The MIT Blackjack Team

Blackjack School

The MIT Blackjack Team consisted of MIT students that came together to form one of the longest running and most successful blackjack card counting teams in the world.

During the 1990’s they are rumored to have made millions using various card counting techniques and advanced playing strategies.

The Beginning

Back in 1979 a recreational course on gambling was taught at MIT. The course was named “How to Gamble if You Must”. Some MIT students that used to play low-stakes poker in their dorm, signed up for the course and learned about blackjack and the potential of card counting.

These students wanted to put their new knowledge to work so they started a small team that travelled to Atlantic City to play blackjack in the spring of 1979. The team dispersed upon graduation except for J.P Massar and Jonathan who remained in Massachusetts.

Later that year J.P. Massar was contacted by a professional blackjack player with a proposal to form a new blackjack team that would play in Atlantic City casinos that were favored by him due to a recent decision by regulators that made it illegal for casinos to ban card counters. A team of four was born and played for a year.

The Bill Kaplan Era

In 1980 Massar met Bill Kaplan, a Harvard graduate who ran a successful blackjack team in Las Vegas until the team was so recognized they no longer were able to play in Nevada and split in order to try their luck internationally.

The split of Kaplan's Las Vegas team was just around the time when Massar asked him to join him and his team in Atlantic City and review their play in order to help Massar figure out what his team doing wrong. Kaplan agreed as he hoped he could recruit a new team while in Atlantic City.

While observing Massar’s team, Kaplan noticed each member of the team uses a different card counting systems that were overly complicated. In addition their play was inconsistent and they made many betting errors. They also spent too little time at the tables and too much time in each other’s company, arguing about unrelated math formulas.

Kaplan agreed to sponsor a new team but insisted that it had to be organized as a business with fixed procedures and strict training in counting and betting. Some players were against it at first but could show little resistance in light of Kaplan’s successful track record.

The team started to become profitable and would recruit players using flyers and word-to-mouth across many university campuses in Boston. They used individual play and team play based on Al Francisco’s Big Player strategy.

1980 – 1990

In 1982 Johnny Chang joined the team and proceeded to co-manage it throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Throughout the 80’s the team was operating as a large team consisting of around 22 players used in various capacities. Over the course of the decade around 70 players joined and left the team.

The team was very successful and team investors would receive from 4% and up to 300% return on their investment in the team.

Strategic Investment Phase

By 1992 Kaplan, Massar and Chang formed a Limited Partnership called Strategic Investments that was used to finance their new planned assault on a newly opened Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. They planned to recruit a new team of players there and raised a million dollars to sponsor the team.

Over the course of the following two years the team grew to 80 players, with up to 30 players playing together at any given time. The team played in several locations across the US and various island resorts. In order to expand its West Coast activity they promoted Sarah McCord, who joined the team back in 1983, to partner and she moved to California and took over the West Coast operation.

The team started winning some serious money and casino operators across the world were stunned at the level of organization, skill and sheer cunning ability that the team exhibited throughout.

With the success came pressures from casino operators that started recognizing team members and barring them from their casinos. New members were recruited but eventually casino operators used private investigators to track down members and although many members were from various Boston area colleges, the operators called them the MIT team and a legend was born.

Casinos banning players, graduation of students and the added pressures from casino operators that used yearbook pictures of students that were added to their databases and shared with other casinos finally did the trick and Strategic Investments paid up all its players and dissolved the partnership on the last day of 1993.

Post 1994

Some of the players took their proceeds and started their own small teams. Some of the new teams were very successful and one even managed to recruit 50 members and a million dollars in sponsorship from investors.

These teams continued to operate around the world up until the year 2000 when many members had developed other interests in life and other business ventures that took them away from team activity.

The Legacy

The story of the MIT Team in its various incarnations was immortalized in popular media through books, television shows and movies that helped it receive legendary status. People from all over the world have heard of it thanks to bestselling books like Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich that was accused of taking liberties when it came to telling the true story.

The blockbuster film 21 that was based on Mezrich’s book deviated from the truth even further but that only worked to increase the international awareness and cement the story of the MIT Blackjack Team as a gambling legend.

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