Anyone who knows anything about Blackjack will have heard, at least in passing, about the MIT Blackjack Team. The team was a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard Business School, Harvard University, and other leading colleges who used card-counting techniques to beat casinos at blackjack.
They used their methods all over the world over a number of years, earning millions of dollars. And they weren’t doing anything illegal. That is because Blackjack is one of the few games you can beat through skill rather than luck.
Casinos have of course altered their rules over the years to counteract the most popular card-counting techniques.
MIT first took a serious interest in blackjack when they created a course called ‘How To Gamble If You Must’. It was attended by students who already had quite an interest in blackjack. Following the course, the group was excited about what they learned and decided to take a trip to Atlantic City in the spring of 1979.
Two of the group went their separate ways following graduation. They teamed up with a professional blackjack player and went to Atlantic City following a ruling that made it illegal for the casinos there to bar card counters.
MIT Blackjack Team – The True Story
Other students were recruited to the playing team following another course at MIT. Then in 1980, J.P. Massar met Bill Kaplan, a Harvard graduate who had run his own successful blackjack team in Las Vegas for the three years prior.
Using money gained as Harvard’s outstanding scholar-athlete Kaplan had managed to generate a 35+ fold rate of return in less than nine months of play. Kaplan’s team were by this stage burnt out from playing in Nevada, so they had parted ways to gamble internationally.
Kaplan agreed to go with Massar’s team to Atlantic City to observe and critique their play. Their faults were abundant and Kaplan agreed to back their team dependent on formal management, training, and tracking of play.
The MITs first stake was $89,000 with ten players playing on the bank, including Massar and Kaplan. Within ten weeks they doubled their original stake and profits per hour were $162.50. Those profits were split in proportion to playing hours and computer-simulated win rates and the players earned approx $80 an hour, with investors return in excess of 250%.
Techniques utilised included not just card counting but advanced shuffle and ace tracking techniques. They included Al Francesco’s techniques, as had been published in his teammate Ken Uston’s book Million Dollar Blackjack just prior to the formation of the MIT team, the approach the team predominantly took.
By 1984 notoriety followed Kaplan who could not at this point enter a casino without being followed by security. The team played on for a number of years following Kaplan’s ‘retirement’ until some say exhaustion and weakened management caused them to discontinue.
Others say that the last player was escorted from the table with the words: ‘You can’t play here. You’re too good for us.’
MIT Blackjack Team Movie – 21
It’s fair to say that this is one of the most captivating gambling stories ever. So it was almost inevitable that sooner or later Hollywood would pick this up and make a movie about it. The best selling book ‘Bringing Down the House‘ written by Ben Mezrich provided the perfect story to create the film adaptation ‘21‘.
Now to say ‘21‘ was a hit would be an understatement. Packed with an all-star cast, that included Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Bosworth, and Jim Sturgess, it was a huge Box-Office success in 2008 and held the number one film position for the first couple of weeks after release.
Let’s just say, that if you want to learn more about the MIT Blackjack team, you will just love this film – check out a review here.