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Busting Vegas: A True Story of Monumental Excess, Sex, Love, Violence, and Beating the Odds by [Mezrich, Ben]
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3.6 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Length: 306 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled Page Flip: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews Review

Semyon Dukach couldn't believe how easy the money was. In one weekend, the MIT math genius and his team of geeks had made $200,000 playing the blackjack tables in Las Vegas. They hadn't cheated. Instead, they had discovered one of humanity's greatest holy grails: a system to beat the casino. They had rendered obsolete the old saying that the house always wins. Dukach and his friends made millions during the 1990s playing blackjack in the world's top casinos, right under the noses of pit bosses and security consultants who thought they had seen it all. Dukach's story is told in author Ben Mezrich's vividly narrated book Busting Vegas.

Mezrich, the author of previous bestsellers about MIT gamblers and a colorful Ivy League trader in Japan, tells how Dukach's crew used a system that Vegas had never seen before. Dukach, the son of Russian immigrants who grew up in the poorest neighborhoods of New Jersey and Houston, was determined to climb out of poverty and help his family. His system didn't involve the commonly used techniques of card counting. Posing as an arms dealer or dentist, Dukach deliberately sought out blackjack dealers with small hands or thin fingers who frequently didn't conceal the bottom card when they shuffled the cards. Dukach would often manage to get a glimpse at the bottom card. This was highly significant because it was the card the dealer would hand the player to cut the deck. Dukach had practiced a technique to insert the card in a precise spot in the deck and then make big bets when the card was dealt. Dukach and his team ended up barred from casinos, threatened at gunpoint, and beaten in Vegas's notorious back rooms. This is a riveting yarn. —Alex Roslin

About the Author

Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991. He has published twelve books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Accidental Billionaires, which was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film The Social Network, and Bringing Down the House, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in twelve languages and became the basis for the Kevin Spacey movie 21. Mezrich has also published the national bestsellers Sex on the Moon, Ugly Americans, Rigged, and Busting Vegas. He lives in Boston.

Product Details

  • File Size: 947 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Publication Date: March 17, 2009
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000UOJTR6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,367 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on December 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mezrich broke onto the bestseller list with his account of an MIT blackjack uber-card counting team that hit Vegas for big money (in 2003's Bringing Down the House). Now he's back with a another MIT-whiz kid blackjack scam, only this one is even more unbelievable and over-the-top. People have heard of the card counters discussed in Mezrich's first book, but the three types of play desribed in Busting Vegas are going to be brand-new to most readers. So new, in fact, that they may seem unbelievable.

These blackjack techniques (or scams, depending on your point of view) involve as much math as they do shuffle-watching and precise card-cutting. It's a marriage of the intense math required for card counting and the near-impossible perfect moves required in a roulette or craps scam. Complete control of an entire table by the team is required, so that a known card can be directed to hit on the appropriate hand. No random players can be sitting at the table taking cards out of the shuffle.

As with the other MIT scam, the players have to take on fake identities. In this scam, however, it is essential that everyone be a big roller, a "whale." Just watching the insane Russian arms dealer, trust-fund brat, and European rock star characters these guys take around the Strip is entertaining.

Is Mezrich's account to be taken as the literal truth? Of course not! Names have been changed and the story has been spiced up to read like a Grisham novel. Semyon Dukatch himself has said that the story captures the "essense" of his experience. This isn't meant to be 100% truth, and it would probably be a heck of a lot more dry reading if someone had told every literal fact from start to finish.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fun little summer read. Smarty-pants MIT geeks figure out some ways to count cards in blackjack, and win it all! Then, of course, it all comes crashing down! The clever methods turn out to be more or less brute force: count and commit stuff to memory, then time your bets just right. I guess I was hoping for something more MIT-worthy.

Unfortunately, this book is so badly-written it's almost unbearable to read. I wasn't expecting great non-fiction, but this is *bad*. Here's an example: describing a "grueling" month of training the team goes through before hitting Vegas, we're told that the students made "biweekly" trips to a local casino. Really? Two whole trips isn't exactly "grueling" training. (Maybe the author meant "twice weekly"?) This is followed by "every ten days, the team endured 'checkouts'"--basically pop quizzes. Every *ten* days? So...that makes three times during this so-called intense month? This doesn't exactly paint a picture of the team grinding away in Boston in preparation for the big score, it sounds kinda like some kids playing cards every once in a while.

The whole book can't seem to strike the right tone of reality. This *is* a true story, but it isn't told straight. Details are needlessly specific (how many books on a bookcase, the color of a pair of shoes, how good a cup of tea is, and so on). But these are details that aren't just irrelevant to the story, but impossible to recall. It's clear that the author is simply filling in information here in hopes that it all seems more "real". Problem is, it's not possible to tell when these details *are* real, and so everything seems equally fake, and you end up wondering: when Owen was in that secret back room at the casino, did he really get beat up and handcuffed? Did the security team really threaten him like that? Or are those details just imagined, too? If this was pure fiction, it'd be ok, but in a supposedly non-fiction book, it feels mostly made-up.
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Format: Hardcover
One would like to believe that a group of MIT students truly did take Vegas for millions as Ben Mezrich claims. But in a era when diarists and autobiographers are routinely getting caught in lies, it's very difficult to believe this story. First, it reads like a bad pulp novel, filled with every possible B-movie cliche--security room beatings, casino owners waving guns in their faces on Aruban golf courses, swarthy Europeans threatening to kill them if they ever come back to Monte Carlo. Mix in a cast of characters straight out of central casting--the Russian math genius, the bombshell blond, the screwup with a drug problem, the obese nerd, and the charismatic mystery "leader" who hides hundreds of thousands of dollars in laundry baskets all over the greater Boston area. Then add sexual misunderstandings and B-movie "dialogue," and the author's own self-indulgent "visits" to Vegas brothels and casinos to "retrace" the kids' journey, and you get a far-fetched potboiler seemingly untethered to verifiable facts. Why, for example, did Mezrich not interview the kids' nemesis, a Vegas private eye who follows their movements and foils their plans everywhere they go? Why are there no interviews with security guards and casino managers who roughed them up in Vegas, Aruba, and Monte Carlo? How do we can believe that any of these people even existed, and that any of this is true, when Mezrich swallows their tale hook line and sinker? Read this entertaining but ultimally vacuous trifle for what it is--all bluff and fluff.
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