Inspiration for the Film 21 Talks Card Counting and STEM Education

MIT Grad Mike Aponte gives a history of counting cards at USASEF.

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If you've ever been interested in beating the casinos, then Mike Aponte is a man you should study. Mike was the former captain up the MIT card counting team featured in the Hollywood movie 21, and currently he is the chief research officer for Peerless Analytics. Recently, sat down with Mike at the USA Science and Engineering festival.

Now Mike, we're here at the USA Science & Engineering festival. Why did you get involved with the festival?

"Well I think the mission of this festival really hits home for me. Because, I used to live in the Washington DC area and at that time I actually ran an after school program. And the whole objective, our mission, was to help younger people go on to achieve higher education."

"And I've always had a big interest in science and math myself. I know how important it is, how prevalent it is in our everyday lives. Most people don't appreciate how crucial it is."

What topic are you discussing here at the festival?

"Well today I'm going to talk about the importance of mathematics and how you can use that to gain an advantage in many different types of fields."

Now, famously you can use math quite a bit in card counting. Tell me a little about the history there.

"Well the history of card counting and MIT actually go way back, fifty years actually. It started with a man named Ed Thorpe who was a professor at MIT back in 1962. And he actually formulated the first system that could legally beat the casinos at any game."

"And so it is only fitting that some more than thirty years later a group of students from MIT would kind of take his work, and take card counting to a whole new level."

Do you have any advice for students who are looking at a future career, or at least an education in mathematics, engineering and science?

"My biggest point of advice would be to be open-minded and just try to find something that really catches your interest and that you can become passionate about."

"I think for me I've always loved science and math from when I was young. And I knew I wanted to go to MIT and have a future in science or math. But I wasn't sure of course, like most young people, exactly what that would be."

"And card counting unexpectedly turned out to be that avenue in which I could utilize mathematics in the real world in a very unique way."

The idea of not knowing where to go, and of all things card counting? What was that decision like for you? How did you balance the passion, the practicality and a career out of that?

"Well we certainly, including myself, didn't expect it to become as big as it did."

"But I think it all just starts with intellectual curiosity. I just thought it would be a cool thing to learn more about. Didn't have any grand expectations. And from there it just kind of took off."