Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Cutting Edge -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) Las Vegas, a gambler's paradise. and the odds favour the house... The game is blackjack changed the rules. until a group of college students with what you shouldn't do It was a blast getting away but want to get away with. It was us against the casinos. a lot of joy beating them. Besides money, we got Their scheme is so simple, so bold, blackjack forever. it will revolutionise able to extract over just hours, The amount of money they were hundreds of thousands of dollars, tens of thousands, the stakes of the game. that changed

they go unnoticed, In the kingdom of high rollers, gamblers hoping to score just another group of against the Las Vegas money machine. operating as card counting teams But they are students to win millions of dollars with one goal, at their own game. by beating the casinos they might win, but they'll lose. It was fun knowing everyone thinks And we will actually win. That's what turned them on. that was supposedly unbeatable. To beat a system barely old enough to vote They may only be college kids make them winners but their strategy and daring in a world where image is everything. Good afternoon Mr Lewis, Mr Tay... There were definitely times gravitated towards me that women or people in general

or looked like I had a lot of money. because I bet lots of money while you're in Las Vegas... If I can be of any assistance They really were geeky kids. Remember, these are MIT kids.

they weren't big shots, In high school, didn't have the girls' attention. a million dollars in a casino. In Vegas, they're a guy with Here's to winning. It's a different circumstance. with cheerleaders and strippers, He could go out or who he was in Las Vegas. people who liked him for his money is hypnotising to the young students. The lifestyle of a big-time gambler they're lured deeper into a lifestyle As money rolls in, from student frogs into rich princes that transforms them with the turn of a card. For most of the kids at MIT, of competition in high school. they don't have a lot no longer the big geek in the tank. Then at school, suddenly you're comes up to go to Vegas Then this opportunity and to win money off the casinos. and to party like a rock star, Who wouldn't want to do that? Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Cambridge, Massachusetts. mathematical and engineering minds A top university for genius and ego often go hand in hand. seeking success in a career where together, You get enough smart people other than programming computers. they'll want to do something the thing at MIT. Science and math is in the country. They're the smartest kids That's the MIT aura. But they're also a bit anarchistic. They're good at math and science good citizens. but maybe aren't necessarily when an MIT professor In the early sixties, blueprint for the game of blackjack, devises a mathematical probability card counting is born. people have been working For years at MIT, to beating the game of blackjack. on a scientific approach By using computer simulations

the probabilities involved, and studying to come in and win consistently. we have devised methods for people 2% per hand if you play it perfectly Your basic mathematical advantage is playing large enough numbers. which can reach a sizeable amount, During the next 25 years, into an ingenious gambling endeavour MIT students transform card counting one part theatre, that's one part statistical analysis, and one part sheer daring. Las Vegas never sees it coming. or 'Rain Man' geniuses. It's not magic tricks intelligently, It's playing scientifically,

versus luck and gambling hunches. and the power of science By the early nineties,

operating on campus, there are several blackjack teams teams with bankrolls of millions, the gambling world by surprise. whiz-kids who'll take of a team known as the Amphibians. Semyon Dukach is a founding member

in graduate school, I was walking down the hall long corridors and computer screens. being a little bored with money over summer, play blackjack." I saw a poster, it said "Win lots of more of an anarchistic... MEZRICH: Semyon was definitely to beat the evil casino. He went there monster set up to take your money. They see the casinos as this evil anything they can to get it. They'll lie, cheat and do to make it illegal, As much as casinos would love against intelligence. they can't legislate figure out how to beat the game. Unfortunately for them, some people And they don't like it. Chloe Taylor, not her real name,

capitalises on female stereotypes for the Amphibian team. and is a top player flown out on the casino's dollar, It sounded amazing that you'd be and fed and wined and dined. put up in suites, travel and experience new things, Being young and being ready to

about joining the team. I was very excited because people didn't suspect them. Women often made great players are smart enough to do it. These guys don't think women at one of my first meetings I said to Semyon "I'm going to play big." we'll have to discuss. He said "No, that's something been able to play big." "No woman's ever really But if you had the right act, in terms of them thinking it could work to your advantage what she's doing." "She doesn't know

Um... ohhh... I'll stay in. This is so exciting! a member of the Reptiles... Kevin Lewis, to calculate the odds has ambition and an unerring ability under stressful conditions. It is an empowering feeling. I was looking at all these losers. up your sleeve. Something nice to have It's cool, I won and they didn't. math, science and engineering MEZRICH: For Kevin, it's about that seems unbeatable. and using math to beat a system That's what turns him on. consider what he does, gambling. He's not a gambler. He doesn't He's doing a math problem.

another member of the Reptiles. Andrew Tay, to the thrill of competition He's an All-American athlete addicted at the blackjack table. and his own star status I'm so hot, right now. After I arrived at school, I was there for 18 months, and I came into contact with a group of guys who always had money, there was always a card game going. After a while, they said "We've got this thing in Vegas. Would you like to join us?" Every new player learns immediately - this is no game. Card counting demands continual practice. In a business where thousands of dollars are bet on one hand, teams cannot afford miscalculations or carelessness. We would practise on average twice a week at least for 2-3 hours then on our own we'd practise 45 minutes a day. It's like taking a musical instrument. Coming home from the gym or waking up in the morning, you're counting and timing yourself. If you go through a 50-card deck with a high-low system, you'll come out at zero. We made people pass tests, not only once, but each time they went. Before every trip, we'd deal to people. I'd be dealt to, then deal to others to make sure skills were current. So for about three to six months, you practised a few hours a day, card counting, figuring out the system, doing it perfectly. Nineteen by four and a quarter is four and a half, minus one is three and a half... For these teams, blackjack is a business, the business of winning. They are organised like companies, complete with investors, CEOs, even dividends. We had a limited partnership and we raised investment, sometimes upwards of two million dollars and we took our accounting and our tracking of the value of the play very seriously. It's your first trip, so we'll be making sure you do a good job. Unlike most corporations, these students employ an unusual ingredient to ensure success. Picking new people for the team was the hardest part because in that group, you must have total trust in every player. You rely on each other much more so than the average business. You have to protect each other, be disciplined and follow through. We'd take sometimes kids just out of college, give them $150,000 in cash, and say "Tell us how much you won" and we'd trust them.

Players practise and test. Each member is anxious to showcase his skills at the main event.

Las Vegas... a city built on the seduction of easy money and a licence for infinite excess. Vegas is about sensory overload. In any casino, there's the clank of coins in the slot machine, and cocktail waitresses walking by. Everyone is screaming, throwing dice and having a great time.

MEZRICH: Vegas is about disguising what they're really all about. Casinos are beautiful buildings with no windows and no clocks. You go in with money, and you come out without money. Vegas doesn't care what happens in between points A and B. Las Vegas is a town where would-be winners come and go and success or failure is never an even bet. For every player, the challenge, the dream is to beat the house at its own game. So the teams find themselves on the red-eye flight to Las Vegas, trusting their system and teamwork to defeat the world's largest casino security system. But nothing is ever certain. Your heart's beating in your throat. "Why am I doing this?" Any good suspense movie has that period where the main character's palms are sweaty, and the audience is on the edge of their seat.

Each player walks a tightrope, knowing one careless move, one mistake, and the game is over.

CHLOE: The most nervous I ever was in the casino, was my first trip. We landed at 1 a.m. in Vegas, taking the red-eye from Boston, and all of a sudden, it's like "Let's go play!" You can feel your heart beating and saying "This is it. This is what all this training was for." Each new recruit enters Las Vegas like a fighter stepping into the ring to face a heavyweight contender. They have no idea how many rounds they can survive against a bigger, stronger, more experienced opponent. The house has an advantage over everything. If that rack on the blackjack table empties out, we bring more money. But as a player or even as a card counter, you still have a limited amount of resources. But the house keeps going and going and going. KEVIN: There will be days when you lose in blackjack. There were days I lost $100,000 in two minutes on two hands and had to keep playing and had to believe in those numbers. The game is blackjack. Cards are dealt to each player with the goal to reach 21.

If the dealer can tie or beat the player's hand or the player's cards exceed 21, the house wins. Card counting allows a player to forecast when and where certain cards will appear. The system was developed by Edward Thorp. He came up with a simple system, that we used - the high-low system. A deck of cards has three types of cards, high cards - aces and face cards, that are good for the player. When a player gets those cards, it usually gives him a winning hand, a blackjack or a great card when he doubles down. When a deck has more high cards, the player has an advantage because the dealer will bust more often. So all that card-counting is watching the cards as they come out. ELIOT: If you see a low card, think of those cards as counting plus one. If you see any cards 7, 8 or 9 these are the middle or neutral cards, that value would be zero. If you see a high card, 10 through the ace, it's minus one.

Card counters determine their advantage by mentally logging a running tally of low versus high cards. When the ratio shifts to their favour, when more high cards are left in the shoe,

they bet - and they bet big. People think card counting is this activity where you memorise every card in the deck. Card counting is actually much simpler to understand. Tens and aces are good for players, little cards are good for dealers. You keep track of the ratio. If too many tens appear, the rest of the shoe isn't good for the player. ELIOT: I'll show you how we'd count a deck. This would be a minus one, plus one would give us zero, minus one, minus two... We're still at minus two cause that card counts for zero. Minus three and so on. If you can do that accurately, it is harder than the description, you can actually beat the casino. Mastering the card counting system under game conditions is a constant challenge and the teams employ a variety of complex tactics to achieve maximum advantage. There are other techniques and tools more powerful than card counting. One, 'Ace Location', allows you to predict when an ace will be dealt. CHLOE: Sometimes, you can see an ace or a 10 on the back. If you know how to cut 26 cards, 52 cards...

you can actually then count it down as the cards come out of the deck and be able to steer that ace to yourself for a Blackjack or steer a 10 to the dealer to bust them. Card counting isn't illegal. However, casino management has the legal right to eject and ban anyone they feel might be a threat to their bankroll. The MIT teams know that card counters are easily detected when they make inconsistent bets. Example, you have a guy that's betting $5, $5, $5, $5. And suddenly, he bets $500. Why? You ask yourself "Why?" Then you look at the play. And it's "There we go, we got a card counter." To counteract casino surveillance, the students use an innovative tactic a team approach to disguise their betting patterns. So the MIT team spreads 6 to 10 kids across the casino floor, one per table, keeping track of the cards, betting the minimum. They'd start counting the tables from when they started shuffling and they'd wait till it got good. MEZRICH: When the deck gets good, they signal in a 'big player', who'd come up to the table and bet as high as he can bet, ten thousand dollars a hand. LEWIS: They'd signal to me by crossing their arms. That meant the shoe was good.

As I crossed in front of them, they'd say a key word, signalling to me what the count was. Football. It's hard to recognise that they know each other. Their individual patterns don't give them away. MEZRICH: The casinos never saw anybody raise or lower their bet so they never saw a card counter. If you don't look at the person, if you don't make eye contact, it's hard for a camera to even catch that it's going on. Each player plays a specific role. The performances can last all night, each role crucial to team success. When you first get into the team, you start out as a spotter, someone who can count cards but is quite young in the team. BEN: They sit there all night long, essentially a 48-hour shift, keeping track of the cards, playing $10 or $50, whatever the low is. And that's a tough job. It's been a pleasure playing. When it gets good, you hand it off to someone who's been playing longer so that they can take advantage. That's the guy with all the skills, walks right in. He can get signalled, and be told to count or just sits down on his own and starts playing. Everyone's goal was to become the big player. As you gain more experience, you naturally move from a spotter to a signaller, who would play the cards and also control what we call the 'gorilla'. The gorilla is the team's countermove to use casino stereotypes as effective cover against surveillance cameras. BEN: They'll signal you everything, when to raise or lower your bet, when to do anything, all with hand and voice signals. 21! Bingo, baby! It's effective because he doesn't look like he knows what he's doing. The thing with the gorilla that was great was that you could get people who didn't have time to practise. People don't understand that this is an art, this is a science. It's something people have to practise and practise to be good at it. Practising getting the bets out there. To pass the counts without being seen, all teams employ a well-rehearsed system of signals, communicating fast and accurately. It's not there. - I didn't see a sign either. MARGARET BROOKS: They were very well organised. Very well organised. They had signals, like a baseball team. CHLOE: We had a variety of hand signals, putting your hand to your chin, crossing your arms or standing in a particular position behind the table. Crossing your arms meant you needed to sit down. Humour arose when signals got crossed and people had different signals in mind, and you're saying something you didn't mean to say. But the system and the signals are only part of the tools of success. Winning big depends not only on how well a team plays cards but how well they play their roles. The best way to prepare was to have an act, a story. You couldn't just stare at the cards looking nervous. You had to be relaxed and act like a gambler.

This is so exciting! TAY: You can't be a nerd in a casino. you have money to throw around. They won't believe that you're really a high roller. CHLOE: When I started playing, I made a pact with myself that I'd use a different name and identity at every single casino, and a different act. That really played to my advantage because the way I'd dress, my name, or my appearance would be different in every casino. MEZRICH: You needed people who had a certain look. Semyon pretended to be a Russian arms dealer. I played at Caesar's Palace as a big player, Nikolai Nogoff. I never said I was an arms dealer. It was implied. Trashy... So you could wear wigs, or cut your hair short or grow it long, have it red, blonde, brown... As this one particular player, I had very short red hair and would slick it back or spike it up, depending on my mood. I would wear hip L.A. clothes and made it look like I had the money. I wouldn't say a rock star act,

more a spoilt brat, rich kid act. MAN: Good luck. I don't need luck - come on! Essentially, it looked like I'd been partying for 48 hours... threw some chips on the table... Guys, like this. Go, go, go! Yes! Oh, yeah!

Just acting like a freak. Do you love this game?

I love this game. Show me an ace. They loved me and I lasted two and a half years there.

Your whole presentation has to follow through. So you might be really wired or you might be really sloppy. Oooh! I don't know what that is! You can do so much with body language to really throw them.

"She's passing out at the table! She can't be doing anything." Beyond the disguises and the strategy, the genius of the MIT players lies in their knowledge of their opposition. They understand that all casinos build their gaming surveillance around certain stereotypes of players, typecasting race and gender. A casino has to overcome preconceived notions based on when they first look at someone. For the casino, approaching someone who they suspect may be a counter, or who just lays down 10,000 to bet, they have to come to an initial gut instinct as to whether this person is for real. And being Asian was certainly an advantage. To have intelligent, attractive women around is a deadly weapon in Vegas. While being Asian takes you out of the casino's eye suspicion-wise, being female exempts you from it. No one believes that women are smart enough to be counters or gamblers or spend time with cards. It definitely was a huge advantage. I remember where I was back counting and spotting a table, two gentlemen propositioned me with two purple chips. "Here's $1000. Wanna hang out with us tonight?" For the MIT teams, the game is in full bloom. The students are at the top of the power curve and the money's pouring in. Life as a Vegas gambler is good. I was going to Las Vegas 3 or 4 times a month at weekends, flying in on a red-eye at 7 a.m. and showing up at my job at 9 a.m. and then go to meetings two nights a week and be up till 11.00 or midnight and constantly being on the go. That's what your 20s are for, right? Oh, if they only knew! LEWIS: We'd won so much money that we had a duffle bag that had about $950,000 in it in cash and chips. The thought that two kids sitting here by the pool with this bag... We had, you know, a million dollars. The MIT teams are living every gambler's ultimate fantasy, winning millions legally from the most successful casinos in the world. But even as they enjoy the high life, they are becoming immune to the magnitude of their accomplishments. It does affect you, seeing money in inches rather than in bills. They think about money in how high the stack is. People would throw around bundles of $10,000 a time. Ten packs, with rubber bands. We never counted them, we knew they were ten packs. If one was $100 short, nobody cared. Success is proving to be a double-edged sword.

The teams win so much money, transporting it across the country creates a problem.

Taping bundles of currency to their bodies could draw unwanted attention. You can put chips through the metal detector. They see them in your luggage, a strange formation

and they wonder if it's an explosive. Sometimes people missed flights because they were assumed to be money launderers or drug dealers. Some percentage of $100 bills have a scent of cocaine on them because they were touched at one point by drug dealers.

So you put the cash on your body, in your pockets, down your pants. Come through. DETECTOR BEEPS CHLOE: When we were carrying that much money around it was very dangerous and there was a lot of risk. If someone knew you had that on you, you don't know what they'd do. The most money that I had on me at any given time was $650,000 in cash and chips. Standing there with half a million dollars... I would consider beating somebody up for half a million dollars! In gaming, the outcome of every transaction is not certain. Here's someone with $80,000 in chips saying "I guess I just got lucky." You have to ask yourself, did they get lucky or did they use some techniques that changed the odds of the game? Casinos have known about card counting since its inception. As their losses mount, casinos realise there is a problem

but they don't know what, or who... or how. MIT is under the radar. There's a certain amount of money a table should make every day. After a week, if a table's losing money, we look at the play. Then we realise a team's hit us. MAN: It is a business and we're looking to have the greatest profit margin possible. You don't build a $1.6 billion resort like this by just giving money away for free. The casinos traditionally confound counters through innovations like random shuffling and a six-deck shoe. But now the gaming industry faces a different kind of opponent,

one more threatening to their bottom line. We do know what a group of these people can do in a weekend or a few days of intensive playing. They can do upwards from a quarter of a million dollars. You have a card counter on the table who is taking advantage, playing his money and his strategy, it's easy to spot. When you get a group, you may have three people doing the card counting. Then they signal the big money guy to come in at that time. One more big one. It's hard to figure out which one is actually doing the counting. 21, there you go again. 18? First, you have to identify that they're working as a team. Then, you try to identify as many people as on the game. If we don't get you the first time, we'll get you the second time. SEMYON: It was a constant battle between them trying to nail us and us bringing in new people with new appearances. When you see your photo come out of the fax machine, it's trouble. It's time to split. The casinos dedicate every tool they have to uncover who is taking their cash and how. They commit personnel and sophisticated eye-in-the-sky technology to patiently watch the floor and follow the money. JONAS: Because the MIT team was so aggressive, the gaming industry had to respond in an equally aggressive manner. The gaming industry started to share more information faster.

Vegas takes money more seriously than airports take your security. Vegas has been running a system that should have been in airports many years ago. They have 1000 cameras in the casino, and hundreds of employees whose whole job is to watch the money.

They are very serious about their money. They're a business of money, liquid money - cash, in the casino. TENSE MUSIC With millions at stake, a new game begins in Vegas, a high-stakes game between the house and the players, a game destined to last as long as there's money on the table. Nobody likes to be made a fool of, to be laughed at. The game's always evolving. It's a cat and mouse thing. Casinos make it harder for counters. Counters learn new techniques. CHLOE: They'd change their rules and start implementing new shuffles, taking measures to counteract the skills they knew were out there. When they respond, you must respond. Then they respond to get around you. When they respond, you must respond. Then they respond to get around you. It is a very fascinating game. You have to see who wins. Even as they are pursued, the MIT players are living high. by an endless banquet of beautiful women and a world where everything is free. The ultimate Revenge of the Nerds. SEMYON: We were the biggest players in the casino. Anything we wanted we could have - first-class airfares... the whole top floor, sometimes, of the hotel, vast suites... We had the lifestyle and we enjoyed it. Vegas, for me, was a work hard, play hard city. I'd get 6 or 8 hours of sleep in the two days I was there. Come Sunday afternoon when it's time to go, all hell would break loose. Casinos picked up bar tabs, sent us anywhere we wanted to go. We saw every show in Vegas. ADAMS: It was exciting for them, and glamorous. Here's these... usually referred to as "nerds" back in college, they're now high rollers, being comped and treated very well in Las Vegas. I stayed in two-floor suites which had pool tables. I stayed in a room with a butler. I had my own butler and no idea what to do with him. You'd get the VIP booths and get to cut the lines at all the best clubs. When you put the money out, the casino gets a host for you. "What do you like? Crystal versus Dom? Okay... "You'll have a bottle in your room every time you check in.

"What music do you like? Sting's playing here next month." It's funny because you walk into a casino with a lot of money... That instantly validates you as this incredibly cool person.

With the exception of 18 hours we spent playing blackjack and taking their money, we had anything we wanted at our disposal.

As the teams keep racking up the wins, the casinos decide to call the Griffin Detective Agency, long-time specialists in casino intelligence gathering and surveillance. Casinos are businesses. They're in the business to make money. Certainly if you had a stock in the MGM Mirage or Park Place, Caesar's Palace or Harrah's, you'd want a return on your money.

Anytime there is an area in the hotel or casino that is not making money, they want to know why and then they ask us. TAY: Generally, when the casino catches on, three or four people show up who you haven't seen for 45 minutes, and they've got one focus and you're it. Good evening, sir, we'd like a word. It's very large security men, letting their presence be felt. When that happens, you know the game's over. I'm just on my way up, man. I don't want any trouble. Casinos go to incredible lengths to protect their money. They're much more secure than airports. Airports, after 9/11, asked casinos how to set up camera systems.

That's how good they are. The risk of discovery by the Griffin Detective Agency heightens the tension among the MIT players. The teams continue to wager and win but Griffin's investigators are turning up the heat. When casinos start losing a lot of money,

they put effort into figuring out why. They're not in the business of losing money. We had a small window of opportunity to make money. How long was our life? Two years? Three years? When you get caught, your life is seriously shortened. BEN: The MIT guys saw it as a game, staying ahead of the Agency. They'd call up the Griffin Agency pretending to be a casino supervisor and ask about the MIT team to see how much they knew. There was a battle going on. The game intensifies as the casinos use state-of-the-art surveillance technology featuring facial recognition software. It enables the face of a card counter to be picked out, identified, and instantly sent around the country via the Internet. The teams begin to get pressure from every casino they enter. And it's happening faster and faster. Sir, I need you to move away from the table.

We need to talk. The Identics Algorithms use key feature analysis which takes this part of the face. You can change your facial hair, shave yourself, wear a wig, remains rather constant.

to change your appearance. Facial recognition software started coming into play in the late '90s. You could walk into a casino and then, bang! You're in the candy store and you're asked to leave. You don't even get to the casino floor. A big factor for success is closing the gap between the times somebody arrives in your casino, you determine who it really is,

and how long to back them off the game. Today that gap can be this short. They drive in, sit down at the table. They're identified before the first hand and they're backed off. Losses from card counters represent a tiny amount to a multi-billion-dollar per year gaming industry, less than one tenth of one percent.

But in the businees of gaming, the casinos never lose. As MIT members are identified and ousted from the casinos, the odds of the game are turning against the students. In casinos thousands of miles from Boston or Las Vegas, there were all these people there that knew who I was already.

What have we got? "Burnout" is when the casino decides you're no longer a patron of theirs. Let's go. Casino heat isn't the only crisis confronting the MIT teams. We'd like to talk to you. I was just leaving. Their mini-corporations are collapsing like so many houses of cards, blown over by internal dissension over money and personality clashes. The students are suffering from an excess of success.

It's time that I started earning more. You've only been with us for six months.

MEZRICH: Money becomes a big issue. Everyone gets greedy with money. If you're sitting for 48 hours, tracking cards, you want a lot of money, even though you're doing something anybody could be trained to do. That becomes something people fight about. Come on! What's going on? There's no more room. We've got new players coming in, they've got their bankroll... I started this team... TAY: Insignificant quibbles turn into big battles inside the team. Everybody wants to be top dog.

All you guys feel this way? Sorry, man, you're out.

Young people want to be on top of the heap, instead of working as a group to move forward. You wouldn't make much without people like me. We encountered greed. We argued about how to split the money. Win a bunch and you have $300,000 to split after a couple of months. Yeah, so we argued. We're human, sure.

I took you to Vegas, showed you what you knew. Don't come back to me in a few years and ask me to rescue you. As the teams splinter into factions, divided by jealousy and suspicion, their paranoia escalates. As the old saying goes, "Just because you're paranoid, "it doesn't mean you aren't being watched!" After months of surveillance, the Griffin detectives are about to get the break they're looking for. to their meeting places. We had surveillance which shows videotape of what they were doing. In this way, we could find out what their hand signals were, and about how they were operating. TAY: Sooner or later, when you're that good at a game,

and you know people are chasing you and you're ahead of them,

you start to get cocky. You get away with things because you can

and because it's great to say "Did you see what I got away with?" Perhaps the most startling breakthrough occurs when the Griffin investigators manage to secure an inside source and infiltrate the teams. We're at meetings, going, "What are they doing? "Where are they recruiting from? What intelligence do we have?" We figure out how to get good guys to pretend they're with bad guys. Paranoia and suspicion among the MIT student gamblers reaches fever pitch when a team member's apartment is burglarised and a large amount of cash is stolen. Somebody knew where they lived and followed them back to Boston.

When you're paranoid, when you're worried about things, your world is what you make it. Who knows what it really was at the time? But maybe to us, it was a warning sign. When school photographs and team names are sold to a casino by an unknown person, the shock of betrayal is hard to overcome.

It's well known that, at some point, a list of MIT blackjack team members was sold to a casino. And they sold it for $25,000. And we don't know who did it. I'm nonchalant about it now, ten years later,

but it was very disturbing - it was a betrayal of trust. It's an emotional roller coaster.

ADAMS: When we finally suspected that they were from Boston and were connected somewhere to MIT, we ordered up several MIT yearbooks. Bingo, there they all were! Before, you had photos of them with wild hair hats or glasses or moustaches.

And here they were, in their little shirt and tie, looking all prim and proper like they belonged at MIT. Spotted. Labelled...

ID'd...

The MIT players are about to play their final hand. SULTRY JAZZ MUSIC

CHLOE: I stopped playing in '99, because I felt like there wasn't I'd started burning out in the casinos. I was aware of my image and profile in Griffin. It started becoming not as much fun. MIT student yearbooks circulate in casinos from Vegas to Monaco. By the late 1990s, a few diehard players wager on

but most realise it's time to cash in their chips. We made it to where, everywhere they went, they were well-known, any time they went in a casino. I couldn't believe how young they were. Unbelievable! BEN MEZRICH: What's interesting in the Griffin face book, which includes everyone not wanted in a casino, is to see these MIT kids next to Osama bin Laden.

Casinos have card counters and terrorists in the same book because they're all people you want to catch on camera. Well, it was like we matched wits. "Ha ha, you guys are smart but so are we." That kind of feeling. "It may have took us a while Did you have a good time? Team earnings proved the system worked well. Over a few years, we ended up winning a few million dollars. I estimated they won 3 to 6 million dollars over a period of two to three years. They had weekends where they won as much as $450,000.

Show me some luck here. Good luck, and...

In our best year, we returned 154% for our investors. Cheers!

In no year did we return lower than 30%. Beautiful! Where can you guys put your money with that kind of guaranteed return? No bad guys? I haven't seen any. Today, the Griffin Agency and the casinos continue to monitor their tables for card counting teams.

With each new school year, they get a copy of the MIT Freshman Picture Book for their database.

Their technology transmission is faster than ever. Thank goodness for computers. Now we have hand-held palm things with pictures, photographs that we can load with current photos of someone we're trying to identify. Two casinos in Mississippi four miles apart, can say "This guy just left, he might be coming your way."

Identifying card counting teams is an important concern for casinos seeking to protect profits. New technologies read invisible codes on cards as they're dealt. Now, computer analysis can identify card counters by the way they play their hand. We have a sophisticated software program that evaluates the play. It's a breakdown called a BJ Survey.

We put the play in there and it gives a computer print-out to tell us that this man is a card counter and what advantage he had over the house. Today, most student players who made up the MIT blackjack teams have moved on with their lives. For most of us, this was not a career goal. It was a lifestyle choice we made in college

that we'd go, party and have a good time.

Most have moved on past the team and got careers in private industry. There's only a handful still making their income from playing blackjack. Good friends! I miss mostly just the camaraderie, mostly the team stuff, being able to chill and hang out with my friends. It was 'Revenge of the Nerds',

but after playing a lot and learning to act and to get along with people, maybe they weren't so nerdy anymore.

To a lot of people, it was a transition to life from college. Where's that signal? There it is. Where's your bets? 19... 5... 4.25... 4.5?

Minus one is 3.5? Times 800 is 2800. Good. You've gotta be faster. MARGARET: Just imagine all that energy, the intelligence behind trying to beat a 21 game... can you imagine what they could do for world peace? Take that energy? I mean... unbelievable!

I really admire them, you know. These are some future CEOs of companies, let me tell ya! It really was a team and it was tremendously fun. It was us against the casinos. We got a lot of joy out of knowing we were beating them. Knowing that, and having the history to prove it, was very satisfying. For the casinos, their challenges remain

as new teams constantly recruit college kids and young professional players from across the country and around the world. Estimates vary on the number of teams currently in operation, but everyone agrees, the faces may change, but the game remains the same. MEZRICH: It still exists today. It will go on forever.

Blackjack! Anywhere there's a technical university, there are card counters, because anybody who figures out the numbers realises it's true that you can really beat the system. And, so, why not do it?

There's no ending, you just keep going. The truth is that casinos make so much money, and there's so much cash walking in and out,

that there will always be little inefficiencies for a well-educated, well-positioned player to take advantage of. There will always be the little guys picking up scraps. In Vegas, those scraps are millions of dollars.

Captions (c) SBS Australia 2005