Jeff Ma’s betting story is so good that it was adapted into the book Bringing Down the House and the movie, 21.
Ma is famous for being a member of the MIT Blackjack Team from 1993 to 2001, where he took the casinos for roughly $2 million.
But like a lot of us, his story started as a university student in need of some money!
The MIT Blackjack Team was funded by investors who were keen on finding as many genius mathematicians as possible to create a card-counting team.
Ma was approached to join the team because of his demeanour and math abilities, but he certainly wasn’t swept off his feet at the thought of becoming a card-counter.
“I was reluctant to get involved, it didn’t seem like something that was on the up, going to a casino and betting professionally as a career.”
But Ma was eventually convinced to join and after four months of training he was released into casinos of Chicago, Louisiana and Las Vegas.
Because of his ability to stay calm under pressure, he was one of only a few members who were allowed to bet big, while the others placed small bets or acted as spotters.
Ma became so successful that after making $80,000 on a riverboat casino in just a few hours, he was kicked off and followed home.
These kind of dealings were becoming more and more regular for the card-counter, and it led him to giving up the life of a professional card-counter.
Although luckily for him, he had acquired a set of skills from his previous life that were transferable to the business world.
The reason why Ma was so successful was because even when he was under immense pressure, he would never become emotional or superstitious at the table.
"You need to look at situations and understand what you need to be remembering and capturing from the experience," Ma said.
He believed the reason why people fail at betting or running a startup business is because they don’t evaluate the data around them, ignoring data and analytics for emotion. “Don’t use the data that you think will work for you, that’s confirmation bias, don’t be loss-averse, don’t think about what you can lose, but what you can gain,” he said.
Ma has used these skills to master the business world, launching and selling three different startups, whilst speaking at numerous corporate conferences.
Two of those companies were sold to Virgin and Yahoo, while tenXer was sold to Twitter for nearly $50 million.
TenXer has revolutionised the management of human capital to improve a businesses capability to manage, recruit and evaluate based on data and analytics.
One of the most valuable life lessons Ma has transferred from the table to business is the importance of teamwork.
“I'm the best at counting cards and I'm good at the math. But to be effective, you need to bring in talented people to act as spotters or smaller bettors. The more talent working, the more effective and efficient you'll be."
Ma used the same strategy for his start-ups: "Your natural inclination is to do everything yourself, but you need to trust your employees and give them responsibility, or else you can't grow as an operation.”
Since his card-counting days, Ma has also dabbled in the sporting industry, working with the San Francisco 49ers, Portland Trail Blazers and ESPN, helping them make better decisions using data and analytics.
Ma also has a book named The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business, where he talks about how statistics and his experiences in both the Blackjack and sports world are applicable in the business world.
Check out our other articles in the 10 People Who Got Rich On Sports Betting series:
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