A look at Tommy Hyland

We’ve spent a fair bit of time looking at blackjack greats, but this is the first time that we’ll be exploring the career of Tommy Hyland. This is a player who has experienced some magnificent highs but has also had an equal number of hair-raising moments to contend with. 

The majority of gamblers have heard Hyland’s name. As a master of card counting and blackjack teams, he has managed to win millions of dollars from the game. However, the thing to note with Hyland is that it wasn’t always about the money: the challenge added just as much to the thrill as the cash itself did.

Keep reading as we explore Hyland’s early days, and how he ultimately found himself being inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

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Tommy Hyland

Looking back at the early days of Tommy Hyland

Hyland was originally from New Jersey. Born there in the 1950s, this would be the place where he’d spend the majority of his childhood. His interest in gambling may well have been sparked by his father who enjoyed the occasional bet at the pool halls and race tracks.

Hyland seemed to get the betting bug relatively early. Even as a small child, he would be placing bets with his friends. Typically, this would see them all throwing pennies at a wall and betting on whose would land the closest.

As he joined high school, Hyland stopped making bets. Instead, he turned his attention to taking them. Setting himself up as a bookie of sorts, he made himself a steady $50 a week. However, this all came crashing down as he experienced a hefty $400 loss after taking bets on school sports.

A unique university learning experience 

Majoring in political science, Hyland spent his university days at Wittenberg University, Ohio. The learning didn’t go quite to plan as he found himself playing golf practically every day. When the evenings came about, he still wouldn’t buckle down and study his chosen subject. Instead, his book of choice was “Playing blackjack as a business” by Lawrence Revere.

With this book in hand, Hyland and his roommates would practice blackjack every spare second that they had. The book allowed them to master perfect blackjack strategy and in 1978 they traveled the 50 miles to Atlantic City to try out their newfound skills.

While his friends managed to win thousands of dollars, Hyland wasn’t quite as successful. However, rather than give up he turned his attention to mastering card counting and soon he began using this technique with his roommates too.

The birth of a blackjack team

Hyland chose one partner to start his blackjack team with. Bringing in a further two players, everyone contributed $4,000 so that the bankroll was big enough to lead to a significant win. What was great about this blackjack team was that it was always fair: the end of the week would see the winnings split 4 ways, regardless of who had brought in what. 

As time went on, these winnings started to become something quite substantial. The winning ways saw the blackjack team attract a bit of a following and one such follower was a man named Art. After literally begging to join the team, he was allowed in and, given his performances down the line, this was clearly the right decision. 

A blackjack trap

Casinos were under no illusion that blackjack players were using card counting. Of course, when players were caught doing this, they were soon stopped in their tracks and asked to leave The problem the casinos were having was that catching them at it was more difficult than they first thought. The issue was that they weren’t sure which techniques were being used, but they were determined to find out.

In 1979, casinos decided to run a two-week test. They would open their doors to card counters and tell them that they could play without fear. While Hyland and his team were able to win hundreds of thousands of dollars during this window, the casinos benefited even more. With no one hiding their actions, the casinos learnt the exact techniques that were being used.

With casinos now able to spot, and punish, card counters, players left the area and headed to Asia. Here, they knew they could play without fear of being banned.

The return of Tommy Hyland

Asia held little appeal for Hyland and it wasn’t long before he found himself being drawn back to Vegas. Here, he built a new team that consisted of 30 – 40 people and took to the casinos once again. 

A change of appearance 

If the team ever returned to a casino for a second time, they would make efforts to disguise their appearance. The last thing that they wanted was for the casinos to rumble them before they had even started to play. 

As technology developed, it got that much harder to disguise a face. Facial recognition tech almost brought an end to this. In fact, Hyland found himself arrested in the Bahamas. Having been recognised, he was strip searched and found to be concealing a mini-computer to help him win. There was a potential jail sentence hanging over him until his lawyer secured his release, at a cost of $100,000.

A gun to the head

For all of the excitement that card counting brought Hyland and his team, it also left him facing some life-threatening situations. Having spent 2 weeks clearing out a casino, the owner asked Hyland to meet him in a hotel room. Here a gun was swiftly produced as the owner demanded that Hyland returned his entire winnings. Having declined, he was dragged to the bank and forced to withdraw the cash before handing it all over.

Induction of Tommy Hyland into The Blackjack Hall of Fame

It wasn’t until 2002 that Tommy Hyland was recognized as one of the blackjack greats. The timing of his induction saw it taking place alongside other masters such as Edward O. Thorpe, Stanford Wong and Ken Uston.

Hyland has since moved away from playing blackjack professionally. He does, however, still enjoy the occasional, casual, wager.

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