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The Real MIT Blackjack Mastermind 195

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now battles the "e-mail churn" problem as CEO of Newton, MA, startup FreshAddress, which helps companies correct the outdated e-mail addresses in their customer databases."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 pickyouupatnine ( 901260 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @08:47PM (#22946812) Homepage
    Really guys... frontpage material?... This dumbass story? The guy gets free publicity cuz he claims to be some guy?
  • 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.)
  • by zIRtrON ( 48344 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:50PM (#22947238) Homepage
    In my uni days, in Sydney, I used to go to the casino and play craps mainly, and if I won blackjack. Counting cards is waaaay over-rated as you say.
    Betting on 6 & 8 paid well 11 times in a row which had me up a small fortune. But on the 12th and 14th visit, I "did my arse" as they say. I wasn't overly greedy, maintained the steady betting rate.

    There are much better ways to make money if you are a skilled person.

    The vibe at a casino is generally a negative one too - always anxious/anticipating/waiting for the bank to win.

    These days, I don't enjoy gambling one bit. There are much more fulfilling ways to spend ones time. Work, do your work, then PLAYTIME!
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @09:56PM (#22947268) Homepage Journal
    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 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.
  • 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.

  • by trawg ( 308495 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @10:47PM (#22947582) Homepage
    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 at the movies or something), but I specifically remember that as an example of how just knowing a bunch of stuff about numbers and probability can affect gambling, and that if I'm ever going to get into it I'm going to learn the hell out of the odds before I do anything!

    (I seem to recall some mention of the casino staff asking him to leave because he was winning so much so fast, but maybe I imagined that)
  • by drivers ( 45076 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @11:53PM (#22947912)
    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 day when they booted me, but I made +$32k over five trips to vegas in the
    past two years or so.

    I knew I would get kicked out sooner or later, because I don't play "safely".
    I sit at the same table for several hours, and I range my bets around 10 to 1.
  • 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".

  • 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).
  • Exactly right. It's pretty difficult these days to win with card counting, especially with six deck shoes, infinite shuffles, or two deck games that only deal out 2 hands before reshuffling.

    The casinos are not going to kick you out for dumb luck, and they aren't going to kick you out if you seem to be card counting but aren't doing it very well. On the other hand, they will kick you out if they see perfect play (and remember, everything you do at the table is seen by the eye in the sky. It's not just the pit bosses who are reviewing your play).

    Of course, it might have changed since I used to play a lot. Back in '00-'01 I'd go to Las Vegas at least twice a month, and I'd count cards. I wasn't perfect (I'd lose the count every so often), but I still generally won more than I lost. No big amount; it was just for fun.

    Only once did they say anything, and that was a night at the Tropicana where I turned $80 into $1,300 (playing flawlessly, and getting a good chunk of luck to boot) Around 4am, the casino was mostly empty, and the pit boss seemed very interested in my table. I could see him looking at me and talking on the phone to . . . someone.

    Eventually he came up to me and suggested that I go back to my room and get some sleep. That was all they said. I don't know if that really meant anything or not, but I was smart enough to get the hint. I said "You're right. I'm very tired", blacked out and left.

    But at the level I've played at, I've never seen any real repercussions from the house. I've played a number of times at the Tropicana since then, and nobody has said anything to me.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"