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Math Movies Games

The Real MIT Blackjack Mastermind 195

Posted by samzenpus
from the king-of-counting dept.
Wade Roush writes "21, the top movie at the box office last weekend, has everyone talking about the real identities of the MIT blackjack team members fictionalized in the movie and in the 2002 book, Bringing Down the House, on which the film is based. Last week a number of stories pointed to former MIT student and Las Vegas resident John Chang as the model for the Micky Rosa character, the club mastermind played in the movie by Kevin Spacey. But Boston-area Internet entrepreneur and real estate developer Bill Kaplan is saying that if anyone is the basis for Micky Rosa, it's him. Turns out Kaplan now battles the "e-mail churn" problem as CEO of Newton, MA, startup FreshAddress, which helps companies correct the outdated e-mail addresses in their customer databases."
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The Real MIT Blackjack Mastermind

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  • by eebra82 (907996) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @08:54PM (#22946854) Homepage
    More info on blackjack professionals can be found over at blackjack.org [blackjack.org]. They cover some info on the MIT team as well.
  • by STrinity (723872) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:21PM (#22947060) Homepage
    Card counting isn't a scam, but some of the tricks they used to keep the house from twigging to what they were doing comes pretty close -- disguises, aliases, having lookouts stationed at different tables waiting for a hot deck, at which point they'd signal a team-mate to come over and law down the big bucks.
  • by jorghis (1000092) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:34PM (#22947136)
    Card counting is waaayyyyy overhyped in terms of effectiveness and profitibility. You (or your teammate if you are sneaky) have to sit there for a long time losing money waiting for a 'hot' shoe. A hot shoe really isnt all that hot either, think 51% in favor of the player. Then you have to bet huge in order to make up for all the time you sat there losing money. Do the math here for just one second, a 1% player advantage is about 10 dollars a hand winnings on average with a thousand dollar bet. In addition to all that hot shoes wont last for very long either, so dont go thinking "hey 10 bucks a hand for a few hours sounds pretty good to me". You will be doing good just to make up for all the hands your teammates spent losing money while you waited for a hot shoe.

    Even these famous teams that everyone talks about werent really all that profitable. Sure, millions of dollars may sound like a lot but thats divided up among dozens of team members over the course of several years. It wasnt 5 guys over a few weekends like in the movie 21. Do the division a few times and it quickly becomes apparant that it really isnt worth it even if you discount the fact that you are risking a large sum of money in the endeavor. If you are going to get a lot of dedicated people together and put lots of money at risk you can do a hell of a lot better than playing blackjack.

    It may make for good books, movies, etc. but if card counting was really all that effective vegas would be losing money to a brand new team every week. There is a reason everyone isnt doing it and its not because adding one for a face card and subtracting one for a low card requires 1337 math skills.
  • by ushering05401 (1086795) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:44PM (#22947200) Journal
    "And both of them have epic class A freakouts when someone smart enough to see through them tries to outsmart them."

    Or tries to start online businesses that challenge their dominance. I was making bank in online poker tourneys for a while there... oh well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:45PM (#22947208)
    "oh look he used some fancy math terms +1 insightful/informative!"

    Its just gobbledegook guys. :)
  • Bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:23PM (#22947422) Homepage Journal
    I was close friends with John Chang's friend and partner in the "MIT blackjack team" during the 1990s. I met Chang in Cambridge, and almost joined the team (I was too busy with programming work I preferred, that also made me pretty rich). This was all before anyone (other than some security firms, and a lot of hookers) had ever heard of the team. I was there for some wild times with some of these actual characters, and was there when they returned from some extreme gambling junkets - some very lucrative, some losers, lots of them extremely exciting.

    I heard _Bringing Down the House_ was being written while its author was interviewing my friend and his teammates. I read it, and was very disappointed in both the shabby writing style, and its omission of some of my favorite stories from those days. Maybe the team kept some of it quiet in self-defense, but those were much better stories than made it into the book. I asked my friend what he thought of the movie now that it's out, but he confirmed what I expected: even lamer than the book.

    There was only one other blackjack team in the world at the time that was as consistently in the money, and it wasn't at MIT - or even from the US, as far as I knew - according to the team that I knew, which was as inside as anyone could get. Maybe this other Boston guy was a player. But MIT isn't that big a place, and there wasn't some other team. Certainly not one that so closely resembled the one that showed up in the book, and now the movie.

    This guy is bluffing.
  • by jorghis (1000092) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:23PM (#22947432)
    I agree that if done correctly that is possible, but:

    1) Peeking at cards can get you thrown in jail, unlike card counting. (there is some legalese I dont totally understand about "actively" versus "passively" attempting to view the card, but with what you are suggesting I am pretty sure its considered actively trying to peek at cards)

    2) Trying to cut to a certain card X number of cards in is super hard even with practice (believe me, as a practitioner of lame card tricks I have practiced) :) and one other guy at your table hitting/staying at the wrong time can easily throw things off even if you were able to perfectly cut to card number 52 or whatever number. I believe this is one of those things where the theoretical profitability is much higher than the actual profitability due to the difficulty of actually pulling it off.

    3) I doubt that any casino these days is going to have the dealers working in such a way that allows anyone to see the bottom card. (of course you did mention this alraedy) :)
  • by unlametheweak (1102159) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:24PM (#22947436)

    Ironic because "system" == "game"?
    The game in this case is the system, but more broadly it would be the Casino and it's practice of looking out for, and of banning card counters. These pros know it's a game (not just the Game of Blackjack), but a game of out-witting the house detectives. I don't see any redundancy here.

    I will in fact "spell" it out to you. The irony lies in the term itself, and as it is applied here to card counters. The irony is also apparent in the fact that the casino's have already "gamed" the system against it's customers (from a profit perspective), especially considering that they can and will legally ban anybody whom they feel wins too much money.

    The concept of "Gaming the system" is itself ironic (I hope I don't have to explain why):

    Gaming the System means, simply, using the rules, policies and procedures of a system against itself for purposes outside what these rules were intended for.
    - http://www.wikitruth.info/index.php?title=Gaming_the_system [wikitruth.info]

    but also retarded as that's what you're supposed to do.
    Not according to the Casino's, because if they find you doing this they will ask you to leave. So that's why most people in Casino's don't do this, because they have already been banned or don't want to go through the effort.

    And BTW, Blackjack is fun for most people; nothing really too mystical here for me when I play it (on rare occasions). Granted their are fools who may think otherwise and lose their lifesavings in turn.
  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:26PM (#22947450)
    Which is why you do it as a team - with counters who bet minimum waiting for the table to become hot, then the big players who come in when signalled and start throwing the big bucks down and playing double spots. Everyone remains consistent.
  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:28PM (#22947468) Homepage Journal
    Outside Vegas, most casinos use continuous automatic card shufflers. As a result, the game is pretty much dead.

  • It's not him. (Score:5, Informative)

    by spellcheckur (253528) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:52PM (#22947612)
    As one of the players profiled in BDTH, I can say with authority that Bill Kaplan is definitively NOT the basis for the Mickey Rosa character in the book nor the character that Mr. Spacey plays on screen.

    While I will not comment on any of the rest of Mr. Kaplan's claims, I will say that, following the release of the book, and especially given the success of the movie, there have been several people who may or may not have been active card players at that time that have come out to falsely claim that the book is about them.

    Lest you suspect I may be one of them, I will point out that I was the one who submitted the original WIRED story [slashdot.org] to slashdot several years ago.

  • by astro128 (669526) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @11:07PM (#22947704)

    Several years ago, right before the book can out, Wired Magazine (which we all know and love) featured a great story/ interview about "Kevin Lewis" (his name was changed in the article) and his story about being one of the MIT kids. It's a pretty good read, probably better than the movie. Follow the link below for the article.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.09/vegas.html [wired.com]

    ---

    Over 50% of the population is below average
  • by mabhatter654 (561290) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @11:14PM (#22947736)
    that's not real card counting at all. Real counting is simply keeping track of what cards are where and the probability of what's left in the deck. If you know the good hands (considerable skill) by how other players call, you can guess what they have... and guess what's left for you. Along with that, hand shuffled decks after a few hands aren't really random as the cards are collected from winning hands and that cool shuffling by pros is very NOT random if you pay attention. There's no need to "cheat" and see cards you shouldn't at all.

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