Blackjack has been incredibly popular since shortly after its origins Europe in the 17th century, when it was known as “twenty-one.” The game eventually became known as blackjack in the US due a bonus that had been introduced which paid when a player’s first two cards were the Ace of spades and one of the black jacks. It quickly became one of the most popular games in gambling houses and casinos. The game received a big shot in the arm in 1962 when mathematician Edward Thorpe published his revolutionary book Beat the Dealer.
Thorpe was not a gambler, but proved that blackjack could be beater by players that learned how to count cards. The book created momentary panic in the casino industry while spurring even more players to flock to casinos in search of huge wins. The casinos eventually calmed down after realizing that the influx of new players was good for business, and players continued to try to master Thorpe’s system.
Over the years card counting has reached almost mythological status and has provided plots twists and the back drop for several Hollywood films.
The MIT Blackjack Team, the inspiration for the film 21, was indeed a real group. The film uses a book about the team, Bringing Down the House, as its basis, but is definitely a work of fiction. 21 is however highly entertaining. The real MIT blackjack team did indeed win a great deal of money in casinos throughout the US, but the problems they encountered are highly exaggerated.
The best take away for would be counters is that learning to count cards and making six-or-seven figure paydays requires a lot of work, training and concentration.
The Last Casino
This 2004 Canadian Film is in many ways the “original” version of 21. The Last Casino also follows the MIT Blackjack Team and their numerous big scores until advances in casinos security led to the team being easily to spot and subsequently barred from the casinos.
The Tom Cruise – Dustin Hoffman film contains what is possibly the most famous blackjack scene in film history. Hoffman plays Cruise’s autistic brother. The two are taking a road trip to Cruise’s home in LA and make a stop in Las Vegas. Cruise realizes how he can use his brother’s talent to make a large profit at the blackjack tables. As is standard in blackjack movies, casino security catch on and ask the two to leave.
One of the best comedies ever set in Las Vegas is The Hangover. When the group of friends find themselves in need of a lot of cash their fate lies in the hands of the card counting Zach Galifianakis character. He reassures the group of his success by telling them “It’s not gambling when you know you’re gonna win. Counting cards is a foolproof system.” The entire blackjack scene is a homage to the blackjack scene in Rain Man, down to the clothes worn and the way the player enter the casino.
The Kevin Costner film Stacy’s Knight is one of the few blackjack films with a dark side. Costner teaches his young protégé played by Andra Millian how to count cards. A corrupt casino head sets out to get revenge on Millian via cheating players and eventually has Costner killed. Amy forms her own blackjack team and sets out to seek her revenge.
When Ben Affleck was banned from a casino for counting cards, the subject of counting cards once again made headlines. It should be noted that card counting is not illegal. However, players in Las Vegas (and most casinos worldwide) are considered “invited” guests and players do have the right to ask players to leave.