21: What’s Truth and What’s Fiction?



Whether you are an avid gambler and possess all the rules of blackjack in your little finger or just enjoy a good movie, we believe you have long heard of a movie called 21 – a drama inspired by a true event.

So, it is a true story about how the skill in counting cards and a little luck helped a group of students to ‘rip off’ Las Vegas casinos and earn millions. These students from MIT had a secret “MIT Blackjack Team” in the ’90s, which won large sums of money in casinos across the United States and became notorious for that. The story led Kevin Spacey to make a film about the group.

A Brief Introduction to 21


The film is based on the true bestseller by Ben Mezrich and follows a group of young men who have become experts in counting cards. Ben Campbell is a student at the prestigious MIT University. He is an unprecedented talent for the natural sciences who easily passes his exams and paves the way for studying medicine at Harvard.

Everything is seemingly perfect until the question of money arises. When Ben is spotted by Professor Mickey Rosa, the latter tries to drag him into a team of students he trains to count cards. At first insecure, but encouraged by financial problems and crush for one of the female members of the group, Ben decides to attend regular classes during the week, and on weekends he travels to the ‘Sin City’ where he will learn what fun and growing up, but also betrayal means.

However, what probably bothers everyone who watched this film is the question of what is true and what is not, that is, how much this film has similarities with the real adventures of the mentioned Team. Let’s see!

Was the MIT Professor Really the Leader of the Blackjack Team?

Short and clear – no. At 21, the Team is led by an unusual math professor named Mickey Rosa but the real Blackjack Team was led by three people, none of whom was a professor.

The most notable of these members was Bill Kaplan, a Harvard Business School graduate who also completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard. In addition to him, influential members John Chang and JP Massar participated in leading the original Blackjack Team. The former graduated in electrical engineering at MIT in 1985 and would later reunite with Kaplan. Massar was an MIT scholarship holder who helped Kaplan manage the original team in the early ’80s, shortly after the opening of the first casinos in Atlantic City. Together they became part of the history of the blackjack game.

Did Ben Join the Team to Earn Money for School?

We will have to disappoint you – this is not true either. Jeff Ma, after whom the character of Ben Campbell was created, came from a well-to-do family. Unlike the story told in the film, his mother never offered him her life savings of over $60,000.

As Ma himself stated, he did want to enroll in medical studies at Harvard, but he did not join the Team because of that. He admitted that because of blackjack and all that money, he actually gave up studying medicine.

Was Ben Recruited During a Scholarship Interview?

This is another fictional detail in the film. Former team leader John Chang explained that the scholarship interview never happened.

In an interview, he said that this scene was necessary for 21 to have its course.

Did the Real Ben Really Lose His Father?

This is another lie that the film’s producers resorted to in order to make the story more dramatic. In real life, Jeff Ma’s father is still alive and well today.

His parents and sister attended the premiere of the film in Las Vegas.

The Romance in the Film Is Fictional

To the great disappointment of the audience, the romance between Ben and Jill was invented. The film shows a short love scene between the two, who end up as a couple at the end of the film. Real people, namely Jeff Ma and Jane Willis, were never a couple.

What is actually true is that Jane and her boyfriend were recruited to the Blackjack Team by Ma in the early 1990s, and the two were good friends. Willis and her boyfriend even got married but also divorced.

When Did the True Story Happen?

The 21 movie shows characters talking on mobile phones and playing blackjack at Red Rock and Planet Hollywood casinos that opened in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

The true story is actually that the MIT Blackjack Team, according to whose story the film was made, stole and turned over money in the early 1990s.

Did Fisher Really Recruit Ben Campbell?

Believe it or not, this part of the film coincides with real-life events. Mike Aponte, after whose character Jim Fisher was created, recruited Jeff Ma to the MIT Team.

Namely, the two of them were good friends, so Aponte, given that he knew what a genius Ma was, thought he was perfect for the team. Aponte actually taught Ma all the secrets of this successful craft.

Who Actually Funded the MIT Blackjack Team?


The team leaders, JP Masser, John Chang, and Bill Kaplan, founded the Massachusetts Limited Partnership in 1992 under the name “Strategic Investments LP”. The creation of the company enabled them to recruit players and raise venture capital as a legal entity.

Strategic Investments LP raised $ 1,000,000 as start-up money for this historic endeavor. The money came from former players and team leaders, including Kaplan, who says he also received investment capital from his former college roommate, as well as from a number of his colleagues, friends, and family.

Strategic Investments disintegrated on December 31, 1993, as a result of long series of losses and lack of time due to more profitable business opportunities in the real estate market. Soon after Strategic Investments was abolished, one of its former players, Semyon Dukach, formed his own team, which employed 60 players in 5 cities. Dukach’s team operated under the auspices of “Amphibian Investments”. The players have invested their own money in the team, which has earned over $ 4 million during its existence, making it the most successful MIT blackjack team ever.

Did the Team Really Use Coded Words to Represent the Number?

Oh, yes, and they are superbly designed! The 21 movie shows Ben using flashcards to practice the various coded words they used to represent the number.

It seems that the coded words are too easy, but who would have thought that, say, a car represents number 4 (because it has 4 tires) or that a witch represents number 13 (because of superstition, bad luck number)?

Has the MIT Blackjack Team Ever Used Strippers to Cash In on Their Chips?

While most of you would think this is true, we are going to have to disappoint you and say that these math freaks would never in real life give strippers chips worth $ 1,000 and $ 5,000. No matter how much crazy money they earn, they would not gamble like this.

Mike Aponte, after whom Fisher’s character was made, once asked people if they really thought they would give strippers chips worth $ 1,000 and $ 5,000, and they went to study at MIT. We have to agree with him. However, 21 presented this so amazing that the idea itself might be used in real life for some other things.

Did Team Members Drink, Visit Strip Clubs, or Play Slots While ‘Doing Their Jobs’?

John Chang said that unlike the events and scenes shown in the film, in real life Blackjack Team members were strictly forbidden to do so, explaining that their time was too precious and their focus on doing work too intense to be upset with things like this. This behavior was sanctioned by expulsion from the team.

The only time the guys on the team celebrated the win was after the incredible 1995 Super Bowl weekend. Then they won almost $ 500,000, so they decided to celebrate. To the great regret of many, this celebration was held without orgies and drunkenness. So, this is another thing that 21 shows and which is completely different from the truth.

Were Former Team Members Upset That 21 Did Not Reflect Their Predominantly Asian Nationality?

Despite various rumors and more than sharp comments after the premiere of the film due to the fact that the main cast was mostly white, members of the real MIT Blackjack Team defended the entire production, saying that they were not offended and that they did not care who would represent them.

Jeff Ma stated that he believed that most people would like to be played by someone who is cool, more precisely, a talented actor who best personifies their personality. There is truth in that, you will agree.


Are There More Blackjack Teams at MIT?

Mike Aponte, after whom Fisher’s character is built, claims that there are no more blackjack teams at MIT. He unofficially withdrew from the Team in the spring of 2000. As he himself stated, it became too difficult for him to play.

Their way of working, and they themselves, were already so well known that all casinos, not only in Vegas but in the whole country, were so careful that they checked all the players thoroughly. Aponte also stated that the Team failed to replace its original lineup of great players because the new recruits were not so dedicated and fearless.

What do you say? Are you interested in watching this movie or maybe you would rather visit one of the online casinos with the latest payment methods on TopCasinoExpert.com and try your blackjack skills?

Hm, the decision is difficult, we know, but we also cannot help but recommend watching this famous movie. Who knows – maybe it will manage to awaken the hidden gambler in you.

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