If you ever wondered who Mickey Rosa’s character is based off
of in the bestselling novel, “Bringing Down the House,” you
won’t have to look any farther than John Chang. Having been a
part of the MIT Blackjack team since he was in college, John
quickly became one of the most successful managers the team has
When it comes to blackjack, this is what John Chang has to
say, “There is a lot of stuff in blackjack that is useful in
other aspects of your life. Analyzing a game and then putting
out the money requires brains and courage. Running a team
requires presence and an ability to deal with people.
Withstanding negative fluctuations requires confidence and
When John was younger, his family moved around a lot. He has
lived in various suburbs in New Jersey, New York, and
Pennsylvania. John came from a very well educated family; his
father has a PhD in chemical engineering, while his mother has a
master’s degree in chemical engineering. His sister studied at
both Stanford and Harvard, eventually becoming an orthodontist
who owns her own practice.
John was expected to follow in his family’s footsteps. After
doing very well in high school, he was accepted to MIT, where it
took him nearly ten years to graduate. Although he was
intelligent enough to do the work, John never felt motivated to
go to his classes. It’s safe to say his family was less than
excited when they found out he spent so much of his time playing
Early Experiences Playing on the MIT Blackjack Team
The MIT blackjack team can be traced back to 1978, when
Resorts International first opened in Atlantic City. The
managers at that time were former MIT graduate: J.P. Massar and
former Harvard Business School graduate: Bill Kaplan. They
recruited students from schools other than MIT, including
Harvard, NYU, and Princeton.
John Chang’s first experience with card counting occurred
after he saw a sign on a bulletin board that read, “Make $300
Over Spring Break.” $300 was a very enticing amount for him at
that point, so he decided to go to the meeting. It turns out
that the meeting was really a recruitment session for the MIT
blackjack team. Even though John knew very little about
blackjack, he decided that since he was there, he might as well
give card counting a chance.
Over spring break, he travelled with the MIT Blackjack team
to Atlantic City to play at the Claridge Hotel and Casino. He
was told to bet $5 if the count was +1 or $10 if the count was
+2. Although this doesn’t seem like a lot of money to him now,
it was enough to make him feel uncomfortable then. He had his
ups and downs over his first twenty hour session, but he did
remarkably well for his first time.
John eventually graduated from MIT, moving on to work at
Kendall Square as a Senior Software Engineer during the
weekdays. He spent his weekends travelling with the team,
switching between the position of a gorilla and a big player. He
was quickly able to adapt to the idea that he would have to make
large wagers, often betting thousands of dollars at a time. One
of the early highlights of his career was when he bet $1600 at
the Desert Inn, earning $8,000 on a single hand.
Unfortunately the team had many arguments over bankroll
management that they were never able to settle. The team
eventually fizzled down to just a few players, at which point
the Strategic Investments (MIT) blackjack team was formed. This
team initially had 40 members with a bankroll of one-million
dollars, most of which came from investors.
John was asked to take on the responsibility of recruiting
new team members, which was a surprisingly easy task thanks to
the many qualified candidates to choose from at MIT. John
happily accepted recommendations from other teammates, but he
put posters up around campus as well. Thanks to John’s efforts,
the team was easily able to expand; they had earned nearly
$700,000 in just a matter of months. Despite their initial
success, the team didn’t stay together long; many people left
the team, thinking they could easily make more money on their
Becoming Manager of a MIT Blackjack Team
John took it upon himself to form his own MIT blackjack team,
inviting many of the players he had contact with over the years
to join him. One thing John did a bit differently than the
previous teams he had been a part of was to have all of the
players invest some of their own capital into the team’s
bankroll. This way those who were playing would be the ones
benefitting from the team’s progress, plus they wouldn’t have
the added stress of keeping investors happy. Many players were
skeptical of this idea, but those who trusted John didn’t come
to regret it.
John had his players go through a rigorous testing process
before they were permitted to travel with the team. There was a
written test given before he would assess the player’s skill
set. One of the things players must do on this test is to draw
the basic strategy chart. He then tested players on their card
counting, shuffle tracking, and ace sequencing abilities.
Once on a trip to the Bahamas, he had collected a variety of
different colored chips. When he went to cash in his chips, the
dealer mistakenly was going to give him $34,000 instead of
$18,000. In shock, he realized his players weren’t prepared for
the unexpected events that often occur at the casinos. He
eventually incorporated rare scenarios like this into the
testing process to make sure his players could handle anything
that was thrown at them.
John was constantly trying to make the team the best it could
“One thing about the MIT blackjack team – it’s very
mechanical in its approach. People are trained to do something.
We have high standards for performance, and we check people out
with those standards. We have removed as much judgment from the
play as possible.”
Under John’s leadership, the team focused on big player call
ins mainly, quickly increasing their bankroll at an unheard-of
speed. In just a couple of months, the team’s bankroll increased
from $400,000 to nearly $5 million dollars. Their bankroll
continued to grow over the years, but managing this team didn’t
come without its difficulties.
Challenges with Managing a MIT Blackjack Team
One of the biggest initial challenges that John faced was
getting large amounts of money past security at the airports.
They would often carry up to $100,000 each time, and getting
caught would definitely raise suspicions with security. Most of
the time, John’s team was able to hide the money in bricks and
transport it in their carry-ons. However, there were a couple
occasions where other players on the team did get themselves in
A new female player on the team only had to carry about forty
thousand dollars in her carry-on, which wasn’t a lot of money
considering. She mistakenly left something metal in her
carry-on, so security searched through her bag and found the
money. She tried to cover it by saying her grandfather had given
it to her for her college tuition, but they didn’t believe her
and the DEA was called in to investigate.
John stepped in and told the police that they were blackjack
players; they confiscated their money but didn’t press any
charges. More instances like this have taken place since 9/11,
as airport security has gotten even more intense.
One challenge John ran into when it came to managing a MIT
blackjack team, was calming the nerves of the newer players.
Many of the players had never set foot in a casino before and
since they had to do their training at the MIT classrooms, it
was a challenge to get them ready for a real casino experience.
Once at a casino, many of the players became overwhelmed. They
would constantly be looking over their shoulder and their hands
would often shake a noticeable amount.
In an interview with Richard Munchkin, John talks about his
experiences with managing a team and the difficulties he came
across when it came to letting difficult players go.
like a regular business where you can tell him to pack up his
stuff and go home. Disgruntled players have caused us big
problems in the past. Someone sold a list of our team members to
Griffin. Our business does not work with people who are not
The larger the team became, the more likely there would
be interpersonal conflicts between players.
John also had to decide whether or not he would allow players
to tip the dealers, as they would technically be giving away
money that didn’t belong to them. Initially, he refused to allow
them to tip, as he knew some players would be too generous. Over
the years, however, he realized that tipping is a natural
process of the game and that having players tip the dealers
helps them blend in more effectively.
Even though many teams and players have resorted to using
disguises in the casinos, John and the MIT Blackjack team try to
stay away from them as much as possible. John has used disguises
in the past, but he considers them to be a last resort. When he
first played at the Bahamas, he disguised himself as a girl
since he couldn’t grow any facial hair and he had a delicate
body structure by nature. He blended in with the other players
quite well, and no one suspected he was actually a man.
He tried using this disguise again in Atlantic City, but it
didn’t go over so well this time. He was immediately caught by
security personnel, and a reporter from the Washington Post was
called over to write an article on it. Although it was an
embarrassing report, everything written in the article was
entirely true so John couldn’t really complain.
The Team Starts to Fade Away
The team was in its prime towards the end of the 1990s; it
reached nearly eighty team members and was bringing in
consistent profits. Over the years, Griffin Investigations has
been adding more and more information to John Chang’s file,
making it more and more difficult for him to play blackjack.
They have a list of aliases he’s used in the past, a vivid
description of what he looks like, and hundreds of pictures of
John had to start being particularly cautious at the casinos,
as one wrong move could cause him some serious trouble. Other
members of his team ran into similar problems, so breaking the
team up into smaller groups seemed like the best option
available. John invested some starting capital into most of
these teams, and would act as their mentor until they could get
on their feet.
John started playing more in other countries including
Austria, the Caribbean, Czechoslovakia, England, France, and
Hungary. John claims that Austria has the worst game selection,
and it’s not uncommon to be cheated in France. He believes he
was given what is called a “short shoe,” meaning that all aces
and tens have been removed from it. He bet nearly $15,000 on
what he thought would be a surefire win, but due to the lack of
a complete deck, he lost his entire stake. He was furious and
vowed never to play in France again.
John eventually married his beautiful wife Laurie, who also
played on the MIT blackjack team during its prime. Towards the
end of her card counting career, Laurie was handcuffed and
dragged to a backroom. Although she wasn’t injured, it did shake
her up quite a bit. She has always been supportive of John and
his profession, but since they got married, they haven’t been as
actively involved with any of the teams. They are both in their
upper fifties now, looking forward to a well-deserved, peaceful
In 2007, John Chang was officially inducted into the
Blackjack Hall of Fame, being recognized for managing the MIT
Blackjack team for over twenty years in total. He was honored to
receive this award, as only the top blackjack professionals have
made the cut.
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