He might not be a household name like Chris Moneymaker, or Stuey “The Kid” Unger, but to those who follow gaming, and more specifically the history of gaming, Keith Taft is famous. An inventor by trade, Taft was elected to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2004, and rightfully so. Taft for all of his lack of recognition is widely recognized as creating the first Blackjack computer as well as the first computerized Blackjack Card Counting System to aid in beating the house in Blackjack. His story is of note and one worthy of further discussion.
While likely a product of both nurture and nature, Taft’s genius did not start to become evident to anyone beyond him and his family until 1970. It was during that year that Taft, at the time an engineer for Raytheon, first started building what would later become the world’s first Blackjack specific computer. While the story has been told on many occasions and does not warrant retelling in great detail, Taft’s invention, a computer he nicknamed George, revolutionized the world of Blackjack and gaming at large. Almost unrecognizable to the gamblers and computer enthusiasts of today, Taft’s computer was worn on his stomach, and through a mixture of LED lights and rudimentary controls (Taft controlled his device with his toes) was able to assist him in playing Blackjack. While Taft’s initial computer was somewhat limited and ultimately led to him losing money and temporarily quitting Blackjack, the initial computer set the stage for a career and life long Blackjack innovation spree.
If Taft’s only accomplishment was the aforementioned Blackjack computer that he began working on in 1970 and used for only two short years that alone would likely be enough for him to garner entry into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Luckily for the gambling world, Taft did not rest on his initial laurels and refused to let failure in the way of losses deter him from Blackjack innovation. Resuming playing after a two year hiatus, Taft began to study the world of card counting, a renowned strategy that if done correctly allows a player to more or less predict when he or she will be most likely to beat the house. Initially counting cards manually, Taft eventually created a small computer named David, that used microchip technology, and hidden video cameras to aid in the counting of cards at the Blackjack table.
From the devices’ inception in 1977 to 1985 when the device was ultimately discovered on his brother in a casino and banned, Taft’s miniature card counting device allowed players to win incredible sums of money playing Blackjack. In legendary gambler, Ken Ushton’s book, “Million Dollar Blackjack,” it was said that Keith Taft won over $40,000 in his first week using David to count cards. Once again, if Keith Taft’s contributions to casino style gambling had stopped here, his place in the history of modern gambling would be well earned.
Still, not one to rest on his previous laurels, Taft continued to innovate in the world of gambling. Prior to his death in 2006, Taft created two other devices that continue to play an important role in gambling to this day. A computer system he nicknamed, Thor, was created for the purpose of tracking dealer shuffling. After Taft’s earlier system, David, helped to make card counting easier and more mainstream, casinos caught on and began shuffling Blackjack decks midway through games to make card counting nearly impossible. Taft’s Thor system, was created to help keep track of the newly reshuffled cards and allowed players yet another advantage over the house in Blackjack. A fourth, and final device known as Naina was also developed by Taft to aid and abet Blackjack players.
Keith Taft’s impact on the game of Blackjack and gambling as a whole cannot be overstated. His devices and more importantly his ideas have assisted Blackjack players in winning untold sums of money, and helped change the way casinos do business and view Blackjack. While many grapple with the ethical considerations surrounding the controversial practice of card counting, and Las Vegas style casinos have adapted a harsh punitive stance towards those who engage in the practice, few grapple with Keith Taft’s contributions to gaming. Proclaimed by many to be the “Inspector Gadget,” of gambling, Taft’s legacy and contribution to Blackjack and gambling at large will live on for years to come, and likely will never be forgotten.