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****Bringing Down the House

The Inside Story of Six M. I. T. Students Who Took Las Vegas for Millions

by Ben Mezrich

Reviewed December 21, 2002.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2002 (#7, Biographical Nonfiction)
The Free Press, New York, 2002.  257 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (364.1 MEZ)

This book tells an amazing story of M. I. T. students accomplishing every mathematician’s fantasy.  They figured out a scheme to beat the casinos at blackjack.

The story is well-told, although with some gratuitous sleaze and smut.  The author relates the story one of the team members told him, how he was recruited and trained to join a team of blackjack players.  Besides the money, he was attracted by the mathematics.  These people had devised a way to put the odds considerably in their own favor.  I admit that the mathematician in me was attracted by the idea of using intelligence to outwit the big casinos.

The brilliance of the method rested on having a team.  “Spotters” looked like innocent players, placing small bets, but they tracked the cards and used complex signals to tell the “Big Players” when to bet their thousands of dollars of cash.

The team won millions of dollars.  Of course this pulled them into the lifestyle of high rollers.  The character who revealed his story ended up breaking up with his girlfriend and getting embroiled in the Las Vegas life style of the pursuit of pleasure.  He never could bring himself to tell his parents how he was making his money.

Eventually, of course, the casinos caught up with them.  This part of the book is filled with tension as the team tried to figure out where they could still play and how much the casinos knew.

Ultimately, this book is about greed.  It’s easy to see how the participants were pulled into it by the appeal to their intelligence and the fun of outsmarting the big guy.  Then the payoff made it difficult to stop when it was time to quit.

I found this book fascinating on many different levels.

Review of another book by Ben Mezrich:
Busting Vegas

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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