The 80s to 90s was a great yet usually strange era; global political dominance shaped the world we know today, Hollywood-led mass entertainment went international, and boy-band acts were the craze. However, amidst all the polarizing madness and splendor of the decades, a group of students beat the houses of leading casinos of the period. Here’s the story of Bill Kaplan, the leader of the MIT Blackjack Team who conquered the 80s and 90s casinos.
A Harvard dropout who wants to pursue a career in professional gambling, what could go wrong? That was his mother’s thought when Bill Kaplan forwent his Harvard studies in lieu of gambling. Having a natural talent in mathematics, Kaplan believed he could make a fortune counting card in blackjack. Above all, it took his stepfather to acknowledge Kaplan’s flair in blackjack to convince his mother to let go of his straight-A son.
Beating the odds in 1977, Kaplan went on a winning spree in Vegas casinos, turning his $1,000 bet to about $35,000. Afterwards, he went back to Harvard and finished his studies.
MIT Blackjack Team
A group of young students in the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology overheard Kaplan discussing his Vegas feats. Intrigued by the information, they requested Kaplan to train and manage their group. The group later became the popular MIT Blackjack Team.
The team recruited students from college campuses across the country using a strict screening method. Kaplan and his team tested potential members to find if they were suitable and if they were, the team trains them for free. Their next level of screening called “trial by fire”, demands that the potential member play through an eight-deck shoes with almost perfect play. The team also trained members on advanced shuffle and tracking techniques.
Starting in 1992, while the world had just seen the beginning of mega casinos, the team grabbed the opportunity to exploit the situation. They started Strategic Investments, a company that trains exceptional students to card count and gamble and put them in famous casinos. The company started with $1 million from friends and partners who have witnessed Kaplan’s gambling talent.
The team, in their collective effort, had won hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly. They went bigger with subgroups playing in New York, Cambridge, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, and Washington. At times, they all play simultaneously in mega casinos in Las Vegas, Canada, Atlantic City, and island locations.
The group disbanded in the 90s at the top of their game. At least some old members formed their own group, some went to play alone, while some decided to call it off. The group has inspired a generation of professional gamblers who also formed their own contemporary blackjack teams using Kaplan and his team’s methods.
MIT Blackjack Team inspired multimedia creations including books such as “Bringing Down the House” by Ben Mezrich and “The Blackjack Life” by Nathaniel Tilton, movies including “The Last Casino” and “21”, and television specials such as “Mysteries at the Museum” and “Breaking Vegas”.