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Blackjack Legends: The MIT Blackjack Team

“It’s pure mathematics: the house is going down!”

A bunch of super-intelligent nerds from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may not be the standard clientele at the casino, but, when a group of students and alumni came together in the ’90s to form a pro Blackjack team under the moniker “Strategic Investments,” they quickly became the greatest fear of casinos around the world.

A Meteoric Rise

“Mr. M,” a graduate from MIT, knew that he could beat the game. Unlike other games like Roulette or Craps, Blackjack isn’t totally random. There are optimal moves at every turn, and by ‘counting cards,’ a gambler can get an edge by knowing how much to bet at any given moment. Even though most casinos frown upon the practice, and will even kick players out if they suspect counting, it’s not technically breaking the rules.

“We’re just using our heads to solve a problem,” explained Mr. M in typical MIT fashion.

Photo: Inc.

Still, they had to do a lot more than act like human supercomputers at the table. As the stakes went up, they engaged in the ultimate game of cat and mouse. Their intense training regiment went far beyond strategy; these MIT-students-turned-gamblers had to stay cool under pressure and avoid detection, all while maintaining their concentration.

By the summer of July 1992, they began to stack up the chips. From Las Vegas to Atlantic City to casinos in the Caribbean, a dozen MIT students took up a double life as weekend high-roller.

“Beating the house feels great on a deep psychological level,” said Semyon Dukach, one of the stars of the team. “They have everything behind them, and we are just a few kids.”

At the end of the summer, they’d won nearly a million dollars. And the perks kept flowing: luxury suites, steak dinners, private jet rides, and more. One student even had his wedding comped at Ceasar’s Palace!

Of course, such big winners attract a lot of attention. Casinos are in the business of making money, not losing it. That’s when they called up Griffin Investigations, who sent Andy Anderson, a casino investigator, to track down these mysterious winners.

Crash and Burn

After following them throughout Vegas and even the world, Anderson begins to put the pieces together. Semyon gets kicked from his first Vegas casino, and then, on a trip to the famous Monte Carlo, he even gets arrested. By this time, their faces are plastered in every casino across the globe.

Despite trying different disguises, they keep running into difficulties. That’s when the bad luck starts. By the fall of 1993, they had dropped half of what they had won.

With morale at an all-time low, Mr. M accidentally forgot $125,000 at a meeting room on the MIT campus. When a janitor finds it, the FBI, CIA, and DEA all get involved, and, only after an expensive legal battle, does the team get their money back.

Having lost his credibility and his bankroll, Mr. M is crushed. Players resent him, it’s a huge headache, and they aren’t even making any money.

By December 1993, the MIT Blackjack Team was just another part of history. Still, they proved that, if you’re smart enough, you can beat a system that is unfair. You can break Vegas, but you need to be serious, you need a big bankroll, and you can only do it for a short amount of time.


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