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Blackjack Aces Series: The MIT Crew

by Craig Edwards
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MIT Crew

In our Joe Wager Prodigy Series, we have looked at many of the “Blackjack Hall of Fame” esteemed individuals, but you will have noticed that in many of those articles, those players have at some time, or another taken part in team raids on the Casinos using their card-counting skills.

For that reason, this installment looks at the best-known Blackjack team ever assembled called the MIT crew, who were pioneers of the team concept before online casinos were even a thing. 

How Did MIT Begin?

The MIT Blackjack Team was formed in 1979 when a group of like-minded individuals came together in their pursuit of profit through card counting in Blackjack, using a team strategy. Those individuals were a group of students and ex-students from several leading colleges and universities such as Harvard, Massachusetts and the Institute of Technology (MIT). They collaborated their knowledge using the well-documented card counting technique and disguised it within team play on the casino floors of America.

It All Started in the Classroom With a Lesson

It all started in the classroom when friends of the reclusive J.P. Massar took a lesson titled, “How to Gamble. If You Must”. Massar was about to graduate with a master’s degree in computer science and those friends reported back how Blackjack had become proven beatable by maths.

Not long after, at the MIT Lincoln Lab in Massachusetts, Massar determined that by playing enough hands with enough players willing to signal others about their hands, it was possible for a player to win more hands than they would lose.

If at First You Fail, Try Again!

Not long after, at the spring break, the team headed to Atlantic City to see if the concept worked and they returned home with their tails between their legs. Many of those who went vowed to never gamble again but two of them, JP and Jonathon (as he was known in the gang) offered a course in Blackjack at MIT, using the Independent Activities Period (IAP), which was a designated period for classes to be offered on any subject.

In late 1979, Massar had already been approached by a professional gambler who offered to bankroll a team of students in their next foray to Atlantic City on the back of new legislation that said casinos could not ban card counting.

The MIT Crew Started Small and Got Bigger

Then, with a backer, a professional gambler and a team of four other students, they went back to AC in late 1979 and started to make an intermittent yield over the next six months, in fact building their bankroll by a multiple of four.  The problem was the group was growing bigger with each passing week as they brought more of the class students into the operation, so it quickly became shared across too many parties.

Then, in May of 1980, Massar met Bill Kaplan, who had gained a master’s degree from Harvard, and they combined all they had learned in those previous months. Amazingly, nearly a year later, they had yielded a massive x35 on their initial investment, which interestingly, was originally seeded by Kaplan’s graduation funds for Harvard’s outstanding scholar-athlete.

MIT Became Official

By August of 1980, the MIT Blackjack Team was formed legally and became fully functional with ten Blackjack players using outside investors as the original seed money of just under $100,000. Amazingly, nearly three months later they had doubled their stake as profits per hour on the Blackjack table were just under $200, at which point the players and investors split profits by means of agreements. Players were paid in proportion to their playing hours and computer-simulated win rates.

Ten years later, the team expanded to more than 70 players from 22 partnerships over the ten-year period, which saw profits yielded to investors from as low as 4% to a phenomenal high of 300%. They later went on to form a company called Strategic Investments that traded between 1990-94 before they parted ways.

The MIT’s Legacy

Mathematical prodigies J.P. Massar and Bill Kaplan formed the MIT Blackjack team that dismantled casinos up and down North America between 1980 and 1994.

We showed how through trial and error in the early days they made a huge success of card counting over that period using ten sharp brains and a few outside investors. The film “21” was based on this story and to this day Massar and Kaplan remain in the shadows as many of the best gambling brains often do!

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Craig Edwards
Craig Edwards, an online tipster in golf and snooker for over four years, boasts a track record of 7800 bets with a 28% return on investment. A snooker professional from 1988 to 1996, he was once a single-figure handicap golfer. Achieving the 282nd position in the WSOP MAIN EVENT in 2007, Craig possesses a unique insight into the psychological shifts of professional sportsmen, anticipating their mindset week by week.

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