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MIT students beat Vegas at blackjack


Interesting story: "throughout the 1990s," a rotating group of MIT students took regular trips to Vegas, where they used expert card-counting strategies to win millions at blackjack.

They used fake identities and were given great free perks (I wanted to spell that "perqs," as it's short for "perquisites," but the dictionary stopped me), such as gigantic rooms with private pools and butlers. Eventually the casinos figured out who they were and barred them from the games.

But the most interesting part to me comes at the very end of the article: turns out one of them wrote a book about it, and MGM is planning to make a movie out of the book. MGM also owns casinos that lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to these players. Which at first I thought was ironic 'cause it meant MGM giving even more money to them. But the final paragraph of the article notes:

Turn a loss of hundreds of thousands [on MGM's part] into potential millions from a movie about it. One is tempted to say that the old adage is true after all—the house always wins.

Heh. Good point; I hadn't thought of it that way.


I think they used their math skills to come up with better ways to count, which is cool, of course. But to me their coolest innovation is absurdly simple:

The problem with card counting is that in order to use it, you have to bet more when the table is "hot" and less when it isn't, and the casino soon catches on to you. The MIT team had some folks counting but not trying to use the count in their bets, but then signalling to other "high roller" players who bet big all the time -- but only at tables known to be hot. Clever!

Somehow I thought that was a standard thing for card-counters to do.... Was that approach invented by the MIT people?

You're probably right -- I first heard of it in connection with them; other well-known blackjack counters I've heard of were solo players. My sense is that the MIT folks were very good at this, though; the articles I've read talk about their various "high-roller" personas and so forth.

MIT students are scary. Once I happened to be on Amtrak sitting behind the MIT College Bowl team on their way to a match. We threw around some trivia questions and such. Astounding people. For example, all of them could give the full listing of any element, not merely from the element name or symbol, but also from the row and column of the periodic table. Yikes.

But I triumphed, in that there was one(1) question I was able to answer that they couldn't ("Name all of the Robert Heinlein novels that won the Hugo award."). Of course, there were dozens that they knew and I didn't.

they did not count cards as their sole method. it had to do with being able to cut the deck in a certain fashion because the dealer revealed the last card.