Learn about the story of a brilliant but poor student who decides to play blackjack in order to pay for his school tuitions.

21 was inspired by the famous story of the MIT Blackjack team, following the plot line of Ben Mezrich’s bestseller “Bringing Down the House”. It was released in 2008 with the roles distributed between such stars as Kevin Spacy, Kate Bosworth and James Strugess. With Robert Luketic in the director’s chair, the movie received mixed reviews. Although, the readers of the book and blackjack players were fascinated with the movie, since it provided a ground for debate and criticism.

MIT students were a blackjack team, counting cards in Las Vegas casinos based on Edward O. Thrope’s blackjack strategy book “Beat The Dealer.” However, as you’ll see the true story fell victim to the Hollywood machine, as it was severely altered to fit the taste of the general public. Having said that, the movie was a box office success in America and Canada, so the changes proved effective.

Blackjack, a way to pay your tuition

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a student of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reaches his dream to be accepted into Harvard Medical School. The only problem is that the USD 300,000 tuition fee is rather horrifying. There is spark of hope manifested with the Robinson Scholarship, which will go to the student who can dazzle the director. Meanwhile, a professor at MIT, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) dares Ben to solve a brain teaser, known as the Monty Hall Problem. After our protagonist solves the task successfully, the professor invites him to join his Blackjack card counting team.

Following some obstacles and reasoning from his fellow students, Ben joins the team but only until he can collect enough money for the Medical School. He is introduced to the technique of the team, which turns out to be the legendary card counting strategy. The blackjack team is split into two group, the spotters and the big players. The spotters count and send signs to the big player, while playing with minimal bets. Based on the signs, if its favorable the big players place higher bets.

Becoming a big player

In short time Ben becomes a big player in Las Vegas and immerses in a luxurious standard of living. The love story is provided by Jill, a team-mate of Ben, who becomes attracted to him. Later on, distracted by the many problems of college life, Ben still decides to play. It turns out to be bad choice, as he loses USD 200,000 which leads to Rosa leaving the team and demanding Ben to pay out his losses. Down on luck, Ben gets kidnapped and beaten by the casino security chief, Williams. Also, he finds out that he has a missing class, therefore he cannot graduate. To make the situation even more tragic, Ben notices that somebody has stolen all his winnings. What’s next?

After negotiations, the team reconciles and with joined power they return to Planet Hollywood before the casino can install their biometric software to catch card counters. The disguised team wins USD 640,000 with their casino strategy. While running from the security, Rosa steps into a cab with the intent to steal all the winnings. Funny enough, the casino manager is Rosa’s driver. It turns out that Williams and Ben made a deal and Rosa was exchanged for a final big win. And now, Williams wants both Rosa and the money, and with a gun in his hands, he is really persuasive. Later, after Ben returned to his ordinary life, the movie closes with him retelling the story to the Harvard Director, who is for sure: dazzled.

The movie and the truth

There are many distortions in the movie. First, the MIT Team wasn’t led by a professor, but three other individuals. According to casino gambling news, the real life Ben Campbell, Jeff Ma revealed that he was raised in a well-off family, so he wasn’t playing blackjack for school. Quite the opposite, as he abandoned his education because of all the money he gathered at the blackjack tables.

Counter to the movie, the MIT Blackjack Team was an open club, with members from other schools. One of the team’s chief figures was a Harvard University graduate. Also, there was a racial controversy around the movie, since the mainly Asian-American team was portrayed by White American actors. Despite these facts, the members of the real MIT Blackjack Team were not offended by the movie. The USD 158 million gross proves, that many people were curious about the story.