The MIT Blackjack TeamBy: Shirley Spicer, Thursday June 17th 2010
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Blackjack teams are groups of professional blackjack players that operate in unison employing advanced techniques to create a positive expectation. This means that for every $100 wagered the players expect a return of more than $100. Hence playing for long periods they are able to win large amounts. The techniques usually employed are card counting, shuffling tracking and hole carding. Card counting involves figuring out whether the shoe has an excess of high value cards or low value cards. Shuffle tracking involves locating the position of aces or slugs of cards after they have been shuffled. Hole carding uses legitimate means of getting a peek at the dealer’s hole card.
The MIT Blackjack Team was not the first blackjack team to operate at land casinos. In fact the MIT Team drew on the earlier teams. What makes the MIT Blackjack Team so famous is that it sustained for over 12 years. One of the founders of the MIT Team was J.P. Massar. In January 1979 he was involved in a mini-course called "How to Gamble if You Must" taught at MIT. It dealt in part with card counting in blackjack. For over a year Massar put together teams of students from MIT and gambled at Atlantic City casinos trying to exploit the learning from the course. But he was unsuccessful.
In May 1980 Massar had a chance meeting with Bill Kaplan in a Cambridge restaurant. Kaplan had been running a successful blackjack team for three years at Las Vegas. The team members had got tired of playing in one place and had split up to test their skill in Europe. Massar requested Kaplan to accompany him to Atlantic City, observe his team playing and figure out what they were doing incorrectly. Kaplan did that and realized that Massar’s team was making fundamental mistakes. The most prominent among them was that the members were using different card counting techniques.
Kaplan agreed to form a team but laid certain conditions. The team would have formal management procedures, a dedicated card counting and betting system, strict training, player approval processes and meticulous tracking of all casino play. The MIT Blackjack Team started playing on August 1, 1980. They began with an investment of $89,000 and ten players, including Kaplan and Massar, in the team. In 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%.
Kaplan had based his systems on those used by Al Francesco, the man who originated the concept of blackjack teams. Ken Uston, a member of Francesco’s team had written the first book on blackjack team play. In 1882 John Chang joined the MIT Blackjack team and became its co-manager and most famous player. Francesco and Uston were among the first inductees to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2002. Chang was inducted in 2007.
Kaplan had to give up active involvement in the MIT Team in 1984 because he was a recognized figure and was hounded by the casino personnel rendering him ineffective. The MIT Team however continued playing, with over 70 members in the team by 1989. Then the team began to lose interest. Kaplan again entered the picture and along with Massar and Chang he restructured the team calling it Strategic Investments. From the middle of 1992 to December 1993 Strategic Investments functioned in most casinos across the United States and Canada. But the casinos retaliated strongly, banning players from the team. Constantly getting new players became a problem and managing the team became less lucrative than investing in the booming real estate market. Hence on December 31, 1993 Strategic Investments, the successor to the MIT Blackjack Team was disbanded.
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