Stanford Wong: Writer Profiles Series

Stanford Wong is the pen name of John Ferguson, the world famous author of Professional Blackjack. Wong holds a doctorate in Finance, and actually began playing blackjack while teaching Finance in San Francisco. His career led him from being a successful player, to the leader of a successful team, and finally to the publication of books on gambling theory and teaching.

Born in 1943 in the American South, Wong’s family ultimately settled in Oregon, just west of Portland. From his youth, Wong had a soft spot for logic challenges, puzzles, and complex board games. His skill in Mathematics ended up motivating his interests through high school and college.

In college, he did extensive calculations on blackjack, including double checking Edward O. Thorpe’s mathematics-based blackjack strategies that Thorpe purported would nullify house advantage for card counters. Wong got his BS and MS at Oregon State University and then attended Stanford University for his Ph.D.

It was in college upon reading Thorpe’s book Beat the Dealer that Wong truly began to dig into Blackjack in regards to playing instead of just analyzation. Wong learned card counting before he ever stepped foot in a Vegas Casino. After much Las Vegas play and considerable analysis of his own play, Wong found himself at an opportunity to make money publishing books that would utilize his own statistics work and experience to teach players how to play better.

In his experience, he recognized the holes in Beat the Dealer’s methods which he addressed in the first edition of Professional Blackjack. Professional Blackjack grew in popularity over the years, earning him a passive income that allowed him more opportunities than a number of other players in Vegas at the time.

His financial advantage in Vegas allowed him to assemble and finance a team of excellent players that included fellow writer and publisher Anthony Curtis. Curtis and Wong would prove to be a remarkably effective team, with Wong being a master of strategy and Curtis having an uncanny intuition. Over the course of two years, Wong’s team generated a large amount of helpful data for Wong while taking home winnings in the six-figures.

Wong utilized computer software that he wrote to analyze and record his own and his team’s games, hands, and wins/losses. At some point in the development of his software, he realized that he could pivot the software from a strictly analytical tool into a digital game for tournament practice. This game became very popular as one of the first publicly available digital analytical tools for blackjack.

Another of Stanford Wong’s successes was his website, bj21.com, which started as a message board about blackjack and slowly evolved into a community forum, newsletter, and hosting site for tutorials and learning materials.

The site was a cornerstone of the blackjack community for years and still updates with new information on a regular basis. He additionally owns SharpSportsBetting.com (now playerservices.com,) which provides analysis, odds predictions, and information on promotional deals for players.

player services

Wong has stated that his greatest passion is not so much in the playing of casino games, but in the analysis, understanding, and distribution of knowledge of them. He has, since his blackjack playing days, done considerable analysis of both poker and, interestingly, craps, which he did not think was beatable until he began to deeply analyze play.

His most notable publication is, of course, Professional Blackjack, which has seen multiple versions, but he has also done a number of notable works in recent years on dice games, video poker, and Pai Gow Poker. These works include Wong on Dice, Optimal Strategy for Pai Gow Poker, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gambling Like a Pro, and Professional Video Poker.

pai gow poker

Wong is listed in the Blackjack Hall of Fame, and, interestingly, is formally banned from a number of Las Vegas casinos, though he claims no one recognizes him on sight anyway. His name and work was well known among casino executives and professional players alike to the extent that the colloquial term “to wong” or “wonging” became popular as a word for utilizing his advantage play techniques in blackjack. “Wonging” involves observing play without actually wagering while waiting for the card count to be in the player’s favor. The technique was at one point so popular that many casinos began to explicitly forbid mid-game entry.

Unlike many of his colleagues of the time, Wong did not do considerable work with casinos themselves, preferring to educate players and work with other writers and researchers.

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