Canada’s Hometown Heroes of the Blackjack Tables

A Chronicle of the Most Famous Canadian Blackjack Players of All Time

A Chronicle of the Most Famous Canadian Blackjack Players of All Time

Canada is home to a number of famous blackjack professionals and personalities. Not a large number, but a number. The truth is, most of Canada’s professional gamblers are poker players. In fact, we’re kind of famous for producing some of the world’s most prodigious phenoms of the felt. From Daniel Negreanu and Jonathan Duhamel, to Evelyn Ng and Kristen Bicknell, there’s no lacking for championship-grade poker players in the Great White North. Blackjack, on the other hand… only a few famous names come to mind, and not all for glorious deeds.

It’s not that blackjack isn’t popular in Canada. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s not that Canuck’s aren’t keen on playing with such in-depth strategies as to earn the title of professionals in their craft, either. The reality of the situation is that being a pro blackjack player means keeping a low profile. Casinos don’t like professional card counters, and will do everything in their power to keep them off their tables. Thus, earning a celebratory reputation is the equivalent of punching your retirement card. Which is why all of the names on our list went on to do other things after mastering the blackjack tables.

Professional Canadian Blackjack Players

Our team was able to identify three pro blackjack players from Canada whose names are memorable, to say the least. They include the lovely Monica Reeves, the avaricious Brian Zembic, and the downright duplicitous Brian Molony.

Amazingly, none of these individuals took the ‘usual’ route of gaining blackjack pro status; counting cards to gain a profitable advantage, then writing books to boast about their exploits once their face was too well known to keep it up. As you’ll see below, each of their stories are as interesting as they are unique.

Monica Reeves – Making Canada Proud, One Win at a Time

Monica Reeves (born 1972) is arguably Canada’s loveliest pro gambler. Growing up in Oakville, Ontario, she developed a passion for card gaming at an early age. Family game night was a very big deal (pardon the pun). That certainly helped spur her competitive nature, but it was her exceptionally high intelligence, reflected in superior grade marks growing up, that helped her win the majority of the games she played. Still, gaming was only a pastime for young Reeves. Her primary quest in life was to become a dental hygienist; a goal she ultimately achieved.

Shortly after earning her license and beginning her dream career, another opportunity arose that urged Monica to try a new path. She wasn’t just extremely smart. She was also incredibly beautiful. Her blonde hair, long legs, and full lips – not to mention the immaculate smile of a dental hygienist – was more than enough to bring the modeling industry knocking on her door. It was an opportunity she simply couldn’t pass up.

After years of modeling, Reeve’s childhood passion was calling to her once more. She knew she was a fantastic poker player, but her confidence was sorely lacking. Too afraid to enter a tournament on her own, she hired a private tutor, Jim Worth. Reeves had been working with Worth, honing her skills for nearly a year before entering the 2005 APT Aruba Poker Classic. She finished 114th (out of 644), scoring $5,500 (from a $5,200 buy-in).

As insignificant as that $300 win might sound, profiting at all in her first attempt gave Monica the confidence to keep going. Over the next two years, she cashed in multiple events. From Las Vegas to the Bahamas, Reeves netted over $40k (and countless more playing online poker) before another opportunity drew her attention.

Reeves Takes on The Ultimate Blackjack Tour

In late 2006, Reeves learned of this incredible television series. All of the world’s top blackjack players would be participating in an elimination tournament. CBS would air the show, and was preparing to record its first season. Being one of Monica’s favorite card games growing up, she absolutely had to be a part of it.

In love with her backstory (and beauty, no doubt), producers were eager to sign Monica on. She immediately proved her worth, too. Reeves won the fourth UBT tournament, earning her a spot in the very first Ultimate Blackjack Tour Tournament of Champions. She then finished 7th in the championship event. She also participated in the UBT Ladies Event, narrowly losing to TV and film icon (and fellow Canadian-born poker pro) Jennifer Tilly.

The next season of the UBT would, unfortunately, be its last. Monica Reeves finished 3rd in the 6th round of tournament series. That would have been enough to claim her spot in the next UBT Tournament of Champions. However, the show was cancelled just weeks later. That marked an abrupt end to her pro blackjack career.

Reeves headed back to the poker tables for the next few years, appearing online under the moniker “Muckersilly” on PokerStars. In early 2021, she reappeared, cashing in 7 small events from January to March. With cashes averaging about $15 apiece, she’s certainly not reprising a gambling career, but the draw of the felt clearly hasn’t left her.

Brian Zembic – What Would You Do for $100,000?

Brian Zembic of Winnipeg, Manitoba is not your typical blackjack pro. He’s not typical in any way, really. In fact, if I had to define him in two words, they would be “avaricious” and “exhibitionist”. Let me share his story with you, and you’ll understand why.

Zembic, nicknamed the ‘Wiz’, has always had a prevalence for gambling; especially in card games like blackjack and poker. He is also a fabulous backgammon player. These games earned him lots of fortune and fame over the years. One of his most memorable moments was competing in the second season of the World Series of Blackjack, where he was eliminated late in the 9th round. However, outside of these games, Zembic was known for making flagrant prop bets that cost him a lot of money.

One fateful day in 1996, Brian Zembic was down on his luck. Short on cash and desperate for a score, he made a bet with one of his long-time gambling buddies. Not really a bet, so much as a dare. His friend, known only as “Jobo”, wanted to see just how far Brian would be willing to go for $100,000. So, he offered him a deal. Jobo would give Brian $100k if he was willing to get C-cup breast implants. We’re not talking about stuffing water balloons in a bra here. Brian Zembic would have to have plastic surgery done. Plus, he would have to keep the implants for no less than 1 year.

Zembic Takes the Breast Bet

Willing to do pretty much anything for all that money, Zembic’s “avaricious” nature got the better of him. However, he would have to pay for the surgery himself. Since he was hard up for cash, he played a series of backgammon games with another buddy of his – a plastic surgeon, no less. After winning enough games, he was able to get the surgery for free. And so he did.

Brian Zembic got his implants and received his $100,000 payoff. The story made all the headlines, putting him in the limelight for the next 12 months. He became so enamored with fame and notoriety that, once his year was up, the “exhibitionist” in him didn’t want to go back to being ‘normal’. He decided not to have the implants removed. Brian has been known ever since as the guy who took the “breast bet”.

That wasn’t the only time Zembic accepted cash for completing a crazy stunt. He once earned $3,000 for running through the streets of Philadelphia in a woman’s bra and panties (while sporting those new C-cups, of course). He also spent a week living in a cardboard box outside his backgammon club for $25,000.

Brian Molony – So Infamous, they Made a Movie About Him

Brian Molony of Toronto, Ontario is one of Canada’s most well-known gamblers, but not for good reasons. Some heard of him on the news, following his April 1982 arrest for embezzlement. Others only learned of his infamy when Golden Globe / Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed him as ‘Dan Mahowney’ in the 2003 film, Owning Mahowney. Hoffman also won the Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a Canadian Film for that one.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Brian Molony developed an unhealthy love for gambling at a very young age, going to the racetrack as early as 10 years old, earning his way as a bookie at his school. After finishing college with a degree in journalism, his plans to be a financial writer were sidelined by an exceptional score on an aptitude test for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He was immediately placed in a management training program that saw him learning every position, from teller, to loan officer, to accounting. Before long, he was floating across the 1,600 branch network, discovering all the ins and outs of the CIBC system, including its inevitable weaknesses.

The Two Very Different Lifestyles of Molony

Molony was not earning a big salary, nor was he living the lifestyle of the rich and famous – at least, not in his native land of Canada. He was, however, embezzling mass amounts of money from the bank by approving loans for real and fictitious companies, then transferring that money to a holding corporation, the parent company of which was Las Vegas casino, Desert Palace. In this way, Molony was able to embezzle, and gamble away, over $10 million in US casinos.

In April 26, 1982, Brian Molony lost one million dollars in a single day at the Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino. The very next day, he was arrested. An investigation revealed that Molony had gone on an 18 month gambling spree, in which he became progressively more brazen and more exorbitant in his wagering. He pled guilty to embezzlement and was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison, followed by restitution and community service upon release.

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George Thomson is a Bitcoin enthusiast and all around crypto currency nerd... When he's not busy researching crypto, he likes hiking the national parks of British Columbia . He lives in an eco-friendly home with his wife Jana and their two daughters, Sandra and Rose. His favorite word is "sustainability".
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