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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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I Could Have Been A Card Counter

Comments (15)

Amy and I went to see 21: The Movie today.  It’s based on the phenomenal book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich.  I met Ben and had sushi with him a few months ago – he was really psyched about the upcoming movie and the relaunch of the book as 21.  Ben – congrats!

Amy and I had a blast.  One of Amy’s ex-boyfriends had been part of the MIT Blackjack Team (1989-1990) so I’ve heard plenty of stories about it over the years (and vaguely remember it when it was going down.)  MIT is a remarkable place and a fantastic backdrop for a "smart people" morality tale (similar to another one of my favorite movies – Good Will Hunting.)

There were a lot of "MIT inaccuracies" during the movie that resulted in nudges and whispers between me and Amy.  Following are the ones I can remember.

  • Ben’s "4.0" average.  MIT is on a 5 point scale – so his 4.0 average is a solid B rather than "perfect."
  • The 2.09 competition.  This is really the 2.70 competition.
  • Building 4 Hallway.  The door frames are black, not blue (i.e. this isn’t building 4.)
  • Pre-Med.  There is no "pre-med" at MIT.
  • "A’s".  In the movie, people talked about getting A’s. MIT-ers don’t talk about letter grades – they focus on getting "above class average" which would translate into an A or B.
  • MIT Scenes.  With the exception of a few scenes outside the great dome, all of the MIT scenes were somewhere other than MIT (apparently MIT didn’t allow filming on campus.)

One of the treats was seeing Colin Angle (a frat brother and co-founder / CEO of iRobot) in a cameo role give the award at the 2.09 contest near the end of the movie (presumably modeled after Professor Woodie Flowers.)

I’d love to hear any other MIT inaccuracies that anyone notices in the movie.  MIT grads – comment freely.

  • johnb

    You are correct, it was filmed at B.U.

  • curmudgeonly troll

    MIT student selling suits at J. Press?

    fun movie but extremely Hollywood-ized.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Yeah – I'm with you on that one. UROPs pay better and are more fun.

      • curmudgeonly troll

        LOL the Coop probably paid better/more fun.

  • http://www.intela.com Jim – Intela

    I dont know about MIT inaccuracies but there were many Casino moments that were Hollywood-ized. For one, they only played at two different casinos in the movie, and if they were worried about being discovered I think they would have played all over, like in the book.

    Also, they seemed to mostly be playing in the regular BJ pits where the limits are always low. To sit down and play $10-$100k you would usually need to go to a high limit sections where there is much less flow and more scrutiny.

    I think the most interesting book was the one where they used a different system where they would spot and track the spit card and didn't rely on counting.

  • George Hartline

    Hey Brad,
    I read about you in Entrepreneur magazine and found your blog today: I was very happy to see you were so interested in “21″ too. I read the book and felt the movie didn't do it justice, but I did get dirty looks from my wife when we got home and I busted out the deck and started brushing up on my counting. :)

    The book: A+
    The movie: 4.0

    -George
    virtuoo.com

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      The Movie: “4.0″. That made me laugh out loud. George – you nailed it.

  • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

    Some more inaccuracies from an email comment:

    1. The view from the balcony of their hotel room at the hard rock. No way it's overlooking the bellagio fountains.

    2. The alley Ben goes down in Boston's Chinatown (to find the underground card club) just doesn't exist. Funny thing is that The Departed made up the exact same alley, although it went directly to Fan Pier.

  • http://biz.freshaddress.com/ManagementTeam.aspx Bill Kaplan

    From the founder and leader of the MIT Blackjack Team – The most glaring inaccuracy in the movie is the one that relates to the only blackjack playing strategy discussed: whether or not to split 8's against a 10. Contrary to what's said in the movie, the correct basic strategy play is to split 8's against 10. Seems a shame they couldn't even get this right.

    As for the other inaccuracies of which there are many, I wouldn't worry about these. Other than the main story line that the MIT Blackjack Team, which by the way consisted of nearly 80 players at its peak, took millions from casinos throughout the world, 95+% of the movie is fictionalized. Nonetheless, it's incredible to see even a semblance of our story depicted on the big screen!

  • Dave

    Maybe *you* didn't talk about letter grades and focused on class average…. :-)

  • E

    The most distracting inaccuracy for me was when riding on the Red Line the lighted signs clearly said “Express Train to Davis Sq” and the next stop ended up being Quincy!

  • http://karyng.typepad.com/soaking_in_samsara Karyn German

    I enjoyed the movie as well, but I was annoying the crap out of my best friend with my constant whispering about the outlandishness of the movie. My observations (and I certainly didn't go to MIT):

    I got the impression that biometric technology was supposedly in its infancy during the current setting of the movie. I believe most casinos have implemented it in some form or another for over 10 years.
    The thug routine – in our litigious society, there is no way the casino could get away with this. But, Fishburne was awesome at it!
    It took a while to bring down the guy with the gun at the table. Security would have been on him so fast, he wouldn't have gotten the gun out of his pocket.
    There is a seen in the begginning where the professor asks the class about picking three doors – and then would you change your answer if you knew what was behind one of the them. Brilliant kid explains why and that seems to be what inspires the professor that he is a genius. Huh? That's all it takes at MIT? I don't think so.

    Again, it was a very fun romp, though! Can't wait to go to Vegas in a few weeks.

  • Jeff Ma

    Hey Brad,

    I'm not sure if you remember me but I'm friends with Eric Silverman/Niel Robertson and met you about 10 years ago. I was also the “inspiration” for Ben Campbell.

    Couple notes…

    2.70 is actually called 2.007 now…

    When the script was written I commented on the 5.0 versus 4.0 thing but after watching it I think that it probably makes sense for the filmmakers to have kept it as 4.0 even if it is incorrect. Much less confusing for the masses who would have no idea that MIT is out of a 5.0 scale.

    All the “MIT” interior scenes were shot at BU, MIT would not let them film on campus. It was a real shame as I even had Bob Metcalfe write a letter to the President on our behalf.

    Jeff Ma

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Jeff – I remember! Thanks for the comments and the update on 2.007. Someone else asked me about that and I clearly hadn’t been paying attention to that particular change over the years. I think there could have been a really funny 5.0 scene (e.g. “You got a 5.0 – you must be even smarter than someone who gets straight A’s”; “Actually a 5.0 is straight A’s at MIT” kind of thing but with much better dialog.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Yeah – I'm with you on that one. UROPs pay better and are more fun.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jim122 jim122

    I dont know about MIT inaccuracies but there were many Casino moments that were Hollywood-ized. For one, they only played at two different casinos in the movie, and if they were worried about being discovered I think they would have played all over, like in the book.

    Also, they seemed to mostly be playing in the regular BJ pits where the limits are always low. To sit down and play $10-$100k you would usually need to go to a high limit sections where there is much less flow and more scrutiny.

    I think the most interesting book was the one where they used a different system where they would spot and track the spit card and didn't rely on counting.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/george_hart7927 george_hart7927

    Hey Brad,
    I read about you in Entrepreneur magazine and found your blog today: I was very happy to see you were so interested in "21" too. I read the book and felt the movie didn't do it justice, but I did get dirty looks from my wife when we got home and I busted out the deck and started brushing up on my counting. :)

    The book: A+
    The movie: 4.0

    -George
    virtuoo.com

  • curmudgeonly troll

    LOL the Coop probably paid better/more fun.

  • johnb

    You are correct, it was filmed at B.U.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    The Movie: "4.0". That made me laugh out loud. George – you nailed it.

  • curmudgeonly troll

    MIT student selling suits at J. Press?

    fun movie but extremely Hollywood-ized.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Some more inaccuracies from an email comment:

    1. The view from the balcony of their hotel room at the hard rock. No way it's overlooking the bellagio fountains.

    2. The alley Ben goes down in Boston's Chinatown (to find the underground card club) just doesn't exist. Funny thing is that The Departed made up the exact same alley, although it went directly to Fan Pier.

  • Bill Kaplan

    From the founder and leader of the MIT Blackjack Team – The most glaring inaccuracy in the movie is the one that relates to the only blackjack playing strategy discussed: whether or not to split 8's against a 10. Contrary to what's said in the movie, the correct basic strategy play is to split 8's against 10. Seems a shame they couldn't even get this right.

    As for the other inaccuracies of which there are many, I wouldn't worry about these. Other than the main story line that the MIT Blackjack Team, which by the way consisted of nearly 80 players at its peak, took millions from casinos throughout the world, 95+% of the movie is fictionalized. Nonetheless, it's incredible to see even a semblance of our story depicted on the big screen!

  • Dave

    Maybe *you* didn't talk about letter grades and focused on class average…. :-)

  • E

    The most distracting inaccuracy for me was when riding on the Red Line the lighted signs clearly said "Express Train to Davis Sq" and the next stop ended up being Quincy!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Jeff – I remember! Thanks for the comments and the update on 2.007. Someone else asked me about that and I clearly hadn’t been paying attention to that particular change over the years. I think there could have been a really funny 5.0 scene (e.g. “You got a 5.0 – you must be even smarter than someone who gets straight A’s”; “Actually a 5.0 is straight A’s at MIT” kind of thing but with much better dialog.

  • Jeff Ma

    Hey Brad,

    I'm not sure if you remember me but I'm friends with Eric Silverman/Niel Robertson and met you about 10 years ago. I was also the "inspiration" for Ben Campbell.

    Couple notes…

    2.70 is actually called 2.007 now…

    When the script was written I commented on the 5.0 versus 4.0 thing but after watching it I think that it probably makes sense for the filmmakers to have kept it as 4.0 even if it is incorrect. Much less confusing for the masses who would have no idea that MIT is out of a 5.0 scale.

    All the "MIT" interior scenes were shot at BU, MIT would not let them film on campus. It was a real shame as I even had Bob Metcalfe write a letter to the President on our behalf.

    Jeff Ma

  • Karyn German

    I enjoyed the movie as well, but I was annoying the crap out of my best friend with my constant whispering about the outlandishness of the movie. My observations (and I certainly didn't go to MIT):

    I got the impression that biometric technology was supposedly in its infancy during the current setting of the movie. I believe most casinos have implemented it in some form or another for over 10 years.
    The thug routine – in our litigious society, there is no way the casino could get away with this. But, Fishburne was awesome at it!
    It took a while to bring down the guy with the gun at the table. Security would have been on him so fast, he wouldn't have gotten the gun out of his pocket.
    There is a seen in the begginning where the professor asks the class about picking three doors – and then would you change your answer if you knew what was behind one of the them. Brilliant kid explains why and that seems to be what inspires the professor that he is a genius. Huh? That's all it takes at MIT? I don't think so.

    Again, it was a very fun romp, though! Can't wait to go to Vegas in a few weeks.

  • http://miamifloridalawyer.org/ Miami Lawyer

    For one, they only played at two different casinos in the movie, and if they were worried about being discovered I think they would have played all over, like in the book.

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