mit blackjack team

The MIT Blackjack Team has been known in gambling circles for decades. Stories of their exploits are legendary in the industry and today, most people know about them through the movie 21, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.

From very simple beginnings, the team grew into a huge operation with more than 80 members.

MIT Blackjack Team: How to gamble if you must

The MIT Blackjack Team came together more by chance than anything else. In 1979 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at Harvard University ran a course called How To Gamble If You Must. While it covered all aspects of gambling and the gambling industry, there was a particular focus on blackjack.

Blackjack is one of the few casino games where it’s possible for the player to gain an edge. If you’re able to track the ratio of high to low cards as they are dealt from the shoe, then you can gain an advantage if you bet at the right times. The process is known as card counting and it immediately sparked the interest of a number of students in the class.

JP Massar was one of the top students in the class and was inspired by what he’d learnt. He convinced some of the other members of the class to try out their new found skills at the casinos in Atlantic City.

Unfortunately for the group of card counters, their first effort was a failure and they walked away empty handed. As the members of the group graduated, most lost interest in card counting. But Massar wasn’t giving up that easily.

Around the time Massar graduated, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission introduced a new law that no casino could ban card counters. Massar was contacted by another counter, who convinced him to head back to Atlantic City and start a new team.

They managed to raise a $5,000 bankroll from an investor and started taking on the tables of Atlantic City. While they were successful, it wasn’t until they took the next step that the team went to the next level.

The business of blackjack

In 1980 Massar reached out to Harvard graduate Bill Kaplan, who had previously been the manager of a successful card counting team in Las Vegas.

Before signing on to manage the new team, Kaplan flew out to Atlantic City to see what he was working with. While highly intelligent and talented, the strategies they were using to count weren’t all that effective. They were over-complicating the process, causing them to make errors..

Despite this, Kaplan could see potential. He immediately started by implementing more stringent requirements on the members of the team. He made team members fill out detailed betting sheets to record every detail of their sessions. Kaplan also created a table test that players needed to pass prior to being allowed to play.

Now that the strategies were on track, the group needed to go out and build a bankroll. Membership of ther team had grown to double figures. The group was a mix of undergrads from MIT as well as some more experienced counters.

Fortunately they were able to get some investors and the team raised $89,000 for an attack on Vegas. This time around, the team were able to turn the tables on the casinos.

In a period of 10 weeks, the MIT Blackjack Team doubled their investment.


This early success meant the team were able to grow. One of the ways they recruited potential new players was to hand out flyers at Ivy League schools. At the peak of their powers in the early days, the team grew to 30 players and would travel to Las Vegas every weekend.

As time went on Kaplan started to be recognised. He began getting barred from the casinos, and other members followed as the team slowly disbanded. But not before taking huge sums from many of the major casinos in Las Vegas.

The team briefly got back together in 1992 when a new casino opened in Connecticut. They managed to build an 80 man team and set up an investment company to raise funds. They were ultimately banned from that casino too.

The MIT Blackjack Team’s fame increased when their exploits were used as the basis for the best-selling book Bringing Down The House and later for the movie 21, cementing their place in gambling folklore.

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