Anyone who knows anything about Blackjack will have heard, at least in passing, about the MIT Blackjack Team.
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The MIT Blackjack Team was a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and other leading colleges who used card counting techniques and more sophisticated strategies to beat casinos at blackjack worldwide.
The team and its successors operated successfully from 1979 through the beginning of the 21st century.
It was formed in the late 1970s by Bill Kaplan, a Harvard graduate who had developed a statistical model for blackjack that was successful in beating the game. He was a Harvard graduate who had run his own successful blackjack team in Las Vegas.
How Was The Team Put Together?
J.P. Massar was an MIT student when he heard about a final project for a math class that involved developing a statistical model for winning at blackjack.
Intrigued by this idea, he began to study the game and eventually started playing blackjack in Atlantic City casinos, honing his skills in card counting.
In 1980, Massar met Bill Kaplan. Recognising Kaplan’s expertise, Massar asked him to watch his team play in Atlantic City.
Kaplan observed that while the team had the potential, their play was too disorganised and filled with mistakes.
This led to the creation of the MIT Blackjack Team, which Kaplan agreed to manage and train in exchange for a cut of the winnings.
Massar, along with other team members, was trained in Kaplan’s card counting system, which included rigorous casino simulations and testing before they were allowed to play.
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.
How Did The MIT Blackjack Team Succeed?
The team’s strategy was based on card counting, a method of tracking the ratio of high to low cards remaining in the deck to gain an advantage over the house. This method of play is not illegal but is frowned upon by casinos.
The team also developed more advanced methods, including shuffle tracking and ace tracking, to increase their edge.
Shuffle tracking involves tracking groups of cards during the play of a shoe and then playing accordingly when those cards come into play.
Ace tracking involves remembering when and where aces are likely to appear.
The team was structured as a business, with members who invested in the team and players who were paid salaries and a percentage of the team’s profits.
It was divided into two main groups:
Spotter: A player who bet minimally and kept count of the deck, signalling to the ‘big player’ when the count was high.
Big Player (BP): A player who would step into the game when the count was favourable with dramatically higher bets. This player was usually someone with a high-profile personality to avoid detection.
The team underwent rigorous training, including card counting, communicating in code, casino etiquette, and role-play scenarios.
They also used advanced technologies for practice, including computer software and simulations.
How Much Did The MIT Blackjack Team Make?
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%.
And while that is well know, overall the amount of money that the MIT Blackjack Team made at casinos is not publicly disclosed and is hard to verify.
However, some sources suggest that the total winnings for the team were in excess of $10 million.
The largest single win was reportedly about $500,000 during a Super Bowl weekend.
Because of the MIT Blackjack Team, casinos have of course altered their rules over the years to counteract the most popular card-counting techniques.
When Did The Team Stop Playing Blackjack?
By 1984 notoriety followed Kaplan who could not at this point enter a casino without being followed by security.
Over the years, the team faced increasing scrutiny from casinos and was eventually disbanded.
Some members went on to form other blackjack teams, while others used their mathematical skills in other fields.
The team’s exploits were chronicled in a number of books and movies, most notably Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich and the movie 21, both of which took creative liberties with the actual events.
Despite its dissolution, the MIT Blackjack Team remains a legendary chapter in the history of casino gambling.
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.
21 was released in 2008 and is based on the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team. It received a moderate level of success both commercially and critically.
In terms of box office performance, 21 was reasonably successful. It grossed over $157 million worldwide against a production budget of around $35 million. While it didn’t achieve blockbuster status, the film managed to make a profit and attract a decent audience.
Critically, 21 received mixed reviews. The movie received praise for its stylish direction, intriguing premise, and strong performances, particularly by Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess.
However, some critics felt that the story was predictable and criticised the film for taking liberties with the actual events on which it was based.
On review aggregator websites such as Rotten Tomatoes, 21 holds an approval rating of around 36% from critics, indicating mixed reviews. However, the film was better received by audiences, with a higher approval rating of around 66%.
Overall, while 21 may not be considered a groundbreaking or critically acclaimed film, it achieved moderate success at the box office and managed to entertain a significant number of viewers.