The film ‘21’ undeniably played a pivotal role in illuminating the game of blackjack and significantly contributed to its widespread popularity.
Although it would be a disservice to say that the game wasn’t already popular at the time because it was one of the most enjoyed in casinos, the film’s release created a buzz because the story surrounded the classic and appealed to many who perhaps wanted to try their luck.
Of course, this was simply due to the movie’s plot, which took inspiration from a true story about a group of students who beat the system and earned themselves millions.

What happened in ‘21’ and how did the students win?

For those unaware, the film ‘21’ was based on six students studying at MIT who were part of the university’s blackjack club. They would use several different skills and strategies to try to fleece the Las Vegas casinos for as much money as possible.
In the film, it became evident that they would use card counting and covert signalling to help them win the biggest amounts of money and take home hundreds of thousands at a time.

What is card counting?

Card counting is a type of strategy that is used by players to try and improve the house edge in favour of the player, with many using it in blackjack to try and overcome it. It can involve a lot of maths and isn’t necessarily a technique everyone can use. Nonetheless, some basic points to card counting should always be followed…

The Card Values

Knowing the card values is one of the fundamental parts of card counting, as this is what will help individuals to have a greater idea of the type of card that is to be drawn next. The six MIT students would have learned this part of the strategy to perfection, as this would have allowed them to win as much money as possible at the blackjack table. The following breakdown is what should be followed:

  • 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – worth +1
  • 7, 8, 9 – worth 0
  • 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace – worth -1

Based on the card values that are drawn, players would then be required to keep a running count. They would need to either add or subtract one from their value, or keep it the same if they see a 7,8, or 9.

Is Card Counting allowed or is it illegal?

If you want to play blackjack and want to try and replicate what the six students had managed to achieve in the film ‘21’, there are a few things that should be known about card counting.
First and foremost, the technique isn’t illegal. It’s something that can be used when playing, however it’s something that can be frowned upon and can quite often see you being asked to leave the table if caught. You can’t use any additional hardware or software to help you, as this is deemed illegal. Casinos don’t want to lose and, while they are happy for you to try and maximise your chances of winning with strategies, card counting is one that isn’t accepted in too many places.

Does the film ‘21’ portray card counting accurately?

When watching films, it’s always important to remember that there can often be degrees of poetic licence regarding what is portrayed. Exaggeration can often occur, as directors look to implement additional drama to the story to make things more interesting and potentially grip audiences further.
In terms of ‘21,’ there have been criticisms regarding the card counting processes shown throughout. One area in which it received its critics was withholding certain strategic features of the technique.
For instance, the film didn’t highlight the conversion from running count to true count. A running count will assume that the cards are based from one deck, whereas casinos will often use multiple decks at any one time; usually between six and eight. This means players must also account for those decks, making the counting process even more difficult.

A fascinating film but one that shouldn’t necessarily be followed

‘21’ is a fascinating film and one that can be considered a good watch, but it’s not a film that many should watch if they want to beat the casinos at blackjack.
Card counting is a technique that is available to use and can help eliminate the house edge when used successfully. Still, it can also be detrimental to the entire gambling experience due to its complexity and how unlikely it is.
If you want to play blackjack, perhaps think of other methods to implement, such as basic strategies and those that involve managing your money properly, especially if you aren’t quite mathematically minded like those who attend MIT usually are.