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The MIT Blackjack Team: A Good Count Is Half the Battle

 June 29, 2022

By  Kyrie Mattos

According to the cliché, the classic gambler is a lone wolf at the gaming table. But as the film “21” shows, the wolf hunts most successfully in packs. The strip popularized the MIT Blackjack Team, a group of players that at one point numbered as many as 80 members and used the technique of card counting to winning. This is their story. Gamblingpro.pro offers further descriptions of professional players and their careers, where you will find top non GamStop casinos.

How Does a Blackjack Counting Teamwork?

Card counting has been frowned upon in casinos for decades. However, it is only clearly illegal if technical aids are used for this purpose. Counting cards in your head, however, is beyond the intellectual and mathematical abilities of the average player. Casinos try to protect themselves against the exceptions with various precautions, with house bans as a final measure.

In early 1970, a guy named Ken Uston emerged who followed in the footsteps of famous card-counter Edward Thorp. Uston became notorious for organizing teams of card counters that he unleashed on casinos. Card counters working together as a general staff split into two groups. They are called “spotters” and “big players.” The scouts’ difficult task is to follow the game at the table and count which cards are already out of play. In doing so, they are only risking minimal stakes. If they have the impression that the remaining cards in the game allow profits, they signal this to the heavyweights, who can then drive their stakes to dizzying heights.

The strategy seems clear, but has its pitfalls in practice. Quite a few who bet on them failed. The MIT Blackjack Team, however, was a success story. It turned gambling into a bubbling source of income.

From Humble Beginnings to a Well-organized Team

It all started in 1979 with a course at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology promisingly entitled Gambling for the Dependent. Course leader JP Massar disappointed many participants. However, their insights into card counting did not bring the big wins they had hoped for. The turning point was a visit from Massar, also known as “Mr. M.”, to a Chinese restaurant. He overheard a conversation at the next table about team card counting with big wins.

Massar introduced himself at the next table and met Bill Kaplan, a Harvard grad who had built a successful card counting team while in college. Its members had meanwhile spread over the gaming tables all over the world. Kaplan was open to a fresh start. He brought his business instincts to Massar’s rather academic beginnings with MIT math cracks – and turned their cerebral theories into a recipe for success. Under his influence, a purposeful winning strategy and a tight organization emerged, which included hourly wages for card players and collective profit-sharing. The starting team consisted of ten members and a gaming budget of $89,000. It doubled in just ten weeks. After that, it was obviously time to expand the operation.

Birth of a Profit Machine

The MIT Blackjack Team grew into a well-oiled company with well-defined financial resources and business goals. It had reliable sales and a sophisticated recruitment process. If you wanted to join the team, you had to undergo tough aptitude tests that tested your card counting talent under stressful conditions. Those who passed benefited from intensive and free training as well as from individual shares in the profits of the entire company.

The casinos had already become aware of the activity of card counters. The MIT people therefore had to communicate with each other inconspicuously. To do this, they used a secret language in which certain words in the scouts’ harmless-sounding sentences corresponded to numbers that signaled to the heavyweights at the gaming table how to structure their bets.

Losses were not excluded – card counting is not a watertight system. But the long-term balance was positive, the team spirit was okay. Discipline was the key to success. This was not just about gambling. A business model was used that minimized risks. This included detailed documentation of gaming experiences to monitor and optimize success. The team was constantly on the lookout for new venues that had not yet had appropriately trained staff to protect themselves. “Everyone was focused on the same goal,” recalled Bill Kaplan. “Each player took their own performance as seriously as that of their teammates.

New Dimension of Gambling: Strategic Investment

In the 1980s, the MIT Blackjack Team expanded enormously. The number of players reached 30, and their budget reached $300,000. The profit margins were up to 300% in good times. This could not go without countermeasures from the casinos. They already had some of the MIT people on their blacklists; Bill Kaplan himself has long since stopped appearing in casinos because his appearance in the casino immediately triggered a search for his accomplices. But the MIT Blackjack Team staff has been refreshed over and over again.

In the 1990s, the opening of new casinos in the US state of Connecticut gave the business a boost. Kaplan, Mr. M., and their business partner, John Chang, felt encouraged to start a business. They called it “Strategic Investment.” The company had a budget of $1 million and employed 80 players. This was the high point of the MIT Blackjack Team’s activities.

After that, the most successful card counter squad of all time went downhill. On the one hand, the casinos tightened their defensive measures again. MIT grads kept a sharp eye on her. On the other hand, the business people of the MIT Blackjack team shifted to other profitable business areas. The onset of globalization opened up promising investment opportunities for them.

At the end of 1993, they dissolved their company by mutual agreement, paid out the company’s assets to everyone involved, and turned to new investments.

Kyrie Mattos


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