21 a movie about counting cards

Posted on 20 February 2014
By Carlton Whitfield
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Films that have a basis in truth always have that added extra appeal, and that’s exactly what you get with the casino card counting heist movie, 21.

The film was released in 2008 and stars Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess and has to be the ultimate movie of choice for fans of the casino classic blackjack.

Of course, card counting is pretty much a thing of the past today, with the majority of blackjack gaming going on online and the land-based casinos so wise to the possibility of people attempting to count cards.

When you play blackjack online – there’s no way you can count cards as the random number generator software makes it impossible. But a few decades ago, different teams of players were able to cream amazing amounts of money from the land-based casinos using card counting to beat the casinos.

The most well-known of card counting teams has to be the MIT Blackjack Team, and it’s this group of students’ exploits that the film 21 is based upon.

The film begins with us seeing an MIT maths student named Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) being interviewed for a scholarship place at Harvard Medical School.

Campbell has made it to the final two, but has been told to ‘dazzle’ the director in order to secure the scholarship.

So he begins to tell the tale of his role in a card counting scam, for which he was recruited by his MIT professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey
).

Initially reluctant to join the team, Campbell is persuaded into it, and joins the other students in long sessions of training at card counting so that they’re ready to play for real in the casinos.

The students are either ‘spotters’ or ‘big players’. Spotters do the count and then send signals to big players when it’s time to place large bets. They have systems in place to avoid getting caught.

While all goes well to begin with, it doesn’t take long for divisions to appear in the team, and there are lots of complex plot twists and plenty of double-crossing going on. As well as personal jealousies, the academic records of the students are put at risk too.

The film draws the bulk of its inspiration from the book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, written by Ben Mezrich.

Although presented as non-fiction, the book does contain composite characters of the people who made up the original MIT blackjack team and there are significant fictional elements that have been added into the book.

What you get with 21 is a fast-paced, thriller-style heist movie centred around the game of blackjack. The element of truth is minimal, but it’s a great movie for blackjack fans.