Everything starts with an idea and it’s that idea that grows into the reality people get to witness. The stronger it gets, the better the chances of getting the results you want. There is a movie that portrays this very clearly. Before we talk of the movie, let us talk about the idea behind that movie.
Although it ended up on television as a movie, 21 was actually a story. The story talks about a group of students and ex-students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and other major colleges. They were known as the “MIT Blackjack Team.” The team developed a number of sophisticated techniques and strategies to beat casinos. The legacy continued with its successors that successfully operated from 1979 into the beginning of the 21st century.
The Movie is also based on Ben Mezrich’s bestselling gambling book titled “Bringing Down the House.” There are still debates if the movie is a true-life story or not. As for the techniques, we will discuss more about it below. Please read carefully.
The MIT Blackjack Team
As earlier stated, the team was formed by a group of ex-students but not only. There were also students and professors on board. It started in early 1979 when six MIT students and residents of the Burton-Conner House at MIT taught themselves the technique of card-counting. They traveled to Atlantic City during the spring break and made a fortune from gambling. The group split up after they graduated as most of them went their separate ways. Indeed, some of them went on to pursue careers in their courses of study and never gambled again. A number of them were still interested in the game of cards and stayed in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Masaar and Jonathan were two of the card-counting students that stayed back. While remaining in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they put out a notice for a card-counting course. In November 1979, Dave who was a professional blackjack player contacted Masaar. This was after he saw a notice for the blackjack course. Dave told Masaar about forming a new gambling group. The group will to go to Atlantic City to take advantage of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission’s recent ruling. You should know that this ruling made it illegal for the casinos in the Atlantic City to ban card counters.
Instead of banning card counting, the commission’s ruling made casinos take countermeasures like using more decks of cards or shuffling the card earlier than normal. They also impose rules that nullify the advantage that players using card counting might have gained.
How the Team Was Formed and Evolved
Dave and Masaar were able to recruit more MIT students. The group consisted of four players, a professional gambler, and an investor. They were able to raise the sum of $5,000 that mainly helped them move to Atlantic City in late December. By May 1989, they had already made 400% of their capital.
Although they were a team, they were not that strategic. They were more like a group of individual sharing capital. It’s safe to say that they lacked strategy, consistency, control and other qualities of a standard team. In May 1980, Masaar met with Kaplan (who was a professional blackjack). Kaplan is a Harvard MBA graduate that ran a successful blackjack team in Vegas. He formed a team of blackjack players using his own research and statistical analysis of the game when he moved to Las Vegas.
Kaplan’s team had bigger plans to explore Europe and the world at large. However, he could not cope with managing a team who wanted to explore the world and his studies. So, he had to part ways with his team. Masaar sold the idea of working with his team to Kaplan. Without much thought, Kaplan bought the deal as he had hopes of training and managing a local team after losing his old team. After watching Masaars’s team, Kaplan informed him the need to improve on their strategies and team management.
Real Life Achievements and Eventual Downfall
Initially, the team did not welcome the idea of working with a new strategy or with a new set of rules. Giving information such as cash in and cash out, tracking of casino play and strict training did go down well with them initially. However, it was not long before increase in success rates won them over. The new MIT Blackjacks was formed on the 1st of August 1980. They were able to raise the sum of $89,000 from both the player themselves and external investors.
The team grew bigger, recruiting more than 35 players in 1984 with as much as $350,000 in capital. It was not long before casinos began to take note of the various MIT blackjack team members. In lieu of that, the MIT signed a great number of partnerships from 1980–1989 and over 70 people played a part in the team with various capacities. In 1992, the leaders of the MIT team trained some players and made the most of the opening of Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. They formed a partnership in 1992 called Strategic Investments to fund the new team.
While they made money from casinos, they also made enemies. Kaplan was always followed whenever he was spotted in a casino as casinos sought to trace and identify members of the MIT blackjack team. Investigations began and investigators discovered that members of the MIT blackjack team had addresses in around Cambridge and had connections to MIT. It wasn’t long till the investigators were able to identify and ban the major players of the MIT blackjack team.
With its major players banned from casinos, the MIT blackjack team knew it was a matter of time before their time was up. They were now banned from most casinos. They were also excluded from other lucrative investment opportunities that were opening at the end of the recession.
“21” The Movie Review
“21” The Movie was a movie released in 2008 and based on the story of the MIT Blackjack Team. The movie features Ben, mathematics major at MIT that gained admission into Harvard Medical School but could not afford the $300,000 tuition. It also features Micky Rosa, a professor at MIT that challenged Ben with the Monty Hall Problem. To his great surprise Ben, solved it successfully.
Micky then invites Ben to join his blackjack team that consists of other students like Choi, Fisher, Jill, and Kianna. In a short period, Ben won the team over with his skills, and a member of the team becomes jealous of him. Ben becomes arrogant, ignores orders, and causes the team to lose money.
Ben and Micky turn on each other. Micky sets Ben up, uses his influences and connections to punish him. In return, Ben sets Micky up, but they both make up in the end. The storyline is quite complex. It involved jealousy, anger, and betrayal. Despite its complicated nature, the movie was a box-office success.
Mastering Blackjack Card Counting
Card-counting is one of the major tactics the MIT Blackjack Team used to win at casino card games. Although they used other techniques such as shuffle tracking and hole carding, card counting was their major strategy. You might wonder, what is card-counting?
Well, card counting is a casino card game strategy used primarily in the blackjack family of casino games to determine whether the next hand is likely to favor the player or to the dealer. The goal of a card-counting system is to assign point values to each card that roughly correlate to the card’s “effect of removal” or EOR. This enables the player to gage the house advantage based on the composition of cards still to be dealt.
The player can gage the effect of removal for all cards dealt and assess the current house advantage of a game based on the cards that are left. The procedure is simple. You assign negative values to lower cards and positive values to higher cards, always keeping track of the value of cards. Add the values you assign to the cards to determine the value of the cards on the deck. Increase your bet if the count is negative and lower it if it’s positive.
Does Card Counting work when Playing Online?
For this part I had to seek the help of Hunter Wilson which is a senior casino games reviewer at casimoose.ca for his expertise on this matter. You can follow Hunter over here.
Just like other games of casinos like slots, blackjacks can also be played in online casinos. You can always visit casimoose.ca to get the list of trusted online casinos. You already know that Card-counting work with regular casinos. However, basic card-counting will hardly work with online casinos. This is because online casinos use blackjack software that shuffles the deck cards after it deals each hand. It is worthy of note that even offline casinos now use multiple decks to reduce the advantage of card-counting.
Card-counting is not illegal unless players are using a calculating device. No one will arrest you if you are using your math skills. However, it is important to note that the players in the movie and book used group play as a strategy. Although no one stops you from playing as a group, it is illegal to give signs to one another when playing at a casino. Group play may also not work at most online casinos. You can always visit casimoose.ca to get a list of casinos where you can play and practice your card-counting skills.