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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now battles the "e-mail churn" problem as CEO of Newton, MA, startup FreshAddress, which helps companies correct the outdated e-mail addresses in their customer databases."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 LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @08:31PM (#22946694)
    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now battles the "e-mail churn" problem as CEO of Newton, MA, startup FreshAddress, which helps companies correct the outdated e-mail addresses in their customer databases."

    Translation: Kaplan now helps marketers/spammers share your address so that when you associate your new address with your same other information, they can continue to market to/spam you.

    Yeah, right, that's a job that's gonna get you a lot of respect here on /.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by houstonbofh (602064)
      From one scan to another... At least he is consistent.
      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @08:41PM (#22946764) Homepage Journal
        I think you meant scam.

        And counting cards is in no way scamming.

        It's just playing the game the way a scientist should, not the typical "mystical" way that most people do.

        Maybe in a hundred years "luck" will be an outmoded concept and gambling will been seen properly as "entertainment" but until then, most every idiot who goes to a casino is a mystical moron who thinks he's going to get lucky and win.

        • And counting cards is in no way scamming.
          A more accurate and ironic description would be "Gaming the system".
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by QuantumG (50515) *
            Ironic because "system" == "game"? In which case your descriptor is "Gaming the game", which is not only redundant, but also retarded as that's what you're supposed to do.

            • 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 raehl (609729) <raehl311&yahoo,com> on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:18AM (#22948026) Homepage

                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.
                The right way is to use a printed table with Perfect Strategy (minimize losses), in Vegas (free drinks!) at the Wynn (fairly small house advantage), outside (fresh air) at the European-sunbathing (boobies!) pool, where there are only 12 tables (see cocktail waitress often = more free drinks!) that are right next to the bar (cocktail waitress travel distance is short = more free drinks!).

                The wrong way would be to play "what feels lucky" (maximize losses) in Council Bluffs, IA (no free drinks) on a 6/5 blackjack table (big house advantage) on the floor (stale air, no boobies, senior citizens galor, annoying slot machine sounds, and infrequent cocktail waitress appearances.)

                The one downside to the Wynn is you can't get to the pool unless you're a guest, and the rooms there are rather steep (but very very nice). You can mitigate that by losing a bunch of money when you play and then the rooms are not so steep anymore.
                • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:36AM (#22948142) Homepage Journal
                  You don't have to lose, you just have to lay it down.

                  Go to a blackjack table and throw down $80,000. When they've finished giving you your chips, play 2 hands of $5 then go to the cash out window. Watch as they give you a free room for being a "high roller".

                  • by tknd (979052)
                    If I could lay down $80,000 like that I'd probably think the room is cheap.
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Anonymous Coward
                  The "right way" is to stay away from normal play. The New England casinos run various games, and when the tables are slow, they'll announce a change in the odds at a particular table to draw in players. You switch tables and play _there_, where the odds are better, and it helps your card counting quite a lot.

                  Did the books mention the blonde, big-buted Mormon girl Wendy form Senious House dorm at MIT who was on the team? She would wear slinky outfits and wildly changed hair colors and distract the pit bosses
          • by Deadstick (535032)
            Much more accurate, and not at all ironic, would be "optimal play".

            rj
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by nephridium (928664)

          Maybe in a hundred years "luck" will be an outmoded concept and gambling will been seen properly as "entertainment" but until then, most every idiot who goes to a casino is a mystical moron who thinks he's going to get lucky and win.
          Wanna bet on that?
        • by mog007 (677810)
          Well, counting cards is already an obsolete method of trying to beat the system, because most good casinos use a combination of multiple decks of cards, and computer controlled shuffling machines to make it a futile effort.
      • by mattack2 (1165421) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:10PM (#22946978)
        Exactly how is card counting a "scam"? They're using mathematics to beat the game, legitimately. One would think that Slashdot readers would appreciate that.

        (Also, read "The Eudaemonic Pie", about a shoe device to predict roulette. That one is at least illegal.. though someone on wikipedia claimed that the publication of the book is what got the law passed.)
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by STrinity (723872)
          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 bskin (35954) <{bentomb} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:33PM (#22947120)
            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.

            No, it's really no more of a scam or criminal act than, say, encrypting your email. There's nothing wrong with obscuring what you're doing.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by cruelfood (951773)

              No, it's really no more of a scam or criminal act than, say, encrypting your email. There's nothing wrong with obscuring what you're doing.

              Except that according to Bringing Down the House, they had been told not to come back to some of the casinos, and were using disguises to avoid being thrown out again. They were tresspassing, which is a criminal act.

              But I agree that team blackjack play can't be considered a scam, especially the part about having spotters waiting for a hot deck. If the casino offer

              • by asuffield (111848)

                But I agree that team blackjack play can't be considered a scam, especially the part about having spotters waiting for a hot deck. If the casino offers a game where the player has the advantage, a savvy player will take advantage of that. The casino can always change the rules of the game, or choose not to offer it.

                And what the infamous book didn't mention is that the casinos figured it out and changed the rules to break it. You're not allowed to sit down in the middle of a shoe, so there is no "team play"

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by _KiTA_ (241027)

            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.

            None of that sounds overly disingenuous to me -- all of that sounds like standard teamwork and strategy. The casinos are just upset that someone is outsmarting them, and have enough money themselves to make an issue of it.

            I see a remarkable parallel between them and the *AAs, actually. Both are large monolithic companies who make a rather large amount of money with archaic business practices and are reliant on their customers being ignorant. And both of them have epic class A freakouts when someone smar

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              "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.
              • You still can really. All the bite in the Unlawful Internet Gambling act is about blocking financial companies like MasterCard and Western Union from transferring money around. It doesn't really say much about you, the gambler sitting at the table. Just send them a cashiers check, and they'll do the same. Problem solved.
              • The 2006 law regarding online gambling was not consumer facing: It's no more illegal now than it ever was before.

                The law prohibits financial institutions from transferring money in and out of gambling accounts.

                But there are about 999 ways around that. Among them:

                1. Mailing a money order to the poker site
                2. Using an intermediary such as ePassporte
                3. For what it's worth, FullTilt still accepts my debit card :)

            • by Erpo (237853) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:20PM (#22947406)
              I see a remarkable parallel between them and the *AAs, actually. Both are large monolithic companies who make a rather large amount of money with archaic business practices and are reliant on their customers being ignorant.

              I agree. Casinos and the *AAs would work much better if they were made up of distinct processes that communicated via message passing rather than function calls.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Thugthrasher (935401)
            They only did that because the casinos want to make more money and so will throw people out who are playing the game in a way that improves their chances. They have the right to throw them out, but that's why they had to disguise themselves.
          • by bkr1_2k (237627)
            They had to do that because the casinos will actively inhibit anyone they know is counting cards. They will ask you to leave, even though you're playing by the rules of the game. If you do it too consistently, they'll ban you permanently, despite the fact that you have done nothing wrong.

            This movie is exactly what casinos want. They want to keep people thinking they're breaking the rules by counting cards, when in fact, it's well within the rules and the only way to actually win consistently.

            So, yeah, it
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But, but.. he went to MIT! He can't be evil!
    • by krinsh (94283)
      So, he basically admits to being a worthless scam artist, not once but twice? I see how that would be a good career progression.
  • 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 Don_dumb (927108)
      There's more info (including a different MIT team, which was the one I thought of, when I read the summary). Is contained in this text of a Horizon episode.here [bbc.co.uk]
  • by Idgit (1078377) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:13PM (#22947006)
    The real mastermind is Keyser Soze.
    • by rwyoder (759998)

      The real mastermind is Keyser Soze.
      "The greatest trick the gambler ever pulled, was convincing the house he did not exist."
      • The real mastermind is Keyser Soze.

        "The greatest trick the gambler ever pulled, was convincing the house he did not exist."

        It's more like "The greatest trick the house ever pulled, was convincing the gambler that he did not exist."

  • 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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vinn01 (178295)
      Also, a reason everyone isn't doing it - is because it's so easy to get detected and blackballed from every casino in town.

      After sitting at a table placing small bets for hours, you're going to attract a lot of attention if you start betting big money (because the shoe became 'hot') in hopes of making up for all the hands you spent losing money while you waited for the hot shoe.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by SpinyNorman (33776)
        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 jorghis (1000092)
          That may make things slightly more difficult to detect but not a lot. It is a REALLY well known strategy (most people reading slashdot have heard of it and this isnt even a gambling related website). One big player moving tables a lot and throwing down thousands of dollars a hand will attract a lot of attention. It may not be as obvious but its not easy to grind away for the hundreds of hours it takes to come ahead in blackjack without getting caught at it either. Casinos know to watch for it.
          • by bkr1_2k (237627)
            "It may not be as obvious but its not easy to grind away for the hundreds of hours it takes to come ahead in blackjack without getting caught at it either."

            This is what I don't get. Why do people keep insisting it takes "hundreds of hours" to get ahead or find a hot table?

            If you have a 3 deck table, it only takes about 100 cards or so before you know where the cards are, basically. It actually takes a little less than that, but I can't remember for sure so I'm roughing it. So, assuming my numbers are rig
            • by jorghis (1000092)
              Well yes, if hot shoes came up every half hour and you won 100% of the time when a shoe was hot blackjack would be pretty damn profitable and everyone would be betting 10 thousand dollars a hand. :) But that isnt the case, thats the movie/book fantasyland.

              1) A hot shoe isnt some automatic thing that will happen as soon as you get more than halfway through the deck. Its actually pretty unlikely to have the cards distributed in that manner. You will need to play a LOT more than 6 rounds to get to it.

              2) You
        • by vinn01 (178295)
          Even the most loosely run casino pays reasonable attention to bets of $25 or more (if they didn't they would be out of business). The idea that a high roller can come in and out of games, make big bets (when the real count happens to be highly positive), and avoid detection for more than a couple of days is laughable.
      • Blackballed? I almost want to bet that Vegas bankrolled this movie in the hopes that a bunch of lousy gamblers and wannabe card counters head to their casinos and blow all their money.
        • Once a casino has identified a person as a card counter, the person's name and likeness are immediately circulated on something called the Griffin list, which, I am told, has the power to keep people out of most casinos for the rest of their lives.
        • by jorghis (1000092)
          Considering most of the movie is shot inside of Vegas casinos, I would say that its a safe bet they are loving the publicity.
    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:13PM (#22947362) Homepage Journal
      You should read Breaking Vegas also by Ben Mezrich. It describes some techniques, that used to work, which exploits the fact that when the dealer shuffles the deck they often inadvertently show the first base player the bottom card - then they ask another player at the table to cut the deck which, with practice, can be done precisely. This places a known card at a specific position in the deck (typically 52 cards in) and by carefully playing the table the team can arrange for the known card to fall on the most opportune hand. For example, if the known card is an ace, the team can arrange for it to land on the hand showing a picture card to make a blackjack.. if the known card is a picture card, the team can arrange for it to land as the dealer's 3rd card, typically busting them.

      This doesn't give you a 1% or 2% house edge, like card counting, it gives you a 30% to 60% house edge.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jorghis (1000092)
        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
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by QuantumG (50515) *
          Outside Vegas, most casinos use continuous automatic card shufflers. As a result, the game is pretty much dead.

        • by Kozz (7764)

          and one other guy at your table hitting/staying at the wrong time can easily throw things off even

          And when I used to frequent a local casino playing blackjack (for fun, not really counting, etc), that was my biggest pet peeve: Some jerk at the end of the table saying you screwed him up because you hit/stayed at the wrong time and now he got the wrong card. In a card-counting scenario as you lay out, I can understand how it would be important. But in a casual game with one guy complaining, I often want to tell him to STFU.

        • by kria (126207)
          I've read the book, and part of point two is taken into account - they made sure only people from their team are at the table.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mabhatter654 (561290)
        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"
        • by QuantumG (50515) *
          If they show you the card, it isn't cheating, it's using the information you were given. No-one said it was card counting.

        • I knew a guy at work that would cheat at WAR. He'd goad a few guys into playing, and as he took cards, he'd carefully slip the "power" cards onto the bottom of his stack. Doing this, his power cards were always in a run, and he'd be more likely to take out other players power cards over time. He didn't care how many poor cards he won or lost. He'd win about 80% of the time.
      • by bkr1_2k (237627)
        That's exactly why most tables "burn" the top card. You know what it is, which gives you some advantage, but not the advantage you're discussing because the card is never put into play.
    • Actually..... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by raehl (609729) <raehl311&yahoo,com> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:43PM (#22947562) Homepage
      Most Vegas games have house advantages in the 0.5% range. So you lose $0.50 of every $100 bet when using perfect strategy. (They make most of their money on people not using perfect strategy.)

      You can do better than a 1% advantage, depending on the rules of the game, and if your buddy spent several hours losing at a 0.5% advantage betting the minimum, you can make up for that pretty fast even at a 1% advantage if you're betting the table limit.

      But, it's a lot more complicated than just counting +1 / -1 and then betting more when the count is good, at least if you want to be GOOD at card counting. On top of just betting more, when you have good information about what cards are left, that also changes the 'right' actions in certain situations. For example, some hands that you always hit if you don't know what's in the chute may become hands you double-down instead. Some surrenders become stands. Some stands become hits. And looking at the table of 'perfect' blackjack strategy, the counts at which the 'right' move changes are different for each box. At a trivial level, instead of memorizing that you hit a 12 against a dealer's 3, you'd instead have to know that you hit a 12 against a dealers 3 when the count is less than (Whatever).

      The REALLY big problems with making money counting cards are three-fold:

      1) Counting cards is hard. So there is a big up-front investment in learning how to do it.

      2) You have to bet big. When you bet big, you can still go on runs where you lose a LOT of money. Blackjack isn't a game where you bet $1,000 a hand and win $20 a hand. It's a game where you lose $1,000 a hand, sometimes win $1,000 a hand, occasionally win $2,000 a hand, semi-occasionally lose $2,000 a hand, and rarely win $2,500 a hand. But most hands you lose.

      Two consequences of that:

      - To make enough money to make it worth your time, especially if you're smart enough to count cards and could presumably put those talents towards a real job, you have to bet big. That means you have to have $1,000 a hand to bet.

      - To bet big, you have to have enough of a bankroll that you can play over the long haul. At $1,000 a hand, you probably need $50,000 to have a chance, $100,000 to be reasonably sure, and you could STILL have a bad run and lose all of it, even with a 2-3% advantage.

      I sometimes play blackjack on vacation, using perfect strategy, where the house has 0.55% advantage. Even betting $20/hand, my bankroll can swing $1,000 in the short term (over a period of hours). That works out to swings of $50,000 betting $1,000 a hand. Losing $50k is a pretty high risk for the money you're going to win counting cards.

      3) If you are betting $1k a hand, and have $100,000, you get a lot of attention, and are not going to be around casinos very long if you keep winning. So you have a big initial investment (learning to count cards well) and a limited time to leverage that investment (until the casino figures out who you are)

      Most people would be better off putting their money in a nice mutual fund.

      But, soon those new machines that reshuffle the cards every hand will replace chutes and it'll be a moot point.

      • sounds like day trading on the stock market!
      • by jorghis (1000092)
        I agree with 90% of what you just said except for one part:

        But, it's a lot more complicated than just counting +1 / -1 and then betting more when the count is good, at least if you want to be GOOD at card counting. On top of just betting more, when you have good information about what cards are left, that also changes the 'right' actions in certain situations. For example, some hands that you always hit if you don't know what's in the chute may become hands you double-down instead. Some surrenders become stands. Some stands become hits. And looking at the table of 'perfect' blackjack strategy, the counts at which the 'right' move changes are different for each box. At a trivial level, instead of memorizing that you hit a 12 against a dealer's 3, you'd instead have to know that you hit a 12 against a dealers 3 when the count is less than (Whatever).

        You are correct that you can gain a little bit of an advantage by adding a few more rules to basic strategy but I dont think that this makes it substantially harder. Memorizing that you hit a 12 on a dealers 3 when the count is less than X isnt much more difficult than the base case where you arent counting. Even if you are card counting you should never be doing math beyond basic arithmatic at the table. You dont need to understand all the math

        • by raehl (609729)
          You are correct that you can gain a little bit of an advantage by adding a few more rules to basic strategy but I dont think that this makes it substantially harder.

          Clearly you're not taking enough advantage of the free beer when playing blackjack. Keeping track of basic strategy is hard!

          Fortunately they let you use the chart, which makes life easier, and provides for maximum opportunities for making up for the house advantage with liquor consumption.
      • by Dare nMc (468959)

        But, soon those new machines that reshuffle the cards every hand will replace chutes and it'll be a moot point.

        thats already trivial, and already equivalent to video poker. Any casinos who still want gamblers like me, and my friends, who go to the tables occasionally and basically try to count cards at a $5 table, betting a max of $20 per hand and generally come out within $200 (usually within $50) per gambling evening at the casino. Will always offer decent chances to try and count, and throw out those w

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by trawg (308495)
      Heh I've always wondered about blackjack - years ago John Carmack of id Software wrote a .plan update about how he went and played at some casino (found this site [xent.com] which includes the copy of his update at the time) - it sounded like he walked in, played for a few hours and won $20k (which he donated to the FSF).

      I always remembered that; I don't gamble because I don't know the numbers well enough to feel like I'd be doing anything other than having fun (and I'd rather spend my money 'having fun' at the pub or
      • I remember that too.

        I found this at this url (at the bottom)
        http://doom-ed.com/blog/1998/09 [doom-ed.com]

        In his 9/8/1998 update it says:

        A few of us took a couple days off in vegas this weekend. After about
        ten hours at the tables over friday and saturday, I got a tap on the shoulder...

        Three men in dark suits introduced themselves and explained that I was welcome
        to play any other game in the casino, but I am not allowed to play
        blackjack anymore.

        Ah well, I guess my blackjack days are over. I was actually down a bit for
        the d
    • That's what the cute girl spotters were for... they'd bet like a regular girl player out to play for fun, and watch for signs that the deck was about to "streak". That cut down the time the really good players would be tied up.
    • by mbstone (457308)
      Whatever the effectiveness of card counting, the movie wasn't about card counting so much as it was about "Wonging" (the practice of inviting a big-betting confederate to join the game only when the count is favorable). The casinos no longer allow "mid-shoe entry," i.e. a new player must wait until after a shuffle to enter the game). End of Wonging.
    • by drfireman (101623)
      Card counting is also way overhyped in terms of the brilliance of its practitioners. Sure, it takes some insight to come up with the idea of card counting, and somewhat less insight to come up with a new, useful, card counting system. So we're talking about a handful of people in those clubs. And it takes some imagination, if not technical genius, to circumvent the defenses casinos have put in place, handle the logistics, etc., so I'll give someone a little bit of credit for that. The rest of the people
    • by HEbGb (6544)
      Absolutely right, sir. I still play (and count) for fun here and there myself, but it's all entertainment for me.
    • Casinos, like all business, spend a healthy amount of time and money determining where they're losing money. And they put in place corrective actions to stem it.

      The reason counting is so ineffective now is because it used to be profitable. There WERE dozens of teams, but we're talking 70's-90's.

      Technology has helped casinos. But so has more than a few expose books written by people who did, literally, make millions from the casinos.
  • 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 Brownstar (139242)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIT_Blackjack_Team#Strategic_Investments.2C_1992-1993 [wikipedia.org]

      (look at reference articles as well as the wiki page).

      Kaplan was one of the founders along with Chang of Strategic Investments.

      Kaplan also helped trained Chang in a previous incarnation of the team.

      So I guess you don't know as much as you'd like to think you do.

      Now whether the character is based on Kaplan or Chang, I have no clue.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        Except that Kaplan was not part of the events that make the story worth telling, the events that Spacey's character portrays. By the time that the team was recruiting from MIT students not already connected to the team, Kaplan wasn't part of the action.

        There were plenty of people connected to the team who I didn't know. I wasn't there when it was started, or even for the majority of its adventures. But I knew it well enough to know that Kaplan wasn't the model for Spacey's character, or any other interestin
    • by MadAhab (40080)
      Interesting.

      I know an MIT blackjack player who was "on the team" and I heard about it when he was actually doing it (and the world at large had no idea about it) and he was making craploads of money on summer vacation. He's making bucketfuls now in the financial world. I can't say I heard this guy's name, but then again, I never heard any names.

      The story is worthy of a better treatment (fiction or non-fiction) than it's gotten, for a variety of reasons that seem sort of obvious to me: lack of true sleaze fa
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        My friend from the team has an extremely interesting story, of which the MIT team is only a part (though the one with the most fireworks for the screen). But I think he'd rather be rich than famous, and there is good reason to believe they'd have to choose one or the other ;).
  • 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 hey! (33014)
      I started MIT in 1979 and people often ask whether I knew anybody on the blackjack team. I answer not to my knowledge, although I was certainly aware that people were doing this.

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think card counting wasn't exactly a closely held secret. I knew at least one guy who used to practice in one of the lounges, and was happy to explain various counting systems, some of which were easy enough for somebody who was not interested in spending hours on end memory training to master. Co
  • 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

  • Long before this, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by onemorechip (816444) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @12:54AM (#22948230)
    MIT professors Ed Thorpe [wikipedia.org] (later of UCI) and Claude Shannon [wikipedia.org] were developing blackjack strategies. Talk about shoulders of giants... Shannon of course is the famed father of information theory. Besides blackjack, these guys figured out how to gain an edge in roulette using some tricky electronics. Thorpe later made a fortune by founding one of the original hedge funds (this book [amazon.com] is a fascinating account).
  • 1. Pick a movie from the top box office list
    2. Mention that you looked like a main character when you was in college
    3. Provide a 2 page detailed description of your business
    4. Profit!
    • Ya. Mod this up. This is what I was about to say. Oh and by the way I am the CEO of the startup FreshAddress, which helps companies correct the outdated e-mail addresses in their customer databases.
  • What he does is "epending" -- that is to say, trying to guess the "right" email address for someone who didn't give you that address.

    Which is to say, providing dirty lists to spammers. You cannot do this right.
  • What some people probably don't realize as much is that Vegas is the wrong place to try all this, and probably Atlantic City. Hit up the Louisiana-Mississippi casinos, bet small, and don't go to the same place several times in a row. My understanding is that their systems are less sophisticated and dealers not as bright...so you won't get caught and can make more money. Cheaper to live down here, by the way.
  • Once again, everyone:

    1. Card counting is NOT hard, nor does it take ANY math skill or special memorization ability. It does take practice to do effectively, but the whole MIT brainiac angle is 100% marketing for a book/movie.

    2. Blackjack teams have been around for decades, running on exactly the same strategies as the folks from MIT *mimicked*. The MIT team DID NOTHING ORIGINAL. It's marketing, folks.

    3. In the best of cases, card counting MIGHT sway your odds to about 1% favor, so it takes a LONG time
  • There really isn't a real equivalent from the source material 21 used. No, I'm not talking about some blackjack book. I'm talking about the real source material: Risky Business [wikipedia.org]. That's where 21 got almost all of its plot material. They just made a few substitutions like hookers were replaced with gambling and Joey Pants was replaced with Cowboy Curtis and Princeton was replaced with Harvard Med. Wherever they didn't already have some plot worked out, they'd throw in a little MIT card counting stuff fro

[Crash programs] fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month. -- Wernher von Braun

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