankroll, and was impressed with how quickly he was able to earn $150 through playing $1 to $4 minimums. This initial success, got John hooked on blackjack for life. He spent most of his weekends at the casinos, using the money that he won to pay his way through grad school. Although he applied to Harvard University and had his mind set on going there, he was rejected and had to turn to plan B. He stayed at Oregon State University, earning a Master's Degree but having very little school debt to show for it thanks to his card counting abilities.
John started teaching at Oregon State University immediately after graduation; he enjoyed teaching and loved his students but it gave him very little time to go to the casinos. Over the course of these two years, he gave up gambling completely, he married his high school sweetheart, and he was finally ready to settle down and start a family.
In 1968, he was drafted by the Army in order to serve in the Vietnam War; his whole outlook on life changed when he returned home nearly two years later. John immediately enrolled at Stanford University to pursue a Ph.D. in Finance, as he had a burning desire to be successful and make a lot of money.
Introducing Stanford Wong
To keep his mind off his life-changing experiences in the war, John spent more time at the casinos, playing blackjack every spare moment he had. Rumor has it that he won over $100,000 during his first couple months back. It was around this time that John started writing his first book titled, Professional Blackjack. Just a few weeks before John was ready to submit his finished work into the publisher, he thought about how much he enjoyed playing blackjack at the casinos. He knew that if his true identity was linked to the books that he would get barred at every casino he visited.
There were moments within these two weeks that John thought about not publishing this book altogether, but at the end he knew he wanted these secrets to be made known to the public. After much contemplation, John decided he needed a pen name, so that the casinos wouldn't correlate his success at the tables to the strategies he wrote about in his book.
Initially he was interested in using the name Nevada Smith, but he later found out that someone was already using it. He settled on the name "Stanford Wong," because he was attending Stanford University at the time and because he liked the idea of using a name that was associated with a different ethnicity than his own. This would throw off anyone who might suspect him of being the man behind the book.
By the time he finished the first edition of the book in 1975, it was over 350 pages long and contained over one hundred supplementary tables. Many copies of this resourceful book have been sold worldwide. In an interview with Rick Swogger in 2005, John commented on the sales of his first book, "I'm really not sure how many copies of Professional Blackjack have been sold. The interesting thing about that book, unlike most books in publication, is the fact that sales have grown every year. Most books have a big spike at introduction, and then taper off slowly. Right now it is selling at about 5,000 copies a year, so I would guess in thirty years it has sold probably 50,000 to 100,000 copies."
One technique that John explained thoroughly in his book is now known today as "wonging." Wonging focuses on players making less bets, spending more time watching their opponents, and calculating the odds of winning in their head. When it becomes apparent that the odds are in their favor, players are encouraged to jump in and place large bets with confidence.
Soon many people started applying this technique to the tables, but the casinos were determined to strike back. They introduced a new rule called, "No Mid Shoe Entry," which basically meant that players could not just jump into the game whenever they please. Unfortunately, this made "wonging" almost impossible.
Other Books Written by Stanford Wong
"Stanford Wong" is the author of many highly recommended books. In order from least to most recent they are: Winning Without Counting (1978), Blackjack in Asia (1979), Tournament Blackjack (1987), Tournament Craps (1987), Professional Video Poker (1988), Optimal Strategy for Pai Gow Poker (1990), Basic Blackjack (1992), Casino Tournament Strategy (1992), Betting Cheap Claimers (1992), Blackjack Secrets (1993), Sharp Sports Betting (2001), and Wong on Dice (2005).
John started playing in blackjack tournaments at the Hilton Hotel and Casino in 1985. He thought a tournament would be an excellent way for him to put his latest device to the test. He had recently developed a computer program named, "Blackjack Analyzer," which he used to calculate his odds of winning based off of the cards dealt to him. This machine made it possible to calculate these odds faster than ever before.
He encouraged several of his friends to join the tournament too, offering to pay some of their entry fees. In doing this, he only asked for a small percentage of their winnings; the exact percentage depended on how well he knew the player.
John's team met ahead of time to go over different scenarios that they might run into while playing, so that each team member would know the optimal way to approach a situation in order to earn the highest amount of money in the smallest amount of time. Some teammates used the Blackjack Analyzer, while others used different approaches recommended by John. His teammates included Ernie Amore, Anne Amster, and Dave Douglas to name a few.
John would evaluate his actions and compare them to the actions of his teammates. The purpose of having a team was so that he would have more data to analyze the best strategies that can be used when playing blackjack in various tournament formats. As you may have already guessed, John used this information to write his book, "Tournament Blackjack."
"We played together for about two years, at that point we no longer came across different formats, and I had gathered enough information for the book. I no longer have the records, but our team won something in the low six figures. I personally won only a nominal amount; I was not the star of our team when it came to actually playing tournaments."
Currently, John has no intentions to write any more gambling related books at this time, but instead wants to focus on editing and publishing other writer's book through his own publishing company: Pi Yee Press. He has already published books by Tino Gambino, Bob Nersesian, and several other authors.
More Blackjack Related Endeavors
John and his family moved to La Jolla, California; it's located just outside of San Diego. They have one daughter and one son, both of which are college graduates now. The family has taken many trips together, visiting a wide range of countries including Korea and the Philippines. He made it a point to play blackjack at every country they visited, teaching his children how to play once they were of age.
John launched the website called, BJ21.com in 1996. This website is filled with the latest information on blackjack and other casinos games, advice on how to manage your bankroll, and details on the best card counting techniques. Visiting his website provides you with the opportunity to purchase any of the books he has written and any books that have been published by Pi Yee Press.
What made BJ21.com stand out among other sites that were available during this time is that it contains both a free message board and a membership message board where people could exchange information about blackjack with ease. This website, his many books, and his innovative card counting methods is why John was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2002. This was an esteemed honor, as he was one of only seven members to be inducted that year.
In 2006, "Stanford Wong," was asked to join the CBS Sports television program, The Ultimate Blackjack Tour (UBT). The Ultimate Blackjack Tour is a series of blackjack tournaments that take place in Aruba, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Paris. John was honored to be able to travel to different parts of the world and compete against other types of players. At the end of the season, those who qualified participated in an ultimate competition to see who would become the Ultimate Champion for that season. Unfortunately, "Stanford Wong," didn't make the cut.
Ever since his true identity has been leaked, it has become more difficult for John to remain unnoticed at the casinos of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. When the Golden Nugget casino was under new ownership, they stopped John at the craps tables and warned him not to return ever again. Some players who have read his books started approaching him at the casinos, thus exposing his identity and causing him to get thrown out. Due to these reasons, he now spends less time gambling and more time with his family.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: July 2016
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