Among professional blackjack players, Keith Taft was known as an electronics genius who devoted more than 30 years of his life to creating high-tech devices to beat the casinos. Keith, alongside his son Marty, may have literally invented computer networking, as they were wiring computer-equipped players together at blackjack tables as far back as the 1970s. He was also one of the first to use a computer to capture digital video, and he may have created the first microcomputer.
In addition, Keith has trained players in the use of such equipment and personally ventured into the casinos to test his sophisticated inventions.
Taft received undergraduate degrees in both music and physics. He taught music for five years and physics for three, then completed his masters in physics. Afterwards, he took a job with Raytheon in Mountain View, California.
On vacation in 1969, he happened to travel to Reno, Nevada and visit Harrah's Auto Museum. He received some coupons to use in the casinos and tried to find out more about the game of blackjack, so he could play a few hands. As luck would have it, Taft got a blackjack and wound up with a $3.50 profit. He was hooked.
On the drive back to Mountain View, he recalled that Edward Thorp (the noted author of Beat the Dealer) had written that blackjack was a beatable game. When he returned home, he picked up every blackjack book that he could find in his local library. Reading voraciously, he taught himself the art of card counting, then ventured to the casinos to make some money.
Unfortunately, Taft met with little success, soon overextending his bankroll and testing the patience of his otherwise supportive wife, Dorothy. It was at this point that he first began to consider building a computer to help swing the odds in his favor.
The next two years saw Taft develop a computer, which he completed in 1972 and named George. Weighing over 15 pounds, the device was made in sections about the size of a book and strapped to Taft's body, with the batteries worn above it.
But despite the ingenious device, Taft once again lost at blackjack. He quit the game after that, but was inspired to go public with his story in 1975. Published in the San Jose Mercury News, Taft's tale of computer-assisted gambling gave more than one reader a good chuckle at the man who would operate a hidden computer with his toes and still lose to the casinos.
Keith eventually returned to gambling and had greater success at card counting. He also took advantage of new innovations in the field of electronics to built a more lightweight device.
This eventually led him into a partnership with blackjack legend Ken Uston, as detailed in Uston's book, Million Dollar Blackjack. In 1985, Nevada casinos finally outlawed devices as a direct result of a Taft creation found on Keith's brother. It was a miniature video camera built into a belt buckle which could relay an image of the dealer's hole card to a satellite receiving dish mounted on a pickup truck in the parking lot of the casino. An accomplice read the video image and then signaled the player with the information he needed to play the hand.
Such devices, even though considered illegal, are still used in casinos to this day. And while the general public may be largely unaware of Keith's accomplishments, he is highly regarded in the gambling world. So much, in fact, that he was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2004.
Keith Taft passed away in August 2006.
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