The MIT Blackjack team
Forget Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 – there are many true casino stories that are Hollywood blockbuster material, although we can’t promise that George Clooney or Brad Pitt will make an appearance.
One long-standing casino legend follows the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Blackjack Team, who outwitted casinos for 14 years plus with their blackjack strategy. The team became so notorious that they eventually found it impossible to play in the casinos of Las Vegas, and had to disperse to other casinos across America, Canada and even worldwide, before eventually their notoriety meant that they were forced to fold on Dec 31 1993, after paying out large dividends to players and shareholders.
So how did the MIT Blackjack team come about? The story goes that J.P. Massar founded a card counting club, consisting of six MIT students, who learnt the skill of card counting to swing blackjack odds in their favour, before heading to Vegas on Spring Break to gamble the capital they had managed to get together. After making a decent profit, the group dispersed, but J.P. Massar went on to teach a blackjack course at MIT, in order to train the next ‘class of 21’.
While this proved reasonably lucrative for Massar and his team, with capital being increased roughly four-fold, the team needed some investment in order to bring in the big bucks. This is where Harvard graduate Kaplan came in – a founder of a Harvard blackjack team who were playing Vegas and coming back with amazing returns of 35 x stake.
After a chance meeting with Kaplan in a Chinese restaurant, the two paired up, with Kaplan overseeing Massar’s team and arranging investment to the tune of $89, 000. The MIT Blackjack team doubled this in ten weeks, with both players and investors being well-rewarded for their involvement.
Amazingly, for the next ten years, the team continued to prosper, building to a team of 35 players with investment capital of $350, 000 to gamble with. The snag came when casinos increasingly started to recognise key players, making it difficult for teams to take advantage of the casino capital of the world, Las Vegas.
To get around this the team went worldwide, with over 80 players split into teams across Cambridge, New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois and Washington. The profits continued to grow, but this highly organised and systematic ‘playing’ of the casinos couldn’t last forever. Private investigators were hired to clamp down on MIT teams, and more and more players were identified and barred. This difficulty in accessing major casinos is what ultimately led to the dissolution of MIT at the end of 1993.
Semyon Dukach is the CEO of SMTP, Inc., (OTCBB: SMTP) and a former professional blackjack player with the MIT Blackjack Team. He played with Strategic Investments and later was one of the founding members and team leaders on Amphibian Investments whose exploits were chronicled in Ben Mezrich’s Busting Vegas and referred to in Mezrich’s...