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21: Bringing Down the House - Movie Tie-In: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions Paperback – February 1, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 565 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Shy, geeky, amiable" MIT grad Kevin Lewis, was, Mezrich learns at a party, living a double life winning huge sums of cash in Las Vegas casinos. In 1993 when Lewis was 20 years old and feeling aimless, he was invited to join the MIT Blackjack Team, organized by a former math instructor, who said, "Blackjack is beatable." Expanding on the "hi-lo" card-counting techniques popularized by Edward Thorp in his 1962 book, Beat the Dealer, the MIT group's more advanced team strategies were legal, yet frowned upon by casinos. Backed by anonymous investors, team members checked into Vegas hotels under assumed names and, pretending not to know each other, communicated in the casinos with gestures and card-count code words. Taking advantage of the statistical nature of blackjack, the team raked in millions before casinos caught on and pursued them. In his first nonfiction foray, novelist Mezrich (Reaper, etc.), telling the tale primarily from Kevin's point of view, manages to milk that threat for a degree of suspense. But the tension is undercut by the first-draft feel of his pedestrian prose, alternating between irrelevant details and heightened melodrama. In a closing essay, Lewis details the intricacies of card counting.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

For the first third of his nonfiction debut, novelist Mezrich craps out. Ground lights viewed from an airplane aren't just pinpricks, or even little pinpricks, but "tiny little pinpricks." Las Vegas tourism facts are crammed onto the pages like seven decks in a six-deck shoe. But Mezrich finally hits the jackpot on page 79, when M.I.T. student Kevin Lewis steps onto the floor of the Mirage. The book stays on a roll as it describes how the young gambler and his card-counting cohorts employ simple math and complex disguises to win nearly $4 million at the blackjack tables. Bouncing from huge scores to frightening banishments, the M.I.T. team fights a winning battle against the law of averages--until they're forced to flee south like Butch and Sundance from the gaming industry's Joe LeFors. Although Mezrich's prose never rises above serviceable (and he pointlessly injects himself into the narrative at every turn), the story he tells will grip anyone who has ever hoped to break the bank at Monte Carlo. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Media Tie-In edition (February 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416564195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416564195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (565 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Craig Kenneth Bryant on September 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
...namely, how much of this tale to believe?

But first, the basics: "Kevin" joins a team of Blackjack players based out of MIT, and extracts some ungodly number of dollars from the casinos over the course of a five-year romp. Then the casinos wise up to the game, and start putting the squeeze on Kevin and his buddies: expulsions, IRS audits, intimidation, and a little rough stuff in back rooms.

Ben Mezrich is a thriller-writer by day, and the prose is a bit too ripely melodramatic--cliff-hanger chapter endings that go nowhere, visual metaphors culled from Raymond Chandler's wastebasket: "the muscles beneath his MIT T-shirt rippled like a plastic trash can left out in a heat wave." (And just when did everyone at MIT get so darned _ripped_? Almost everyone's a stud or a babe, except for the shadowy Asian ringleader with the horrible teeth and bad vision. Must be a different part of campus than I usually see.) But he manages to keep the writing at a good poolside or plane-time level, and you can skim the bits that are obviously padded out to stretch a 150-page story into a 250-page book.

The Blackjack itself seems mostly reasonable. The kids practice the classic "Hi-Lo" count, but with a clever twist. Hi-Lo calls for the player to bet the minimum a lot of the time, then dramatically raise the betting level when the distribution of cards turns favorable. One thing this isn't, is inconspicuous--the casinos are good at spotting this stuff. So the MIT gang fielded two types of players--some always bet low, but kept track of the "count." When it became favorable, these players would give the high-sign to a "Gorilla" or "Big Player," who always bet high, and sat at a hot table until the count went bad again.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fast and explosive read. It's a true story that's so high-powered that the tension never ceases and I was thrust into a roller coaster ride that kept my eyes glued to the pages.
The story is told through the eyes of the author, who met one of the students at a party and was so intrigued by his outrageous tale that he was compelled to put it into a book. This is a story of a group of math whizzes, most of Asian descent, who used the art of card counting, worked as teams, and legally won as much as 4 million dollars during the few years they spent their weekends in the Vegas casinos, living the high life.
They strapped thousands of dollars to their bodies with Velcro to get the cash onto planes, used false names, and were always on the lookout for Las Vegas personnel who would sometimes personally escort them out of the casinos. They also learned about the seediness of the gambling world, greed, the way the Vegas corporations work. Of course they all went through changes. And eventually, it had to come to an end. Some of it is kind of scary too. But mostly, it's about beating the odds and living with a constant adrenaline high.
Well, reading this book is an adrenaline high of it's own. It put me right into the action and kept me there for the whole 257 pages. I loved it. And highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
As a physician I have my fill of non-fiction with an abundance of journals so when I read for relaxation I want a story that keeps me excited, interested and sleepless until it is finished. Bringing Down the House is such a book and reads like a Clancy or Pollock with a little lower body count, but with no less excitement.
Ben Mezrich is superb writer and story teller with the amazing ability to weave the excitement of a Las Vegas casino, the mathmetics of card counting with enjoyable interpersonal dynamics so that this is a consuming story with people you care about. His description of the high roller lifestyle in Vegas takes you to the tables playing sums you watch others wager with the adrenaline rush like you were part of the team. I bought the book in Boston having just missed him at a book signing and had a hardtime finishing the conference. I found myself in the room reading a book I could not put down instead of going out in one of the towns in which the story was set. It was that engrossing.
My Christmas list now contains all of his previous writings as this is an author who knows how to tell a story.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
After reading the book, Bringing Down the House, I was excited and intrigued with the world of card counting and the lives of the card counters. I plan to read more books about the subject. From the book, I got the feeling that Mezrich's goal throughout the book was to captivate and teach people about the world of casinos and card counting. He met one of the characters at a party and was fascinated enough to put the story into a book to enthrall everyone who reads it. I can guarantee to any readers of the book, that they will feel mesmerized by the casino life and more educated about the subject. This book will be a quick read that the reader will not be able to put down. It will interest a wide variety of people, from those who love to gamble and go to casinos all the time to those who have never stepped foot in one in their life. I know this from reading the reviews of the people before me. Many of them said that they gambled before, but a surprisingly large number of them said that they had never gambled in their lives.

In response to a few of the negative reviews, I read through many of them and have a few major disagreements to point out. First, J. Danielson, you talked about how you went to MIT and that Mezrich got a few of the details wrong about the school. To tell you the truth, when people read this book they won't remember the little details of graduating with honors or not, they'll remember the intense casino scenes. This brings me to the next topic of yours that I disagreed with. You talked about how you have been banned from a casino before and that they don't rough you up the way Mezrich made it seem like in his book. Well, there are more than a few casinos and what actions they take when kicking someone out will probably vary between them.
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