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Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions Hardcover – September 18, 2002
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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.
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
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Top Customer Reviews
Speculation and gambling have several differences.
Speculation involves increasing one’s chances to profit by various means such as news study, pondering, technical analysis, margin trading, hedging, options, and some have used psychics all with the aim of gaming profit from short or medium term market value fluctuations.
Gambling is wagering by means of an uncertain event with the aim of gaining additional assets. It requires consideration, chance, and a prize. The striking feature is that a small fee or amount is required with a chancy large return within a short time.
Bringing Down the House is the true story of how six MIT students turned gambling into speculation to fleece Las Vegas for millions. The best and brightest students are recruited by an eccentric former teacher with teeth like a picket fence of spades, diamonds, clubs and hearts to practice in a college backroom as the MIT Blackjack Team before invading the strip.
The nice thing about the book is that the secrets of card counting, shuffle study, ace cutting, hi-low counting, group spotters, third base coaches, card count code words, statistic indexes, and other tips the students used and the casinos don’t want you to know are revealed. Of course, one wonders the secret they did not reveal to win.
MIT proved blackjack is beatable and Ben Mezrich tells it with a suitable degree of suspense.
Speculation and gambling are similar in the manner in which they can acquire profit in a short time. Both methods involve risk but a speculator may learn more skills than a gambler’s plain luck to lower his risk. One may invest his hard earned money in intelligence such as Bringing Down the House.
From the book, I've learnt a lot about the world of casinos and card counting, the job of the spotters, who cover as many tables as possible and keep running card-counts at their location and help the big player to count cards and the usage of hand signals. For example, a spotter would signal the count of +11 by saying “I wonder if there is a football game today.” (in reference of there are eleven players on a football team). Or he might say “I really suck at bowling” to indicate the count of +10 because in bowling, strike is ten pins. There are also lot’s of other techniques that the team invented. They had their own system. They also learned about the dark side of the casino world, how greedy people are and how the Vegas corporations works. Furthermore, Mezrich always leaves suspense to the readers and stimulate readers’ desire to read more about the story. At the end of all the chapters, you won’t know what’s coming up next. Mezrich is capable of keeping the readers’ eyes glues to the pages. In the book, the MIT team strapped thousands of dollars to their bodies to get the cash onto planes. They used false names, always have limos waiting for them at the airports, always having personal host to escort them everywhere. Reading about their incredibly rich life and their dangerous situation of being caught by the casinos, you will never know what they are going to do next.
Even though the book is a quick read, it interests a wide variety of people, from who wants to feel the thrills and adventure the gambling world to the ones that never gambled before but curious about it. However, the book doesn't related to any big history themes. From the book, it seems like over the course of a few years, gambling is all they do. I couldn't tell how was it like in the 1990s except for the casinos. The author also has too much detail about the card counting techniques and it got repetitive to create the tension between characters and a card counter’s life. It seems like readers can just skim through some parts that is obviously meant to stretch out the book.
Moreover, there are lots of details in the book doesn't seem real. Some of the events doesn't make any sense. For example, why would they hide their cash in all kinds of ways and trying to get through the airport security when they can just use a bank box or a debit card. Moreover, the team always stays at fancy hotels with suites, champagne, limos waiting on arrival, 24-hour open swimming pool just for them. Doesn't it seems too conspicuous to the casinos? Since they wants to keep it low, they shouldn't take risks like that. Also, according to Wikipedia, some of the exciting events didn't not occur. All these over dramatic scenes seems too unrealistic. However, they can really interest the readers. After all, this is one of the cheapest Vegas fantasy people can buy.
Overall, this book contains interesting and exciting stories that keep the readers eyes on the pages. The plot goes quick enough that you won’t find it long or boring. Yet, it’s not the best book to read if you are looking for a historically informative book.
This inside look at casino security and card-counting was very exciting. Seeing how a group of regular kids ( well, genius regular kids ) could learn to exploit an edge and take the big casinos for money, makes for a great story.
I am not a gambler. Well not a gambler in the sense of giving my money away to the casinos, because I know the odds are rigged to the benefit of the house. I did like reading details about how these MIT students found a very slight probabilistic edge and then built a team to exploit that edge. Pretty much the same way traders and hedge funds make money every single day. But the house, like the market, figures these things out and changes the game. The only difference is the market will not "take you for a one way ride into the desert"
I highly recommend the book or the movie.
The warning I would have for a reader is that the narrative is a bit choppy at times. The writer goes off on tangents, and, to me it was a bit too self-referential. But I am delighted that I read it - and if you are interested in this "genre" I would say this is a "must read."