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****Busting Vegas

The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees

by Ben Mezrich

Reviewed December 17, 2006.
William Morrow (HarperCollins), New York, 2005.  289 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (MCN 795 MEZ).

Here’s a true story that reads like a thriller.  I thought that Ben Mezrich had reported the ultimate scheme to get money from the casinos in his book Bringing Down the House.  However, there was a bigger story.  Another team from MIT was using even more powerful techniques.  They used three different methods with a much, much higher rate of return than card counting.

But the casinos didn’t like it.  Even though the methods were perfectly legal, someone who wins too much gets a lot of unpleasant attention.  This is the story of that adventure in the life of Semyon Dukach, and how it almost led to disaster.

This story is so exciting, and so well told, I think that even readers who don’t particularly like math will still be hooked.  Of course, I enjoyed sections like this, where an MIT student is talking to the author:  “Deep down, it’s all about math.  Math is the key to everything.  The most powerful weapon anyone could ever have.  Math makes bombs.  Math makes guns.  Math makes monkeys that leap when you walk by.  Math has real-world applications, and it’s guys like Semyon and me who have the knowledge to get from that point A to point B.”

The author reflects, “I had come to the Media Lab to get a better understanding of what it was that made Semyon uniquely qualified to do what he had done.  It wasn’t just that he was smart, that he knew math and computers like no one else.  He was also a hacker at his core.  Not only did he know math, he knew that math could make you rich.

“Along the way, however, he learned something else….  Sometimes, in some circumstances, math can also get you killed.”

This book tells an amazing and thrilling story.  You can’t help but like Semyon, an ordinary kid who could use some money and happens to be incredibly smart.  He gets caught up in events that are decidedly extraordinary, making millions while he does so.

The book has an afterword, written by Semyon Dukach.  In it, he explains the techniques they use, and offers a more complete explanation on a DVD for sale at  He encourages people to use them, and to develop their own techniques.  He says, “When you find them, please don’t do what we did for so long:  Don’t hog them to yourself!  Share them with others, post them on a blog, or write your own book.  Because it’s not just about how much you win, it’s also about how much they lose!”

Review of another book by Ben Mezrich:
Bringing Down the House

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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