MIT Blackjack Team: Who They Are

26 May 2008

This March a new movie "21" appeared on the American screens telling an amazing story about a team of professional gamblers that managed to invent their own blackjack tactic and apply it successfully. All the characters of the movie are young, smart, ambitious and what is the most important - they are real. The plot of the movie is borrowed from the book "Bringing down the house" which is in fact based on a true story of the MIT team consisting of four students who used their mental abilities to win millions at Las Vegas casinos.

Both the book and movie are far from reality but the main idea has been kept. Despite of the fact that the famous team of blackjack players operated long ago it remains to be the most successful one and its story still attracts lots of gamblers, journalists and blackjack fans all around the world. The MIT team story has been modified a little bit but all in all the movie covers all the aspects of the real story of Jeff Ma, Jane Willis, Mike Aponte and John Chang. The parts in the movie were performed by Jim Sturgess, Keith Bosworth, Jacob Pitts and Kevin Spacey.

In 1992 the leaders of the MIT team created Strategic Investments limited partnership that allowed recruiting more players and raising their venture capital up to $1,000,000. Jeff Ma admitted: "The first year I played, we returned 154 percent to our investors. That's after paying off expenses. You try and do that on Wall Street."

The MIT strategy approach was to occupy all the seats at the blackjack table and let one of the players to win the whole pot. It was possible through losing small bets by all the rest members of the team and by counting cards. The card-counting strategy helped to track when the players were going to bust and what decisions had to be made. In order to inform each other about the count of cards the members of the MIT team used the range of special code words:

Tree: +1 (a tall tree)
Switch: +2 (binary, on or off)
Stool: +3 (three legs of a stool)
Car: +4 (four tires)
Glove: +5 (fingers on one hand)
Gun: +6 (six bullets)
Craps: +7 (lucky seven)
Pool: +8 (eight ball)
Cat: +9 (cat has nine lives)
Bowling: +10 (strike is ten pins)
Football: +11 (number of players in a football team)
Eggs: +12 (a carton with twelve eggs)
Witch: +13 (bad luck number)
Ring: +14 (fourteen carat gold)
Paycheck: +15 (day of the month most people get paid)
Sweet: +16 (sweet sixteen)
Magazine: +17 (the name of the magazine)
Voting booth: +18 (voting age)

The movie "21" has many unreal episodes but anyway it is one of the most interesting televised stories for blackjack fans dreaming to bring down the house.

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