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Blackjack legends – the MIT blackjack team
There are plenty of stories about infamous casino cheats that have done the rounds over the years, but although they didn’t break the law and didn’t do anything particularly innovative in the way they played the casinos at their own game, the MIT blackjack team has to be one of the most legendary blackjack success stories.

A group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students decided to use the frowned upon, and just about legal, practice of card counting to beat the dealers in casino games of blackjack. Back in the 1970s, the group of MIT students practiced their card counting techniques and team work in dorm rooms and basements so that they were well prepared for a number of different situations, both in what could happen during a game and in how to handle the casino staff. Already at this time, casino staff were well-versed in how to spot card counters and once they did, they would politely take them to the exit!

After hours of practice play over a period of months, the team set themselves loose on the casinos and during their first weekend at the blackjack table won an incredible $400,000. Following their success the MIT blackjack team continued this shady practice through the years, recruiting new and highly-intelligent members from both MIT and other top colleges like Harvard. They gained such a reputation that as they became better known that they ended up playing abroad more often than at home in the States.

Their exploits featured in a non-fiction book by Ben Mezrich, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Although presented as non-fiction, many of the characters in the book are composites and some of the events described have been refuted by the people the characters are actually based on. Bringing Down the House was used as the inspiration for the film 21, released in 2008, and starring Kevin Spacey as a professor at MIT who recruits a group of students to pull off a casino heist using blackjack.

MIT is also widely acknowledged to be the birthplace of card counting as a system to beat blackjack, and an MIT professor Edward Thorp is often referred to as the father of card counting. Thorp analysed the probabilities of the game of blackjack using an IBM 704 computer. He tested his theory out with a road trip to casinos in Reno, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. With co-conspirator Manny Kimmel, Thorp earned $11,000 during the first weekend of playing his system. However, instead of using the card counting system to rip off casinos completely, Thorp decided to publish his findings and theory in his book, Beat the Dealer (1996). The book sold more than 700,000 copies and even made it onto the New York Times best seller list, providing Thorp with an ample income to enjoy on pursuits such as the odd trip to the casino!

It should be unsurprising, then, that both the MIT Blackjack Team and Richard Thorp have both been inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
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