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It all began with a single hand of Blackjack played with some free Lucky Bucks. He was dealt a Blackjack, he won $3.50, and he was hooked. What did he know about Blackjack at that pivotal moment in history? Nothing. Not a danged thing. But he soon became one of the men who left their mark on the game of Blackjack, later becoming inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. His name was Keith Taft.
The $3.50 excited him. He remembered hearing somewhere that Blackjack was a beatable game and he began to devour information about the game, reading books by masters such as the mighty Edward Thorp, Lawrence Revere, Wilson and others. The Blackjack card counting method developed by Thorp made sense to him, but was bulky in the learning and remembering, and Keith Taft got the notion he could simplify the whole process of counting cards.
His first efforts to count cards by memory failed him miserably. He knew the basics but success eluded him. But he had faith, he believed that the game of Blackjack was beatable, and he intended to prove it. The inkling of an idea sprouted, borne of his job at Raytheon building circuitry. What if... just what if... he hardly dared to gel the thought. What if he could build a tiny computer that would count the cards for him, making all the necessary blackjack calculations to tell him how to play the hand?
And from that inkling, started by the gift of free Lucky Bucks and a single winning Blackjack hand, sprouted George, the world's first microcomputer. George took 2 years, 2000 solder joints, and weighed 15 pounds.
The first incarnation of George was quite bulky, about the size of three books, fitting around the waist with the batteries above it. The wearer appeared quite porky. The device was operated by switches connected to each big toe. The logic was that nobody would be paying attention to his feet, so the device would be safely hidden from snoopy casino pit bosses.
Just two years after winning his first $3.50 in Blackjack, Keith Taft, with the help of his new wired friend George, went out unto the casinos and won at Blackjack for twelve weekends in a row. The prospects were looking good until he upped the ante. He increased his Blackjack bets and immediately lost a bundle. Was it just a bad run of the cards? Or were the casinos cheating him because he was winning? No way to know, he became disheartened, and he shelved George for two years.
But he never stopped wondering whether it could have worked. By all rights it should have worked. He wrote about his experience and his Blackjack card counting invention, taking his story public. The media put their own twisted spin on it and he became the butt of many jokes. Remember, while he did win, he also lost and then gave up for awhile. So the story went out something like this: Here's a guy who built a small computer, hooked it up to his wiggly toes, which set his eyeglasses to start flashing like a Christmas tree. He then bet a bunch of money because the little lights told him to, and he lost his wad.
Okay, so the story wasn't worded quite like that ;-) I don't think they used the word "wad" or "Christmas tree". But whatever they said made people laugh and poked fun at him.
One newspaper dubbed him "The Fastest Toes in the West." But at home, there was no laughter. George was supposed to fuel his dream of being an inventor, and George had miserably failed him.
But the failure was short lived. The fame brought him to the attention of some of the greatest blackjack pioneers of all time who contacted him with keen interest in his Blackjack invention. Keith Taft teamed up with Ken Uston and a legend was borne. This time, a new incarnation of George was devised, and he was named David (after the tiny David who slew the giant Goliath).
The legality of David was of little concern. Technically, he was simply making use of the same information available to any other Blackjack player. The only difference was that he had automated it. There was no card marking, no attempts to see the dealer's hole card, nothing to mark this device as cheating. In fact, Keith's only concern was that he did not want to end up at the bottom of a river wearing cement shoes. The casinos all had Mafia connections and messing with the Mafia was akin to playing Russian Roulette with a loaded gun.
David did not use wiggly toe input. David used a small keyboard strapped to the thigh, operated by putting your hand thru a hole in your pant's pocket. (Try explaining THAT one to a Pit Boss... uh, I was just playing with... )
To utilize David, Ken Uston put together a Blackjack team rather than a single player. One person wore David, but did not bet. He signaled to the others who were the actual Blackjack players. Keith's take was supposed to be 10% with no reimbursement for the equipment. But again, the Big Wins didn't come and the whole team mutinied.
The biggest trouble was the team itself. Nerdy computer types just couldn't play the swashbuckling gambler part and just never quite fit in at the Blackjack table. Once the original team mutinied, a new team was put together made up mostly of Keith's family and friends, including his son Marty. The new team had players who put on quite a show at the Blackjack tables, drinking, laughing, and making merry without a care in the world. And they won. A lot. The first time out they won $35,000, then again $50,000.
But true to the earlier fears of the wrath of the Mafia boys, they got caught. The Mafia boys threatened to plug David's wires into a 220 outlet with Keith holding the other end. And the worst of it was they'd been losing at the time they were caught and couldn't even make bail. But the legend was borne, David was allegedly sent to the FBI who declared it not to be a cheating device, and the whole affair blew over.
They backed off for awhile, but just couldn't stay down for long. Al Francesco, who had previously worked with Ken Uston, came into the picture. They put together yet another new Blackjack team, and a few more modifications were made to David. This time he became wireless. No wires trailing up the pantleg across the crotch. One shoe acted like a remote control sending invisible signals to the other shoe and most of the guts were built into the heels. Even the batteries that operated it were put into the heels. At least platform heels were in style.
David was officially retired and his predecessor was called the Frankenstein Boots. And again, they bombed. A couple of wins, a lot of losses, but nothing to take to the bank. They figured the trouble was inputting errors, but whatever it was the end result was the same. Big money wasn't rolling in.
Ken Uston went in one direction. Al Francesco went in another. And the Frankenstein Boots went dormant again, though rumor had it that Ken was using his own version. It wasn't until a PBS show called Secrets came to Keith that the original George, the clunky Blackjack computer that wrapped around your waist, was resurrected. He wore George into a casino while Secrets filmed it. He asked the Pit Boss if it were possible for someone to secretly use a computer while they played Blackjack, and the response was: Impossible! Nobody could get past the casino security. But George did.
Another story appeared in Sports Illustrated and the Frankenstein Boots were vaulted into public fame. The rats soon came crawling out of the woodwork. Literally. A man who went by the name of Rats Cohen contacted Keith with keen interest in the Blackjack invention. He was working at the Stanley Roberts School of Blackjack teaching Blackjack wannabes how to count cards. He wanted to sell the Frankenstein Boots to his pupils for a cut of the action. For this endeavor they went back to David, the previous incarnation.
Finally, David was going to make a bundle, but not for Keith. Rats lived up to his name and stole the design, renamed it Casey, and cut Keith out of the picture. And to make it worse, the Blackjack players who bought Casey would call Keith asking if he'd fix it when it broke! What nerve!
George aka David aka the Frankenstein Boots aka Casey lived on unto a fame of its own. As recently as 2002 I found a Casey Blackjack Computer for sale in a blackjack forum for $2900. In another forum, someone said it was easier to commit armed robbery than to use the Casey Blackjack Computer. At least the gun could be used with one finger. A 2005 posting suggested that if you were using the Casey Blackjack Computer, to carry around a great big jar of Vaseline....
ABOUT THE GAME OF BLACKJACK AND POKER
The History of Gambling
The History of Blackjack
The History of Poker
The Odds of Winning
The Men Who Beat Las Vegas Blackjack
Blackjack Legends and Strange Casino Tales
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