The Infamous Blackjack MIT Team
October 5, 2017
Blackjack is such a popular casino game because it has had some exciting phases in its history. One of them was the MIT Blackjack Team that over a period of 12 years used card counting technique to win awesome amounts of money at Atlantic City land casinos. Card counting involves keeping track of whether the shoe has an excess of high value cards or low value cards. This information is used to calibrate blackjack strategy so as to deliver a return of over 100%.
Two of the founders of the MIT Blackjack Team had different past experiences. One of them was J.P. Massar. In January 1979 Massar was involved in a MIT course called "How to Gamble if You Must" that included card counting in blackjack. Massar put together teams of students from MIT doing that course and gambled at Atlantic City casinos trying to execute the theory of card counting. But he was unsuccessful. Bill Kaplan, on the other hand, had successfully operated a blackjack team in Las Vegas for three years. The team got disbanded because the players were tired of Sin City.
In May 1980 Massar met Kaplan in a Cambridge restaurant quite by chance. Kaplan accompanied Massar’s team to Atlantic City to study why they were unsuccessful. Kaplan found that the team was making fundamental mistakes, among which was that the members were using different card counting techniques. Kaplan and Massar agreed to join hands and the Blackjack MIT team was formed. Under Kaplan’s guidance the team began to function under a formal management system, using a dedicated card counting and betting system. There was specific focus on player recruitment and training. The MIT Blackjack Team started playing on August 1, 1980 with an investment of $89,000 and with ten players, including Kaplan and Massar. In the first ten weeks they more than doubled the original stake. The players earned an average of over $80 per hour played while investors received an annualized return of more than 250%.
The members of the team kept changing, but the team as a whole grew. In 1982, John Chang, one of the most famous blackjack players, joined the MIT Blackjack team and became its co-manager. Chang was inducted in the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2007. In 1984 Kaplan had to give up active playing involvement in the MIT Team. He became a recognized figure and was hounded by the casino personnel making it impossible for him to engage in card counting. The MIT Team however continued playing, with over 70 members in the team by 1989. Then the players got tired of the hectic schedules.
Kaplan, Massar and Chang he restructured the team calling it Strategic Investments. It began operating from the middle of 1992. But the casinos began to take steps to neutralize card counting. Hence on December 31, 1993 Strategic Investments was disbanded.