Photo: Bob Owen via Flickr
Jeff Ma, blackjack wiz kid-turned-tech-entrepreneur, recently sat down with TechCrunch TV for an interview on his upcoming book, The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big In Business.He described several lessons he learned during his days at the blackjack table that eventually made him a better business-owner.
Many people know the story of Ma’s blackjack career, even if they don’t realise it — he was the real-life MIT student who led a team of card-counting college kids to win millions from the Las Vegas casinos. That adventure was the source material for the best selling book, Bringing Down the House, and the successful film, 21.
His first venture after blackjack was Citizen Sports, which brought the analytical principles Ma used to win at cards to the world of sports. The company was acquired by Yahoo in March.
In the interview, Ma reveals that the first time he split tens at the blackjack table, he was afraid for his life. The players around him all had way more money in the game and Ma’s strategy wasn’t to their liking. “I might have gotten shot if any of them had been packing,” he told TechCrunch TV.
But Ma trusted in his maths and kept his nerve, winning big. It was a lesson in how difficult, and important, avoiding group think can be.
Another important business lesson he learned from playing cards: “You have to separate outcomes from decisions,” he said, if you’re ever going to figure out what strategies lead to success, and what’s just dumb luck.
The defining characteristic of a bad blackjack player (and business person)? Ma said it’s being satisfied with good enough. These players stick with a mediocre hand, hoping the dealer will go bust. In business, as in cards, this kind of inactivity is rarely a winning hand.
Check out Ma’s full video interview with TechCrunch TV:
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