In 2006, Dr. Jeff Bernstein gained fame in the world of Blackjack when he outlasted a field of 40 contestants to win half a million dollars in the nationally televised World Series of Blackjack at the Las Vegas Hilton. Bernstein’s triumph came in the third installment of the nationally televised series. It was the first World Championship for an amateur, as the previous two seasons had been dominated by MIT Blackjack Team member Mike Aponte and Las Vegas pro Ken Einiger.
A Psychological Edge
Even though “Dr. Jeff” never made his living playing cards, he did have one “Ace up his sleeve” in going up against professionals and celebrities in the world’s best-known Blackjack Tournament at the time. The Fort Lauderdale resident went into the competition as a licensed Doctor of Psychology. He earned his Masters Degree in Human Resource Management and by 2006 had gained notoriety nationwide as America’s top expert in police promotional and entry level testing.
Bernstein began his career in law enforcement. During his tenure as a police officer, he rose to the rank of sergeant and received 20 commendations. He was also twice selected as Most Outstanding Officer of the Month and received the Medal of Valor. Seeing the need for better recruitment and training of police officers, Bernstein did his post-doctoral studies in the field of Civil Service exams and test preparation. Then, in 1985, he founded his own company, Bernstein and Associates, to provide individuals and public safety personnel “with professional assistance in preparing for entry-level positions and promotional exams” and “to prepare officers to do their jobs more effectively.”
In the years that followed, Dr. Jeff helped co-author an updated version of Nathan F. Iannone’s classic text “Supervision of Police Personnel.” He joined the American Psychological Association and published numerous articles and test preparation study guides. Gradually, he became known as one of the leading trainers in the law enforcement field, traveling throughout the country to prepare thousands of police candidates for exams.
Among Bernstein’s clients are several unions, notably the PBA and FOP, and he helped with the development of New Jersey’s new police promotional exams. Trips to Atlantic City gave Dr. Jeff the opportunity to hone his skills at the Blackjack table to a level worthy of a top level challenge. At a qualifying satellite held at the Las Vegas Hilton in early 2006, the amateur won the right to be cast as one of the Game Show Network’s 40 tournament players for Season 3 of the World Series of Blackjack.
Winning the Crown
By any account, Dr. Jeff was a long-shot going into the contest, which began airing weekly on June 5, 2006 as part of GSN’s “Casino Night.” He was seeded in the third of eight preliminary rounds, and his table of five participants included Angie “Moneytaker” Hardy returning from Season Two. Bernstein accumulated a nice early lead but lost it mid-round. He had to win on the final hand to move on to the first semi-final.
On August 14, Dr. Jeff took out Paul “The Assassin” Hass and three other previous round winners to advance to the Finals against John Payne, Charlie Montoya, Tony Duong and Season 2 Runner-up Kami Lis. Early action favored the dealer, and by Hand 20 only three were left in, all basically tied for the lead at around $200,000.
In the next-to-last hand, Payne and Duong bet the maximum of $50,000, doubled down and lost, while Dr. Jeff wagered just $20,000. That left Bernstein unbeatable in the final hand, making him the new World Champion. In 2007, he attempted to defend his title, but he fell behind early in the preliminary round and had to bet big in an attempt to remain in. Luck was not on the doctor’s side, and Bernstein ended up with only $13,000 going into the game’s first knockout round, becoming the new season’s first casualty.