Casinos don’t offer players a lot of openings with regard to long-term profits. They hold the advantage in almost every scenario.
Blackjack is one of the few situations where players can gain the edge over casinos. Of course, one must know how to count cards in order to pull off this feat.
But card counting alone isn’t always enough to win big. Some players form teams to give themselves a stronger chance of earning bigger profits.
The MIT Blackjack Team is arguably the best such team in history. They made millions of dollars from casinos around the globe.
One of their founding members recently explained exactly what made the team so special. Hint: It wasn’t just the fact that they were geniuses from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
What Was the MIT Blackjack Team?
The MIT Blackjack Team is actually an umbrella term for a team that encompassed multiple schools. It included students from the Harvard Business School, Harvard University, and MIT.
The team’s origins can be traced back to November 1979, when blackjack pro Bill Kaplan saw a flier for an MIT blackjack club. He contacted the students in charge and proposed that they form a team to take advantage of Atlantic City casinos.
The latter was ripe for the picking, considering that the New Jersey Casino Control Commission had recently ruled that AC casinos couldn’t ban card counters.
In May 1980, Kaplan met J.P. Massar at a local Chinese restaurant. The latter overheard Kaplan talking about his blackjack exploits and introduced himself.
Massar asked Kaplan to travel with his newly formed team to critique their play. Kaplan agreed and watched the group play in Atlantic City.
He saw more potential in the students than with his old team. But he also explained that they needed to simplify their counting strategy.
Kaplan wanted Massar and his friends to agree to a corporate-like structure for the team as well. He wanted a uniform procedure that included:
- A standard counting system used by all members
- Management at the top (i.e. Kaplan and Massar)
- Tough training protocol
- Trial by fire for potential new members
- Funds split between investors and players based on multiple factors
By August 1980, the team was up and running with $89,000 worth of investment capital. Just three months later, they’d more than doubled their initial stake.
The team was also crushing Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos to the tune of over $160 an hour. The players and investors earned around a 50/50 split, with team members collecting $80 per hour.
In 1984, the MIT Blackjack Team had grown to 35 players and had capitalization of $350,000. But Kaplan decided to become less involved with the team around the same time.
He had been playing as a pro since 1977. He’d become recognized by so many casinos that he couldn’t set foot on most Vegas gambling floors.
Therefore, Kaplan decided to stop playing and continue managing his real-estate investments. Massar, John Chang, and Bill Rubin assumed managerial duties afterward.
What Makes the MIT Blackjack Team so Special?
The MIT squad isn’t notable just because they won. After all, many card counting teams throughout history have been successful.
Instead, this particular team is famous due to the extent that they won. They earned millions of dollars, making the endeavor worthwhile for both the players and investors.
Some of the investors earned as much as 300% back on their stake. This rate is incredible when compared to traditional investments.
The MIT Blackjack Team is also famous for its sheer size. At its height, the team had 80 people playing in casinos throughout America and Europe.
The group’s strict training and procedures paid off. Every group within the team was profitable after taking expenses into account.
Yet one more notable point about the team is their longevity. They lasted from 1979 into the early 2000s.
Chang, Massar, and Kaplan, who was still involved in some capacity, even turned the team into a limited liability corporation in 1992. They created Strategic Investments in order to raise more funds for the team and take advantage of Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino opening.
Strategic Investments was able to raise far more money for the team than previous efforts. It also used included groups of three players, including a big player, spotter, and controller.
The spotter would watch games and count until finding a positive deck. The controller would sit at the same table, make small bets, and verify the spotter’s count.
They’d signal the big player when the deck went positive. This player would sit down and bet big immediately, so as to look like a high roller instead of a counter.
Of course, the big-player technique wasn’t completely new to those who are used to playing real money blackjack. But the extent to which this team took advantage of the concept was.
At one point, the MIT Blackjack Team had members stationed everywhere from New York to California. Sarah McCord, who joined the team in 1983, trained players located on the West Coast.
Casinos had never faced such a coordinated effort to count cards. Many gambling establishments across the world were losing money to this skilled corporation.
What Happened to the MIT Team?
All great things must come to an end. Casinos aren’t stupid, and they eventually came to realize just how much money they were losing through blackjack.
They made a more concentrated effort to network and identify the team members. Some casinos even hired private investigators to look into the matter.
Strategic Investments made a fortune in a short time span. They paid all of the remaining members and investors, then dissolved at the end of 1993.
However, the team was still kept alive to some extent by other players. It hung on until the early 2000s, when almost every member had been outed and identified by casinos.
Did The MIT Team Win Because They Were Geniuses?
A close connection has often been made between card counters and geniuses. The MIT Blackjack Team is a large reason for this association.
However, the truth is that one doesn’t have to attend a prestigious university just to understand card counting. Kaplan, who recently did an interview with Boston Magazine, explained this aspect.
“Honestly, just about anyone with a high school education can learn the game. It just happened to be, everyone on the team was from Harvard, MIT, Princeton, University of Chicago.”
He added that some of the team members didn’t even attend college. All it took was enough practice and memorization.
Kaplan Explains the Real Secret to the MIT Team’s Success
As mentioned above, you don’t need to be a genius just to count cards. But you do need some traits that some players seem to struggle with.
“Most teams fail on the money management. They never make it to the long run.”
“There are tens of thousands of people who tried to win at the game, but MIT was the only team who really won year over year, because we ran it like a business. Training, extensive training, checkout procedures, two hours of perfect play, leaving the table right. It was really run more tightly than most businesses.”
Kaplan added that another key to the MIT Blackjack Team’s success was their sheer volume of players. More manpower allowed them to better capitalize on opportunities.
“It’s hard to do, as an individual. One of the reasons you play as a team, you can pool all your capital, but you’re able to get to the long run sooner. As a player, your advantage is about one percent. If you’ve got 30 people playing and putting in eight hours, playing in accordance with the guidelines, you get to the long run that much faster.”
The MIT Blackjack Team has become one of the most legendary names in gambling history. They terrorized casinos from the 1979 to the mid-1990s.
The team even continued on into the early 2000s, before finally disbanding for good. But they’d more than made their mark by this point.
As covered by Kaplan, what set the MIT Blackjack Team apart from other teams was their commitment to bankroll management and discipline.
This team wasn’t just a collection of gamblers who pooled their money together. Instead, they were a corporation run by investors with strict guidelines.
Casinos had never encountered such organization in card counting before. They had serious difficulties rooting out the MIT Blackjack Team members and stopping their organization.
The casinos resorted to hiring private investigators to crack the code. They were finally able to identify the MIT and Harvard players and stop the bleeding.
Nevertheless, the MIT Blackjack Team walked away with millions of dollars and also cemented their legacy in gambling lore.