John Chang has gained quite the reputation as one of the most prolific blackjack professionals of all time. While he was not the founder of the notorious MIT Blackjack Team, as some believe, he did take over Bill Kaplan’s role as manager in 1984. For his immense skills and contributions to the game, Chang was honored with an induction to the esteemed Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2007.
Unintentional Recruitment to MIT Blackjack Team
It was the late 1970’s when a young Johnny Chang, who had grown up as a typical dedicated student with above-average intelligence, enrolled at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). An undergrad seeking a degree in electrical engineering, he was fervently dedicated to his studies.
During his early tenure, John attended the IAP card-counting classes wherein the MIT Blackjack Team was rooted, but he had no interest in joining their group as a player because an investment was required, and h simply had no money to invest in it. In fact, it was just by happenstance and the need to make money that he did eventually become involved.
During the spring of 1981, a flyer appeared on the school’s promotional pillar. It told of an opportunity to earn $300 over the spring break, but gave no other details as to the minutiae of the job. Seeking further details, he responded to the flyer, only to find that it was an ad for the MIT Blackjack Team, which was looking to recruit new members.
MIT Blackjack Team – The Real Story
The team originated in 1979, one year after Atlantic City opened its doors to legalized gambling with the grand opening of Resorts International. Several MIT students got together to teach themselves card-counting, then hit the casinos to take advantage of their superior mathematical capabilities.
In November 1979, J.P. Massar, often referred to as “Mr. M”, contacted one of the students and proposed setting up an official team of players.
The New Jersey Casino Control Commission had just altered the law so that casinos could not ban card-counters, but rather individuals, and he sought to exploit that ruling with a full team. Thus if one was caught and banned, the remainder of the team could carry on.
The original team of 4 players, a professional and a $5,000 investor, quickly grew over the coming months as new members were recruited via the MIT card counting class. In May 1980, Massar met Bill Kaplan, a Harvard MBA who had spent the last three years running a successful team in Vegas.
Kaplan’s team had just split up to travel Europe, thus he was acquiesce to Massar’s invitation to observe the MIT team in Atlantic City. After a single weekend, Kaplan reported back to Massar, saying his team members were using overly complicated strategies with too many errors, and that their win rate should be much higher.
Massar handed over the reins to Kaplan, who agreed to manage the team so long as it was run like a genuine business. All players must use the same strategies and betting system, as set forth and taught by Kaplan, and all play would be meticulously tracked. By August, the team was assembled with $89,000 capitol to play on.
In the spring of 1981, John Chang responded to the “Make $300 over Spring Break” flyer only to find himself seated at a meeting about blackjack. Keen on the idea of making $300, he decided to stick around and take what equated to a training course. By the time Spring Break rolled around, he was one of just 5 students who made the grade.
In a 2002 interview with Richard Munchkin of Blackjack Forum Online, Chang described his initial experience with the MIT blackjack team as a fun one, but said it took some time to perfect his strategy. Due to several strategic errors, he was given a playing BP role, which meant he could count the cards for practice, but only bet on signals from more experienced counters.
As his skills progressed, so did his esteem with the team, so much so that, when Bill Kaplan chose to fade into the background in ate 1984 due to incessant heat from casino security at every establishment he walked into, John Chang was elected to take over the managing role, along with Massar and Bill Rubin.
It was around that time that Chang, Kaplan and Massar launched Strategic Investments, otherwise known as MIT Blackjack Team #2. They raised a $1,000,000 bank, playing in casinos all over the world with around 40 new team members.
It wasn’t long before slow turnover, and subsequent lack of interest from the largest investor, resulted in the demise of Strategic Investments.
With profits and player moral at an all time low, the MIT blackjack team officially disbanded in 1993. Over the year, they were able to win millions of dollars from casinos worldwide, but Chang admits the majority of it was lost right back to them.
The exploits of the MIT blackjack team have become known worldwide thanks to Hollywood’s production of “21”, a 2008 film that tells the tale of the team, led by “Micky Rosa” (Kevin Spacey).
However, the glorified personification of the team has been regarded as a grossly misleading depiction of what really took place, only partly due to the fact that producers chose the most basic of card counting strategies, presumably so that viewers would understand “the count”, whereas the actual methods being used by players were much more complex.
Chang Amazes at The Blackjack Ball
A regular invite to the Max Rubin’s Blackjack Ball, John Chang performed an amazing task that stunned even the most elite professional blackjack players in attendance of the 2005 rendition. He was able to count down a two-deck shoe that had several random cards removed from it. In just 33 second flat, he successfully counted down the shoe and was able name each of the missing cards without error.
Blackjack Hall of Fame
In 2007, five years after the Blackjack Hall of Fame was established, Johnny Chang earned his rightful place among the game’s most elite players and contributors. He was the only member inducted that year.