Ever since casinos have existed, players who try to cheat casinos have also existed. Over recorded history, there is no less than hundreds of different stories relating to how people have managed to cheat casinos out of thousands and even millions of dollars. Most cheaters get caught before making out with too much money, but on occasion you will hear of someone or some group of people that were not caught for an incredible amount of time. The story of the late MIT blackjack team is one of those, and is still truly remarkable.
For those who are unaware, MIT is a prestigious United States higher education facility where some of the nation and world’s smartest minds go to further their studies. In the case of the school’s blackjack team, superior intellect was paired with cunningness to create one of the best casino cheat stories of the modern day.
Blackjack and Card-Counting
If you are not very familiar with the game of blackjack, the phrase “card counting” may be foreign to you. To make things simplistic, all you need to know is that counting cards is a method by which a player or grouping of players records the action of a blackjack table for a long enough time that patterns can be seen. It is through these (often extremely complex) patterns that players are able to gain a better understanding of what card is going to be pulled next.
Through this understanding, players have a better opportunity of knowing when to hit or stand, and thus have a better opportunity of knowing when to bet how much. Though, contrary to popular belief, card counting does not guarantee that you will know what the next card is, it does allow for you to know that there is a higher probability that certain card will be pulled next. Long story short, card-counting does nothing more than increase your odds of winning—it does not necessarily guarantee that you will win even one hand. We could go on and on about how card-counting is executed, but that would take days and there are already numerous books out there on the matter.
MIT Blackjack Squad
The origins of MIT’s famed blackjack team date back to the mid-1970s, when a bunch of analytically gifted students decided that they wanted to try their hand at beating a casino. After studying for months on end as how to defeat the game of blackjack, the first team set out for Atlantic City on their 1979 Spring Break. That first expedition proved to be a success, and so too did the ones that followed it. The original cast of characters participated in a few card-counting endeavors, but by the time they graduated most never went back to gambling.
On word of the initial groups success, a tradition of card-counting was started. In fact, people on MIT’s campus became so enthused at the prospect of card-counting that students went on to lead a class entirely dedicated to learning different methods of counting cards. Quite simply, MIT utilized a method that would see players take note of the cards that had just been played in a hand. Knowing that the cards that were just on the table would make their way back into the deck for reshuffling, and would thus be unable to be used during the next hand, the MIT students used an elaborate process of elimination to help themselves determine whether high or low cards would be drawn. By having a better idea of whether a high (10, J, Q, K) or low (A, 2, 3, 4, 5) card would be drawn next, the MIT bettors were able to more accurately and confidently place wagers.
MIT card-counting is rumored to persist even to this day, though the University has repeatedly denied this. Regardless of what you believe, the fact of the matter is that a handful of MIT students made a lifetime’s worth of money in only a few weekends and have managed to live to tell the tale.
In the wake of the card-counting scheme being outed in the 1980s, casinos the world over have taken heed of what the MIT students were doing and have instituted systems to try and prevent card-counting from being able to be accomplished. One of the most obvious ways by which casinos thwart card-counters during blackjack games is by having games played with 3 to 5 decks simultaneously. With hundreds of cards technically in play at any given time, counting cards so that you know what card is likely to come next becomes almost impossible.
To this day, card-counting is not considered to be illegal, but is frowned upon by almost every casino in existence. Though it is not illegal, do not be surprised if you are escorted out of a casino if you are accused of being a card-counter.