MIT Blackjack Team History, People & Videos

Link to: The MIT Blackjack Team Website

Link to: MIT Blackjack in Wikipedia

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Semyon Dukach, our founder, was a member of the MIT Blackjack Team and a professional blackjack player.  He had played with the team Strategic Investments, which was formed by John Chang, Bill Kaplan and Massar in 1992. Semyon later became the leader of the team and the founder of Amphibian Investments. This team's experiences were chronicled in the famous book Busting Vegas. The team was also referred to in the famous book, Bringing down the House, which had later been made into the Movie 21. Dukach had been the main character in the book, Busting Vegas and was, interestingly enough, the only member who had been referred to by his own name in the book. Dukach was born in 1968 in Moscow and had later moved to the US. He studied at the Columbia University and later enrolled in MIT in 1993.

While Dukach had been in MIT he had been recruited in the MIT team. He was trained and coached to use the card counting techniques and had been made a member of the Strategic Investments team in 1992. Semyon Dukach was an important member of the MIT Team and had been greatly successful in the early years of the team.

Once Strategic Investments ended, he still continued to play blackjack. He then formed his own team in 1994 with a few players which was named Amphibians Investments. Other than the card counting techniques, Dukach's team also made use of various other advanced strategies and techniques like card sequencing. Dukach finally quit playing blackjack professionally towards the end of 1990s and since then he has not been very involved in the game.

However, Semyon has continued to speak at events and he formed the Blackjack Science website which coaches interested players in the blackjack techniques. Apart from blackjack, Semyon has also been a part of various other successful ventures over the years.

In blackjack history there was one legendary group that has been immortalized in books and movies and is still remembered today for their achievements in the field. With a dogged determination to beat the casinos, they revolutionized the concept of blackjack by using one simple strategy, card counting. Here is how the famous MIT Black jack Team originated.

The story began with:
In 1979 MIT offered a short course titled “How to gamble if you must”. Several students who were regularly playing poker in the dorms decided to attend the course to learn more about blackjack.

The course was designed to teach students how to play the game and the concept of counting cards. As a follow on to the instruction, a group of these students decided to put together a team to test the theory and see how it would work in Atlantic City. However, they failed miserably even though they used card counting techniques.

Who was the first?
While not happy with their test results, the group parted ways at graduation. Later that year, J.P. Massar, an original member of the group, was contacted by a gambler who was only known as Dave. It seemed that a new law had recently made it illegal for casinos to bar card counting in New Jersey. Dave and Massar decided to take advantage of this new development.

They found an investor willing to risk $5,000 on their venture. With a team of four they were, once again, on their way to Atlantic City to “try their luck”. As fate would have it, they were lucky this time and earned a tidy sum. The team then decided to expand this money making operation and offer their own course at MIT on card counting techniques to recruit new players.

First success
And it worked, almost. During the next year they traveled regularly to Atlantic City and experienced the many ups and downs that go with the game. Not all team members expected, or were well suited, for the pressures that accompanied the play. The inconsistent nature of the earnings, coupled with the pressures, left many players very frustrated. The interest level of many of the new players diminished over time and most left the group.  

A bellwether event occurred in 1980 when Bill Kaplan and J.P. Massar met. Kaplan graduated in 1977 with a business degree from Harvard, took his graduation money, and had moved to Las Vegas and was running his own blackjack team. Already, he had won substantial money.

A new dawn for blackjack began when Kaplan and Massar put together their own team. The glorious years of victory started for MIT's Blackjack Team. Kaplan and Massar analyzed the playing strategies of their past teams and recognized the mistakes they had been making.

With new training techniques that include consistencies of card counting techniques, and a perspective to manage the team in a professional manner, the truly dangerous to casino team was formed. Now armed with  a highly skilled set of players and a $89,000 dollar bankroll they headed to Las Vegas. Ten weeks later the team had more than doubled the initial investment.

Continuing throughout the 1980’s, the team grew to over 30 members and continued to play successfully. Kaplan’s history of play in the casinos made him easily recognizable almost everywhere and made it very difficult for him to play. In 1984 he decided it was time to go back to his real job. With Kaplan’s departure, Johnny Chang and J.P. Massar managed the team with Bill Rubin, a recent team addition, also contributing to the effort.

The team continued operating until 1988 when the interest of the members again began to decline due to the pressure, casino conditions, and the inevitable personality clashes. A large group of high intellect, high ambition people, tend to get in each other’s way after a while. In 1989 they eventually stopped playing.

At this milestone more than 70 players had been on MIT Team and played on more than 22 banks in some form or the other during this time.

1990’s The Dawning of a New Beginning
The MIT Blackjack Team evolved through the 80’s with many ups and downs. Much was learned about the complexities of team dynamics and techniques that did or did not work. The next phase was about to begin!

In 1992 a new casino had opened in Connecticut that provide an enticing target. Massar, Chang, and Kaplan formed Strategic Investments, LLP, raised $1 million in capital, and began recruiting new members.

Soon enough, there were more than 80 players in the group as the recruiting market had been expanded to many other locations. Sarah McCord had joined the team in 1983 and was made a partner in the company. She became responsible for training and procuring members for the team.

Throughout the 1990’s there were more than 30 players who played simultaneously in different casinos in various countries including in the casinos of Canada and the islands. Talk about co-variance at its finest. The gaming world had never seen such team work and game play. Soon, the money started rolling in but so did the heat from the casinos.

With this turning up the heat, both sides escalated their evasive techniques. The team stepped up recruiting and would replace them as fast as the casino would bar them. The casinos hired investigators and soon realized the connection to MIT.

With several of their best players being banned from the casinos, the teams spent fewer hours on games and more on just managing the enterprise. The partners then decided to end Strategic Investments in 1993 and paid off the money to the players and the investors.

Then what
After the dissolution of the company some players split off and made their own
blackjack teams:

Mike Aponte along with two others players from the team made their own team known as the Reptiles and Semyon Dukach made his own team which was called the Amphibians.

These teams performed exceptionally well with investments being sometimes more than a million and more than 50 players being members of the team. However, by the end of 1990s the pressure again caused many casualties in the team members. Eventually, it was also dissolved.

And now….
We are aware of several active teams and many “lone wolfs” or small partner teams in operation around the country. Many utilizing the skills and techniques developed over the past 25 years.

My partner and I are still very active in team management and look forward to continuing the fight. 



J.P. Massar

Who is he? J.P. Massar, a MIT member, was among the first few students at MIT who had attended the 1979 course "How to gamble if you must" where the team had originated. He along with a few players had started the very first Blackjack team at MIT. For a period of over ten years, he had been a MIT member, a part of the group that went on to achieve a lot of fortune and fame in the US.

He had been the founding member of the legendary MIT Blackjack Team. Around 1990, Massar decided to take a break from the team.

Bill Kaplan

Bill Kaplan was an important member of the MIT Blackjack Team. Although he wasn't a founding member of the team, he was the one who turned the team around to make it into a profit making enterprise which lasted for more than ten years.

Who is He?
Bill Kaplan had graduated from Harvard in 1977 and hadn't always been an avid card player. While he was in college his interest had been sparked by a book on card counting. He soon began researching to find out the right technique for winning at blackjack.

Instead of going back to school, he took a one year break and moved to Las Vegas. He put together his own team and used his graduation money as investment. In less than nine months his team had made immense profits on the investment. After three years of success, Kaplan broke away from his first team.

Career at MIT Team
It was then that Bill Kaplan met
J.P. Massar from the original MIT Blackjack team which had been struggling to make profits. Kaplan agreed to travel to Atlantic City with the MIT Team to figure out why they were unsuccessful. Kaplan then took over the team and along with Massar and decided to turn things around.

They recruited new members, coached them to use a uniform card counting technique and run the team like a business with strict supervision. In 1980, the new MIT Team went ahead to play under Kaplan's guidance with an investment of $89,000. In only ten weeks the team had doubled their investments.

For the next ten years, the MIT Team enjoyed immense success under his guidance. In 1992 he started another team with MIT player John Chang with an initial investment of a million dollars and was able to make large profits but the casino managements were soon catching up with them. The team had to be soon dissolved.

With the increase in the awareness of card counters in the casinos and because of their constant successes at the tables, it became difficult for the players to keep up with the pressure of the game as well as trying to avoid the casinos' prying eyes. The morale of the team had been at an all-time low and many players had left the team.

It was then that Bill Kaplan retired as a manager of the Blackjack team. Since then Bill Kaplan founded several other businesses, most of which have been successful over the years. He is the CEO of Fresh Address which creates emailing solutions for businesses. Kaplan still enjoys casino games occasionally and hasn't lost his winning abilities over the years.


Mike Aponte had never been interested in card games until he attended MIT and learned about the MIT Blackjack Team. Mike was soon hooked and quickly became one of the most successful members and leaders of the MIT team.

Book and Movie Hero
Mike had been a leader of one such team that had gone to win millions of dollars at casinos in the US and even in other countries. Mike Aponte had been made more famous with the book Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich and soon became a best seller. The main character of the book had been based on Mike Aponte. The book had later been made into a movie, “21”, which had been immensely successful and had made card counting popular all over again.

Mike, a son of an Army man, travelled a lot during his school years. He had never really been interested in card games while he grew up. In 1988, Mike attended MIT where he studied economics. During his years in MIT he had heard about the team at MIT, which used mathematical techniques to win at the games.

When he attended his first meeting he was lured by the lifestyle and the big profits. He was soon hooked on and worked hard to learn the technique and to develop his skills. His first session at the casino had been in 1992. He had passed the Big Player test of the team and became the main member of his team.

Every team had spotters who used to identify a table where there were favorable counts. After a spotter signals the Big Player, he then had to play at the table and win large profits by putting in large bets. Mike had been one of the most successful Big Players of the MIT teams.

He later went on to become a manager of the team who was responsible for getting new players and training them. He also arranged for the weekend trips for his team. Till 2000, Mike Aponte and his team had enjoyed great success. They had travelled to various casinos in the US and even in other countries.

Life after MIT
After retiring from the MIT Blackjack team, Mike still had a keen interest in the game and continued to play blackjack. He won the
World Series of Blackjack in 2004 and started his own company that gave services and advice to people on winning at blackjack.

Dave Irvine

David Irvine, or as he is popularly known, Dave Irvine was a member of the famous MIT Blackjack Team. He had been a member of the same team as Mike Aponte. The team had won millions of dollars at casinos all over US and even abroad during their career.

For a selected group of students from MIT, a unique training in blackjack and the lure of winning immense profit changed the future. What began as just a curiosity, soon became an extremely profitable enterprise for some of them, including Dave Irvine
Edward Thorp, a professor at MIT began developing a formula for winning at blackjack in 1958. After months of research and analysis, he came up with the famous card counting technique. The world soon spread and MIT formed its legendary blackjack team that we all know today.

In 1994, a group of students were recruited to form a team that would test this blackjack card counting concept. They were tested and trained for the role. Combining the knowledge of their recruiters along with their motivation, the group of students soon set about to take the casinos by storm. The achievement of this famous team was later narrated in the book, Bringing down the House by Ben Mezrich and made into the popular movie, '21'.

David Irvine was a member of this team. He was an engineer and a professional player. David Irvine was one of the characters that had been in the movie '21' and the book Bringing down the House. Dave was a member of the team that had won millions of dollars at the tables in casinos around the world using the card counting technique.

Dave had been recruited by another famous member of the MIT team, Mike Aponte.  Along with Mike Aponte, Dave had toured every weekend to the casinos in Vegas and had earned millions of dollars while trying to not catch the attention of the pit bosses.He, along with the other members of the team had led a lavish lifestyle living at some of the best hotels and hanging out at the coolest nightclubs during the peak in their blackjack career.

In 2004, David Irvine along with Mike Aponte founded the Blackjack Institute. The company provided services and products to people that teach them how to win at blackjack. Since then he has appeared at various events and seminars to talk about his experiences as being a member of the famous team. Dave also co-owns the SBR Technologies Inc. an engineering company which focuses on waste water treatment processes.

Not the MIT member only
Dave had grown up in Indiana in Granger and had graduated in 1989 from Mishawaka, Indiana. He has the MIT bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He also studied for an MBA and another master's degree in Cornell University in 1997. He currently lives in Florida in Naples and still has an undying love for blackjack.

Johnny Chang

Johnny Chang was a member of the famous MIT Blackjack Team. He was also one of the very few members that had been a part of the team from beginning to end. Johnny Chang has also received the honor of being included in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

The MIT Blackjack Team took years of practice and innovative skills to come up with strategies that allowed them to make them win millions at the casinos. Johnny Chang was a member who had been the witness to the evolution of this legendary game through till the end.

Johnny Chang enrolled in MIT towards the end of the 1970s and had been a student of the electrical engineering course. Johnny Chang had been a serious student and though he had attended the course on card counting, the course where it all began for the MIT Team, he had not signed up with the earlier members.

After two years, while he was still at MIT he came across a spring break offer which offered to pay him $300. He found out that the job was related to the Blackjack team. A group of students were putting together a team that would use the card counting. The applicants were required to go through a training period and were offered $300 to play at the casinos in Atlantic City during their spring break.

Johnny Chang signed up for the job and was trained. During the first few weeks, he did not succeed at the game. He was moved to a lower position in the team while he continued to practice his skills. Soon, he excelled at the game and became one of the most important members of the team. He played with the earliest MIT Teams that used to travel to the Atlantic City on weekends to play in the casinos there.

Several years later, Chang co-founded the Strategic Investments group along with
Bill Kaplan and J.P. Massar. This was a new MIT team which had a large investment of one million dollars. The three partners then started to seriously recruit new members and began training them. The group had been an instant success. Within ten weeks the team doubled the initial investment and continued to play for millions of dollars in Las Vegas.

Soon enough, the casino managements in Vegas began figuring out their winning techniques and it became increasingly difficult for the teams to play in the casinos in Vegas. The members of the teams became frustrated and finally in 1993 the group had been dissolved by the partners.

However, even with the end of Strategic Investments, Johnny Chang continued to play blackjack. In 2007, Chang had been made a member of the prestigious Blackjack Hall of Fame along with the greatest names in the game. His ability to count down two decks of cards in under a minute had earned him immense success in 2005. Even today Chang enjoys a game of blackjack at the local casinos.

Andy Bloch

Andrew Elliot Bloch (born June 1, 1969 in New Haven, Connecticut) is a professional poker player. He holds two electrical engineering degrees from MIT and a JD from Harvard Law School.

Andy Bloch MIT 15 years later

While studying at MIT, Bloch became part of the MIT blackjack team, featured in the book Bringing Down the House.[3] Bloch said he has made up to $100,000 in one session while playing blackjack.[4] He was one of the members of the team to play in Monte Carlo as detailed in Ben Mezrich's Busting Vegas.[5]

Bloch was featured in the blackjack documentary The Hot Shoe, as well as starring in his own instructional blackjack DVD, Beating Blackjack, which explains card counting.

Jeff Ma

Jon Hirschtick

Jon Hirschtick, an original MIT Blackjack Team member who started in 1984 for 10 years gives a youtube demo on blackjack.

Edward O Thorp

Dr. Edward O Thorp was born in 1932 in Chicago and was a professor, author and an avid blackjack player. He is mostly known for his book
Beat the Dealer in 1962 which was the first book ever which proved that it was possible to beat the casinos at blackjack by using card counting methods.

Edward O Thorp had worked for a few years in MIT as a professor. He had used various techniques and computer methods to investigate and research for his book while he developed his blackjack theory. His theory had been based on the now famous Kelly Criterion about which he had learned in 1956. Later, he decided to test his theory in the real world casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno.

He started his research with a capital of $10,000 along with Manny Kimmel, a professional gambler who provided the capital for the project. Dr. Thorp visited casinos in Lake Tahoe and Reno where they applied the theory at the blackjack table. The results were quite impressive and they research was successful. He had managed to win $11,000 in just a weekend.

However, in Las Vegas the casino staff had been quite suspicious which resulted in expulsions from the casinos where he had visited earlier. Thorp is even known to have used various disguises in order to hide his true identity.

Beat the Dealer
Very soon news spread in the gambling world and players were soon eager to learn the new found method of winning at the tables. Edward O Thorp soon became a known name in the blackjack world. Due to the response he received from players, he wrote Beat the Dealer in 1962 which was a manual on card counting, considered to be the first ever of its kind.

The book sold 700,000 copies instantly and was a huge hit. Thorp had once stated that he had considered the research to be an exercise which was academic in nature. He was also the first person ever to use a computer as an aid in developing gambling strategies.

While teaching at MIT, Thorpe met Claude Shannon along with whom he took many weekend trip to Vegas during which he had been quite successful. He had his own roulette team and was the first time a wearable computer was used in a computer, which has since then been declared illegal.

Because of his research and his contribution to the field, Edward O Thorpe had been among the original individuals who had been inducted in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.