Def Con & Card Counting: Hacking Las Vegas

posted in: Computers & Technology | 3

Last week I attended Def Con, the world’s largest computer hacker convention which is held annually in Las Vegas.  It was the first time I have attended the convention and it was quite a scene. Well over 10,000 people attended Def Con 20, including computer security specialists, hardware hackers, law enforcement, cyber criminals and those just curious about hacking. Jeans and dark t-shirts were standard uniform, although it was not uncommon to see some sporting goth-like dress or mo-hawks.  One of the most interesting speakers at Def Con 20 was Keith Alexander, Chief of the NSA (National Security Agency). In partly a recruitment effort, Alexander addressed the hackers at Def Con and urged them to help secure America’s infrastructure. He also emphatically denied claims that the NSA keeps dossiers on all Americans.

I was invited to speak at Def Con about a different kind of hacking – my experience with the MIT Blackjack Team. After a showing of the movie 21, I spoke about how our team exploited an inherent vulnerability in the game of blackjack – it’s dependent event nature.  The expertise of hackers is exploiting vulnerabilities & weaknesses in computer systems.  The parallels were very evident to the audience.  They also appreciated the underdog aspect of how a bunch of college kids took on the “Man” and won.  The energy and camaraderie at DefCon reminded me of my college days as well as my card counting experiences.  During the course of my talk and Q & A session  I received  a number of rousing ovations. Def Con has a strong spirit of sharing, learning and fun.  During  the convention many presentations were made on a wide range of hacking subject matter, such as breaking wireless encryption keys and finding back doors to hardware. There were also contests such as Capture The Flag, a competition in which teams of hackers must both attack and defend identically configured servers. While I was at Def Con I was interviewed by The Verge, a technology focused publication.  Among the topics discussed was the similarities between the culture of hackers and the culture of advantage players.  Video of the interview to come. In the meantime, you can check out a Card Counting 101 tutorial that I provided for the Verge. You can also view the video in my video gallery.

3 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Dear Mike:

    A couple of months ago I was listening to a radio show called ” the american life” on public radio and they had a show about one of the people in the your book and he has a dvd about counting cards. first i was intersted in counting cards and does it really work??? Second I would like to know how does one order the dvd about counting cards and our their any clubs to join to practice tis art?? You can reach me at with your answers. Once again, thank you for taking your time in reading this e-mail


  2. Mike Aponte

    Hi Harry, to answer your question about whether card counting works. In a word, YES. Card counting was formulated & proven 50 years ago by Ed Thorp who was a professor at MIT. If you do some due diligence it will be very easy for you to verify that card counting is legitimate and if applied properly does provide players with an advantage over the house. This is a well documented fact both mathematically and anecdotally.

    I have sent you an email regarding a card counting DVD. As far as clubs, I don’t know of any. The only card counting “clubs” that I have been aware of are actual card counting teams which are privately formed.

  3. Snooper

    I missed your talk but I heard it was the bomb! I’m a huge fan and count cards on occasion myself. Hopefully they’ll invite you back for Def Con next year.

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