The MIT blackjack team is probably the most notorious and successful card-counting team in the history of the game. As expected from students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), players on the team used sophisticated card-counting techniques, as well as the ‘big player’ team strategy, to gain a considerable edge over the casino. Now, their amazing story is being acted out by Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Bosworth in a new movie entitled ‘21’.
Blackjack is the only casino table game in which skilled players can gain an edge over the casino. A player must use correct basic strategy and apply card counting techniques to keep track of the number of high cards (tens and aces) remaining in the deck. When the deck is rich with high cards, a player has a better chance to hit 21. If a player bets more when the count is high, and less when it’s low, he can gain an edge of roughly 2%. After that short explanation you may be asking yourself ‘OK, but why bother with a team?’.
The problem is that casinos don’t like to give away money. If a player shows suspicious behavior, such as consistently raising his bets when the count is high, the casino will eventually ban him. Team play gets rid of that problem – one member, known as the ‘big player’ is the high-roller that places all the big bets. The rest of the team place small bets and are sitting at their tables just so they can count the cards. When the count is right, they signal to the big player to join the table and make his move, and that’s how the team avoids detection by casino security. Doesn’t that sound dramatic? At least somebody at Colombia Pictures thought so.
The MIT team wasn’t the first big player team, but it was the most successful, and is by far the most well known. It operated on-and-off from 1979 until the early 2000’s, and its story has already gained much media attention. First came the New York Times Best Selling book with the long title: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Written by Ben Mezrich, the book was first published in 2002, and was an instant hit. Later came the sequel by the same author – Busting Vegas, which told the story of a different MIT card counting team, and was also a great success, even though its title was much shorter.
The History Channel aired a documentary called Breaking Vegas, which focuses on the most successful period of the MIT team. Game Show Network responded with a documentary of their own called Anything to Win. The BBC was fast to follow with the most critically acclaimed version of the story (to date) – Making Millions the Easy Way, which also emphasized the mathematical aspect of the story.
Now Hollywood is ready to take a crack at this amazing story. 21 is a new film scheduled to come out next month. It’s loosely based on Mezrich’s book, who also helped write the screenplay. Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) directed a star-studded cast, with Jim Sturgess playing the lead role of Ben Campbell, an MIT student who is recruited into the team. The team is lead by an unorthodox math professor named Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). Things heat up after casino security enforcer Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) realizes something is going on, and is determined to end the team’s winning streak. Of course, there is also a love story. It is, after all, Hollywood’s version of the story.