MIT BlackJack Players

It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the book, Bringing Down the House (which waswritten by Ben Mzrich), or seen the movie ’21′ which was produced by and acted in Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess, you have likely heard of the MIT Team.

Without discussing the book or movie we will talk about some of the happenings at the MIT and Harvard Universities.

It was quite well known in the mid to late 70′s that MIT had a group of mathematicians, scientists, and human behavior students that decided to take a stab at busting Vegas. There were diverse groups at both of these schools, and they competed versus one another.

The groups dissipated in the early 80′s with a couple from each team working together with a man named Bill Kaplan. He had made a group that was somewhat successful, but soon burned out. Another fellow named JP, Massar, better known as Mr. M., was deeply involved with the blackjack. He soon joined forces with Bill Kaplan as his group was struggling with different card counting techniques and inappropriate betting. Massar met up with Kaplan and asked for his opinion on what his group was doing incorrectly.

Kaplan broke down what the problem was and agreed to make a new group, but the group would need to adhere to his guidelines. He and Massar worked together and created the first ‘bank’ of the group. Very quickly, the team was making between $150-$170 per hour.

Obviously they required to remain somewhat low key so they recruited new players as necessary. By the late 80′s they had 30 players working together.

The book “Busting Vegas” better talks about the story, whereas the movie ’21′ and the book “Bringing Down the House” sticks with certain individuals involved. The story in the movie is also glamorized as some things did not occur.

The team really took off in the early 90′s making anywhere from $100,000-$500,000 per trip. The select group began changing their appearances in order to avoid detection. The main group consisted of Jeff Ma, John Chang, Mike Aponte, Jane Willis, and Laurie Tsao. Once the group hit the tables, each member had a role. Some would be the high rollers, others the degenerate lowlife, the bimbo etc. Each member had a specific duty; they were a signaler, bettor or monitor. Signals included brush hair out of their face to signal a hot shoe, or exit for the restroom if things were cold. They also used code words that represented the count, Pool for +8 (eight ball), +9 was Cats (nine lives) etc.

The team or select members were soon figured out, and the rest is history, as casinos began changing the rules adding more decks, using cutoffs etc. The group certainly made millions, and today each has their own story to tell.

Some facts and myths

- Jeff Ma was not spending is tuition at the tables he came from a well to do family

- None of the team were every battered up

- The group was not all from MIT

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