Legends of blackjack
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It’s so easy to play online casino games now it’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago if you’d wanted to play blackjack, you’d have had to get yourself to a casino to play a serious game.
There are many myths and legends about card counting in blackjack and today’s game online, of course, leaves no room for this dubious but profitable method. But when the only place to play blackjack was in land-based casinos, card counting was one way players could work to fleece the casinos. Of course, if people were caught card counting by casino staff, they’d be escorted to the door and refused future entry.
But where did it come from, who worked out the theory behind card counting methods and possibilities? Credit for this has to go to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, Edward Thorp. Back in the 1970s, Thorp used an IBM704 computer to work out the different probabilities in a game of blackjack and then took his theory on the road to test out in different casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. With an assistant to help him, Thorp made a profit of $11,000 in just one weekend!
A group of MIT students got together in the early 80s and practised blackjack for hours at a time to perfect the art of card counting. They also worked on different scenarios and how they would react if casino staff suspected what they were up to. From this group, the legendary MIT blackjack team was created and managed to bank $400,000 when they went to a real casino to put their card counting studies to the test.
Over the years, the MIT blackjack team evolved with different members being recruited. Eventually, their faces became so well-recognised at US casinos that they had to take their playing overseas; to avoid being ejected from casinos.
These two legends of blackjack were the inspiration for the 2008 film, 21, starring Kevin Spacey as MIT professor Mickey Rosa. Rosa recruits a group of his best students to help him pull off a casino heist using card counting in blackjack. The film drew on a non-fiction book called Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (Ben Mezrich), although members of the real MIT blackjack team have disputed some of the events described in the book.
Whatever part of the MIT blackjack team legend is truth or not, it’s one of the more colourful parts of blackjack history and it’s not surprising that both the MIT blackjack team and Edward Thorp have been inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
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The card game of blackjack has a very rich history which should definitely be known by every self-respecting blackjack admirer.
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