The hack goes on

posted by Jason Kottke Aug 18, 2002

Following Thursday's post about the MIT Blackjack Team article in Wired, I got this email from a reader with some inside dope on the team's current status (reprinted with permission):

"The MITBT went defunct in the late 1990's, but has since had a sort of underground revival. I found out about them through one of my friends, a math/statistics grad student. His friends would always go over to his place at like 3 in the morning and play cards in their living room. I didn't think about it at first but I came to notice that they were all relatively well-to-do and none of them had jobs. I just assumed that they were getting money from their parents. I played blackjack with them a few times and they were so good.

"One of the guys, it turns out, is a hold-over from the old team. He's sort of the ring leader. I'm not sure if this is some sort of splinter group or what. But my friend told me that he actively recruits guys from the department and they go to Vegas about three times a term.

"Their routine is a bit different than the one described in the Wired story, but it works pretty well. They're all Korean nationals and they have really bad English (or they can when they need to). They play the language barrier to seem inconspicuous. They look like a bunch of drunk wealthy Korean business men. They'll all sit down at a table and start counting in orthogonal ways, all communicating their counts to each other in a variety of ways. They overcome the problem of having a consistent winner by rotating who is the 'big player' every hand via some system that I'm unaware of.

"I spent a few nights playing with them (they play for 8+ hours at a time) and I now consider myself a competent card counter, but their system doesn't really lend itself well to winning alone. Also, they'll never recruit me because I'm white.

"So for awhile I never knew they were into this, I just thought they liked to play cards. Then my friend clued me in that they were going to Vegas and winning consistently. I never really knew how much they were taking in though. If the figures in the Wired story are true then I'll be amazed. Based on the lifestyle these guys were living I'd say their annual income was probably in the $200k (each) regime. Not bad for a handful of weekends a year.

"As a postscript, my friend has since left school and went to Wall Street to run numbers for some large financial company."