The MIT Blackjack Team: How Students Beat the Casinos out of Millions!

July 8, 2016

At Pop! Events, we make your Toronto holiday galas more fun and exciting by adding the world’s most popular casino games into the mix. The thrill of the draw and the Vegas casino feel make games like blackjack one of our most popular event additions. The only drawback to this game of 21 is that the house usually wins (as always!). Except, that is, when a group of brilliant students found out how to beat the house and wound up taking the world’s wealthiest gambling halls for big money. Here’s the story of the MIT blackjack team, how they beat the game, and how they won a fortune.

 

Genius student meets professional gambler

The mathematical and strategic intricacies of the game have been known since its inception, so it was only fitting that MIT, a world-leading research university, started offering a course on blackjack in the 1970’s. At first, the course attracted only bright, math-inclined students from the local area, but that was all about to change.

 

J.P Massar, known as “Mr. M”, was introduced to Bill Kaplan when the aspiring student of the game overheard Kaplan talking about his Las Vegas blackjack adventures. Since Bill, a Harvard grad himself, had recently parted ways with his Las Vegas team of gamblers, he agreed to take Mr. M to Atlantic City so he could observe the team playing. J.P, using his training from MIT noticed the players were using over-complicated techniques and therefore made frequent mistakes. He convinced Bill that using other students from the school would be better since they were more skilled and disciplined.

 

The Business

Kaplan would only agree to bankroll the team if it would be run like a business instead of the haphazard way that his previous teams had been run. Strict strategies, player tracking, and player approval were the crux of the deal. The original team consisted of 10 players, and within a few months they doubled their original stake in Atlantic City, and were earning over $160 an hour at the tables! The team would reach a peak of players in 1984 with over 30, and a total of 70 participated in some way within the decade. The opening of Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut only furthered their earning power, and Kaplan set up a limited partnership and raised a million dollars to bankroll the newly expanded team. Through legal harassment, casino bans, and rule changes, the team managed to stay in business up until the 21st century.

 

Blackjack goes Hollywood

The MIT blackjack team really gained fame in 2008 with the premier of the movie “21” starring Kevin Spacey. Although the movie embellished a bit (that’s Hollywood!), it was mostly accurate. The movie outlines how the team managed to do it: using card counting, tipping the dealers well so they didn’t get suspicious, and decoy players who played erratically to further throw the casino off.

If you’ve got the chops to try and take on the house, then all you’ve got to do is let the team at Pop! Events know, and we will add casino games to your next holiday gala in Toronto. But we will be keeping an eye out for the card counters!