MIT card Counting strategy

How The MIT Students Beat The Casinos At Blackjack

By Henry Tamburin

Bringing Down The House
by Ben Mezrich, a book the describes how a team of MIT students won millions playing blackjack, has sparked a lot of interest from the general public in blackjack and in particular card counting. The book was a NY Times bestseller and it was made into a movie (“21”). Because of all this publicity about the MIT team and their accomplishments, I’ve been receiving a lot more inquiries about how this team of students was able to pull off their big score. Here is how they did it.

First off, they didn’t cheat. They basically learned the following skills- the basic playing strategy, card counting, and team play - to win at blackjack.

Basic strategy is simply a set of rules that tells you the best way to play every hand dealt to you. For example, one of the basic strategy plays is to always split aces and 8’s no matter what the dealer’s upcard. You can find the basic strategy in blackjack books (including my Blackjack: Take The Money & Run) and it is a pre-requisite for winning at blackjack.

Next the MIT team members learned a card counting system. This is a way to keep track of the cards as they are played after a shuffle. A grouping of cards, for example the 2 through 6’s, are assigned a value or tag of plus 1. Likewise the high cards – tens, picture cards and aces – have a minus 1 tag. They add and subtract the tags for each card that is played from the shuffled deck(s) to arrive at a sum known as the running count. The more positive the running count, the more high cards are left in the undealt cards which gave them the advantage, so they bet more (often tens of thousands). When the running count was negative, they bet less because there was an abundance of small cards left in the undealt cards a situation which gave the house a decided advantage. The team members, therefore, waited for the deck to get good before they bet large sums of money.

The member of the MIT team did not play solo much like most card counters would do. They went one step further by using spotters, Big Players, and a team bank. Here’s how this works.

Several spotters would enter a casino and position themselves at different blackjack tables. They counted and when the count went positive, they wouldn’t increase their bets, but rather signal another team member (known as the BP or Big Player) to enter the game with big bets. The BP continues to bet big until the spotter gives another signal that the deck has gone bad (or negative) and then the BP leaves the table. The BP basically wanders around the casino waiting for another call-in from a spotter.

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