Card-counting blackjack champion Mike Aponte will speak at 7 p.m. today in the Corwin Pavilion to share his unique life story and lend advice on achieving life goals and financial success.
Aponte’s story includes playing the card game in 1992 as a member of MIT’s Blackjack Team and is featured in the hit film “21” and New York Times bestseller Bringing Down the House. The university’s professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi is sponsoring the event.
Aponte, who began non-profit work tutoring high school students and started a website providing online blackjack instruction after his gambling career, said he aims to inspire attendees to remain ambitious during their time at the university.
“I remember back when I was a college student, I really had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do,” Aponte said. “I just assumed I was supposed to have everything figured out from day one, freshman year.
I now know that that was kind of silly because a big part of college is actually looking at the different options and trying different things to see what you want to do.”
According to Delta Sigma Pi President Henry Chau, a fifth-year business economics major, Aponte will offer students unconventional career advice.
“Mike Aponte is someone who can bring valuable experiences and skills that you don’t normally get in a classroom,” Chau said.
Card-counting in blackjack is legal and involves a complex use of mathematics to determine probability and advantage. The strategy is similar to a formula for success in any other aspect of life such as work and relationships, Aponte said.
Aponte’s success came to a halt after author Ben Mezrich wrote about the intricate mathematical strategies in 2003’s hit book Bringing Down the House. Although card-counting is technically legal, casinos have the right to refuse service if they believe a player has an unfair advantage.
According to Aponte, the characters portrayed in “21” are more reckless than their real-life counterparts.
“We certainly did have fun and enjoyed the perks that came with high-stakes blackjack, but we were very focused,” Aponte said. “The movie really didn’t really get that part across.”
UCSB engineering professor Katie Byl, a member of the MIT Blackjack Team, said on her website she operated under a pseudonym during the notorious chapter in her past.
Pi Kappa Phi Chartering Chair Anthony Galaviz said Aponte’s story instills students with the determination to achieve beyond expectations.
“It’s something that’s unheard of — working the system legally,” Galaviz said. “It inspires people to actually go out and do things that they thought were impossible to do. He made millions. Damn, he inspires me to do something.”