MIT Blackjack Team: Legendary Card Counters
What started off as a group of students in a class at MIT that played blackjack together on the weekends turned into a multi-million dollar team that recruited numerous members, and excelled at blackjack in casinos across America for more than a decade.
The MIT Blackjack team used advanced card counting techniques and other distinct strategies that aided to their overall success. They continually beat the odds, forcing casinos to pay out huge returns.
How It All Started
In the fall of 1979, MIT offered a new elective for students called, "How to Gamble If You Must." The course covered many aspects of gambling, but it focused on the rules of blackjack and the concept of card counting.
J.P. Massar, who excelled in the class, invited other advanced students to team up with him and head to Atlantic City to try out their newly learned strategies. However, despite their new knowledge of card-counting, their first casino experience would be considered a failure.
Most of the main members of the team quickly lost interest in blackjack and had no desire to continue card counting after they graduated, but Massar on the other hand was still very passionate about the game.
Upon graduation, a professional blackjack player named Dave contacted Massar and asked him to join in his efforts to go to Atlantic City to take advantage of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission's new law that made it illegal for casinos to ban players for card counting.
After contemplating his proposal, Massar and Dave agreed to go in together to create a new team with advanced card counting abilities to take to Atlantic City. They had a starting capital of $5,000, which was given to them by a private investor.
Massar and his team were successful, bringing home a decent profit, but their results lacked consistency. They decided to keep their eyes out for someone who had experience in leading a blackjack team, but in the meanwhile they offered their own course at MIT on card carding techniques so that they could start recruiting more members.
How One Man Changed Everything Around
In May of 1980, Massar met Bill Kaplan, a Harvard graduate who previously lead a successful blackjack team in Nevada for three consecutive years. His team had made significant profits in just a little amount of time, but Kaplan parted ways with them after they decided to go international.
Massar talked to Kaplan about his team and their experiences so far until Kaplan finally agreed to come to Atlantic City to watch them play. He observed that most of the players had overcomplicated card counting strategies that greatly hindered their rate of success, but he saw great potential in the team and agreed to become their manager.
Kaplan set his new team up with an improved counting and betting system and he developed a strict player and approval process. He also forced them to fill out intensive player sheets where they had to record their betting and limit strategies, their cash in and cash out amounts, and other tedious details for every session they played.
Through contacting many investors and from their own capital, the MIT Blackjack team was able to accumulate about $89,000. Their team consisted of ten players including Massar, Kaplan, Irvine, Chang, Rubin, and five other under-grad students. In just ten weeks of playing in Las Vegas, they almost doubled their investment.
Due to their success, players earned over $80 an hour and investors reached a 250% profit off of their original investment. The team had successfully combined individual talent to a team effort of dividing up counters and high rollers to disguise the typical card counting patterns and to maximize their potential profit.
The team kept recruiting students through their class at MIT, and also by handing out flyers at many Ivy League schools across the United States. By 1984, they had reached a total of 30 team members.
It got to the point when Kaplan was unable to play at most casinos, because he was recognized by their officials and would be harassed until he left. Kaplan decided to take a break and focus his attention back to his real-estate business.
The members of the MIT Blackjack team started to lose interest too, due to the increased pressure from casinos and personality differences among team members. We thought this was the end for this legendary team, but we were certainly wrong.
A Second Chance, Welcome to the 1990s
In 1992, Massar, Kaplan, and Chang got back together to take advantage of a new casino that recently opened in Connecticut. They immediately started recruiting new members and they formed the Strategic Investments group that raised over one million dollars.
In just a few months, they had over 80 members involved in their team, many of which were former students of MIT. This time, their team spread out all over the country, even expanding to casinos in Canada.
They split into two teams called "Reptiles" and "Amphibians," competing with each other over who could win the most money. Their profits rapidly multiplied, but casinos became even stricter with card counters, prohibiting many of the team's players from being able to enter certain casinos at all.
They tried using well-crafted fake ids along with other techniques to disguise their identity, but unfortunately the casinos had their photos and true identifications on file. Their efforts seemed helpless; the Strategic Investments group shut down, and the MIT blackjack team had officially departed for good, leaving only their legacy behind.
In 2008, the movie,"21," was released starring Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, and Kate Bosworth. It's loosely based off of the inspiring story of the MIT blackjack team.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: May 2015