Jeff Ma became one of the most famous people in his field after a movie came out about the exploits of his team. Ma was a member of the MIT Blackjack Team in the 90s, utilizing mathematical nuances to defeat the venues of the Las Vegas Strip. Now, he has been appointed as the new general manager of Microsoft for Startups, and he sees his experience in the game of blackjack as key to his knowledge and strategies in financial investment and startups.
Ma’s similarities between blackjack and startups
Discussing his varied experience across the world of finances and business, Ma explains that the blackjack team and the essence of blackjack is very similar to that of committing to a startup. In the interview found here, he states: “the blackjack team was, in many ways, a startup.” Having started in blackjack and moved into establishing startups, Ma sees that coming through a startup demands the best out of you.
It shapes you into a great entrepreneur because the experience of being disciplined and needing to prioritize to survive becomes ingrained, which is exactly how the best blackjack players think about the table game. Having conquered the brain-straining game of blackjack as well as building and selling four startups, Ma has proven that there is a similar mindset that can be deployed in both spheres.
How blackjack trains good business practices
The game of blackjack has become heralded as the game of choice for intellects. The MIT Blackjack Team greatly helped to fuel this persona, with the group taking hundreds of thousands from casinos in Sin City. While anyone can play and win at blackjack, a strategy can be learned, which significantly helps to minimize the house edge. Basic Strategy is seen as the foundational knowledge of any top blackjack player, with further writings on probability in blackjack helping to further sway the game in the player’s favour.
The ability to attain skill and enhance your blackjack play is why the game is so coveted, and now there are even more blackjack variants on this page for enthusiasts to try their hand at. The likes of Blitz Blackjack, Vegas Strip Blackjack, and Single Deck Blackjack alter the optimum way to take on the classic table game. So, the player learns to apply a general theory of probability as well as how to adjust it to newly introduced variables. Couple this with the need to manage your bankroll, and you can see why Ma finds it so easy to apply blackjack skill to startups.
For all the skill in the world, randomness can still come to play
Everything about casino gaming is based on there being an element of unreadable randomness. The greatest blackjack players in the world will tell you that they’ve learned enough strategy to eliminate randomness as much as possible, but very few will discount its impact entirely. As the strategies are based on probability and not certainty, randomness will always have a role to play. Professor of civil engineering and failure analysis specialist Henry Petroski has likened the randomness in blackjack to trying to invest in innovative technologies.
As his quote noted here details, backing the success of any innovative technology comes with inherent uncertainties, much like the randomness presented by the dealing of the next card in blackjack. In terms of startups, this means always factoring in an additional element into risk assessment when planning and when pitching to potential investors. In blackjack, the element of randomness is what encourages top-tier players to remain disciplined when placing bets.
Given how the game is played, what’s required to play at the optimum level, and the ever-present aspect of randomness in play, there’s no wonder why blackjack legend Jeff Ma likens the card game to the business of startups.