The MIT BlackJack Story

Whether you read the book, Bringing Down the House (written by Ben Mzrich, or seen the movie “21” produced by and acted in Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess you’ve likely heard of the MIT Team.


Without ruining the book or movie we will discuss some of the happenings at the MIT and Harvard Universities.


It was well known in the mid to late 70’s that MIT had a group of mathematicians, scientists, and human behavior students that decided to take a stab at busting Vegas.

There were various groups at both schools, and they competed against one another.


The groups dissipated in the early 80’s with  a couple from each team joining forces with a man named Bill Kaplan, he had created a team that was somewhat successful, but soon burned out.  Another guy named JP Massar also known as Mr. M. was deeply involved with the blackjack. He soon joined forces with Bill Kaplan as his team was struggling with different counting techniques and inappropriate betting etc.  Massar met up with Kaplan and asked for his opinion on what his team was doing wrong.


Kaplan broke down what the problem was and agreed to create a new team, but the team would need to follow his guidelines. He and Massar played and created the first ‘Bank” of the team.  It wasn’t long the team was making between $150-$170 per hour.


Obviously they needed to remain somewhat inconspicuous so they recruited new players as necessary.  By the late 80’s they had 30 players involved.

 The book Busting Vegas better describes the story, whereas the movie ‘21’ and the book Bringing Down the House sticks with certain individuals involved. The story in the movie is also hollywoodized as there are some aspects that did not happen.


The team really took off in the early 90’s making anywhere from $100,000-$500,000 per trip.  The select group began changing their appearances in order to avoid detection.  The main group consisted of Jeff Ma, John Chang, Mike Aponte, Jane Willis, and Laurie Tsao. Once the group hit the tables, each member had a role. Some would be the high rollers, others the degenerate lowlife, the bimbo etc. Each member had a specific responsibility; they were a signaler, bettor or monitor. Signals included brushing hair out of their face to signal a hot shoe, or leaving for the restroom if things were cold. They also used code words that represented the count, Pool for +8 (eight ball), +9 was Cats (nine lives) etc.


The team or select members were soon figured out, and the rest is history, as casinos began changing the rules adding more decks, using cutoffs etc. The group certainly made millions, and today each has their own story to tell.


Some facts and myths

-ªNone of the team were every beaten up

-ªJeff Ma was not spending is tuition at the tables he came from a well to do family

-ª The group was not all from MIT

-ª They did not use strippers to cash out money for them.



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