Card Counter Ma
Last Wednesday, November 3, Jeffrey Ma held a talk at Iowa State University, where he discussed important lessons for business strategies which he learned playing blackjack.
Ma isn’t just any blackjack player. He was the card counter and leader of MIT’s highly successful blackjack team that won millions with Ma’s blackjack strategy. This team became the inspiration for both Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House and for Robert Luketic’s 2008 film 21, staring Kevin Spacey.
According to Ma, “The most important thing I learned from playing blackjack is that you can’t quit because it’s what’s easy. Deciding not to play and to maintain the status quo is still making a decision. Even putting off deciding is making the decision not to decide.”
Ma feels that in business as in blackjack, “There is no such thing as winning or losing streaks. It’s all about how much you put into your decision making,” Ma said. “However, that doesn’t mean that looking to the past is a bad thing. Looking at the past is the best way to predict the future. But it can’t be your only basis.”
Ma advised, “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and make decisions that aren’t objective simply because a decision was your idea. In both business and card counting, there needs to be a collaborative effort.”
Ma surprised members of his audience by stating “If I were to pick someone for my blackjack team, most people would assume that my first concerns are their math skills,” Ma said. “But they’re wrong. The biggest concern one has to have in both business and gambling is ‘Can I trust that person?’ If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how smart they are.”
Above all else, Ma emphasized, the players shouldn’t quit. “It’s easier, but it’s no way to win in gambling or business. It’s how you bounce back from those bad outcomes that really define who you are. And if you’re playing blackjack and have 20, always stand.”