21: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions

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The long-running New York Times bestseller that has become a cultural phenomenon, Bringing Down the House is an action-filled caper carried out by the unlikeliest of cons -- supersmart geeks. Gambling pervaded the M.I.T. campus, and genius kids with money and glittering futures were just as likely to be found in a Paradise Island casino as in the school library. A highly elite group of mathletes was recruited to join The Club, a small, secret blackjack organization dedicated to counting cards and beating the ...
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Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions

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Overview

The long-running New York Times bestseller that has become a cultural phenomenon, Bringing Down the House is an action-filled caper carried out by the unlikeliest of cons -- supersmart geeks. Gambling pervaded the M.I.T. campus, and genius kids with money and glittering futures were just as likely to be found in a Paradise Island casino as in the school library. A highly elite group of mathletes was recruited to join The Club, a small, secret blackjack organization dedicated to counting cards and beating the major casinos across the nation at their own game. As a successful ring of card savants, backed by a mysterious ringleader and shadowy investors, they infiltrated Vegas and won millions.

The Boston Herald acclaimed it as "a suspenseful tale that portrays the players as Davids going up against Goliaths." And Bill Simmons of ESPN magazine exclaimed, "This book made me want to gamble! Vegas! Vegas!" Filled with tense action, high stakes, and incredibly close calls, Bringing Down the House is a nail-biting chronicle of a real-life Ocean's Eleven. It's one story that Vegas does not want you to read.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In the "Greed Is Good" 1980s, a group of MIT geniuses decided to break the bank at Las Vegas. Utilizing their own mathematical wizardry and large doses of moxie, these six co-conspirators legally beat Vegas' largest casinos out of more than $3 million in less than two years. Harvard University graduate/thriller author Ben Mezrich has recomposed their story, an arresting hybrid of Liar's Poker, The Cuckoo's Egg, and Ocean's Eleven. Taut action and close calls.
From the Publisher
Bill Simmons ESPN THE magazine This book made me want to gamble! Vegas! Vegas!

Rocky Mountain News (Denver) A lively tale that could pass for thriller fiction....Mezrich's skilled yet easy writing draws sweat to the reader's brow.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416564195
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 1/29/2008
  • Edition description: Media Tie-In
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ben Mezrich
Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991. Since then, he has published six novels with a combined printing of more than a million copies in nine languages (Threshold, Reaper, Fertile Ground, Skin, and under Holden Scott, Skeptic and The Carrier. His second novel, Reaper, was turned into TBS's premiere movie, Fatal Error, starring Antonio Sabato, Jr., and Robert Wagner. Bringing Down the House is his seventh book and his first foray into nonfiction.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was ten minutes past three in the morning, and Kevin Lewis looked like he was about to pass out. There were three empty martini glasses on the table in front of him, and he was leaning forward on both elbows, his gaze focused on his cards. The dealer was still feigning patience, in deference to the pile of purple chips in front of the martini glasses. But the other players were beginning to get restless. They wanted the kid to make his bet already -- or pack it in, grab the ratty duffel bag under his chair, and head back to Boston. Hell, hadn't he won enough? What was a college senior going to do with thirty thousand dollars?

The dealer, sensing the mood at the table, finally tapped the blackjack shoe. "It's up to you, Kevin. You've had a hell of a run. Are you in for another round?"

Kevin tried to hide his trembling hands. Truth be told, his name wasn't really Kevin. And he wasn't even slightly drunk. The red splotches on his cheeks had been painted on in his hotel room. And though thirty thousand dollars in chips was enough to make his hands shake, it wasn't something that would impress the people who really knew him. They'd be much more interested in the ratty duffel bag beneath his chair.

Kevin breathed deeply, calming himself. He'd done this a hundred times, and there was no reason to think that tonight would be any different.

He reached for three five-hundred-dollar chips, then glanced around, pretending to look for the cocktail waitress. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his Spotter. Red-haired, pretty, wearing a low-cut blouse and too much makeup. Nobody would have guessed she was a former MIT mechanical-engineering major and an honors student at Harvard Business School. She was close enough to see the table but far enough away not to draw any suspicion. Kevin caught her gaze, then waited for her signal. A bent right arm would tell him to double his bet. Both arms folded and he'd push most of his chips into the betting circle. Arms flat at her sides and he'd drop down to the lowest possible bet.

But she didn't do any of these things. Instead, she ran her right hand through her hair.

Kevin stared at her, making sure he had read her right. Then he quickly started to gather his chips.

"That's it for me," he said to the table, slurring his words. "Should have skipped that last martini."

Inside, he was on fire. He glanced at his Spotter again. Her hand was still deep in her red hair. Christ. In six months, Kevin had never seen a Spotter do that before. The signal had nothing to do with the deck, nothing to do with the precise running count that had won him thirty thousand dollars in under an hour.

A hand in the hair meant only one thing. Get out. Get moving. Now.

Kevin slung the duffel bag over his shoulder and jammed the purple chips into his pockets.

The dealer was watching him carefully. "You sure you don't want me to color up?"

Maybe the man sensed that something wasn't right. Kevin was about to toss him a tip when he caught sight of the suits. Three of them, coming around the nearest craps table. Big, burly men with narrow eyes. No time for niceties.

"That's okay," Kevin said, backing away from the table. "I like the way they jiggle around in my pants."

He turned and darted through the casino. He knew they were watching him from above -- the Eyes in the Sky. But he doubted they would make a scene. They were just trying to protect their money. Still, he didn't want to take any chances. If the suits caught up to him -- well, everyone had heard the stories. Back rooms. Intimidation tactics. Sometimes even violence. No matter how many makeovers the town got, deep down, this was still Vegas.

Tonight Kevin was lucky. He made it outside without incident, blending into the ever-present flow of tourists on the brightly lit Strip. A minute later, he was sitting on a bench at a neon-drenched cabstand across the street. The duffel bag was on his lap.

The redhead from inside dropped onto the bench next to him, lighting herself a cigarette. Her hands were shaking. "That was too fucking close. They came straight out of the elevators. They must have been upstairs watching the whole time."

Kevin nodded. He was breathing hard. His chest was soaked in sweat. There was no better feeling in the world.

"Think we should quit for the night?" the girl asked.

Kevin smiled at her.

"Let's try the Stardust. My face is still good there."

He put both hands on the duffel bag, feeling the stacks of bills inside. A little over one million dollars, all in hundreds: Kevin's bankroll, partially financed by the shadowy investors who recruited him six months before. They had trained him in mock casinos set up in ratty apartments, abandoned warehouses, even MIT classrooms. Then they had set him loose on the neon Strip.

Most of his friends were back at school -- taking tests, drinking beer, arguing about the Red Sox. He was in Las Vegas, living the high life on a million dollars of someone else's money. Sooner or later, it might all come crashing down. But Kevin didn't really care.

He hadn't invented the System. He was just one of the lucky few smart enough pull it off...

Copyright © 2002 by Ben Mezrich

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Introduction

Bringing Down the HouseBen Mezrich

Introduction

Blackjack is beatable — so we beat it.

We beat the hell out of it.

Author Ben Mezrich takes readers into the inner circle of the M.I.T. blackjack club whose members develop a system for card counting based on techniques from Edward Thorp's 1962 book, Beat the Dealer. Using their unique system, this group of highly educated young men and women take Vegas for more than three million dollars.

And it's all legal.

Told from the perspective of amiable, attractive Kevin Lewis — an M.I.T. electrical-engineering major who is torn between a life where his knack for numbers cashes out big and a life that will please his traditional, hard-working father, Bringing Down the House follows Kevin from his elaborate induction into the club and his first time counting cards to his role as Big Player and life as a Vegas high-roller. Under the guidance of the mysterious mastermind and former M.I.T. professor, Micky Rosa, Kevin and his teammates work together to win large sums of money, one casino at a time. Their success opens up a world where luxuries are comped and everyone — whether a high-priced stripper or high-rolling celebrity — is cheering them on. But shadows begin to appear in their neon lifestyle in the shape of casino managers who want to talk to them "downstairs" and an investigator who always seems to be one step ahead of the team. Within the group itself, tensions build and betrayal surfaces, and Kevin learns that "the most important decision a card counter ever has to make is the decision to walk away."

A New York Times bestseller and soon to be a moviestarring Kevin Spacey, Bringing Down the House is the true story about "working the system, turning the math into money, [and] keeping the count without breaking character."

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you see the M.I.T. card counters in this book as heroes who beat a greedy system or do you see them as spoiled Ivy Leaguers with too much time on their hands? When reading the book, do you root for them to succeed? Discuss greed and its role in our society. Do you think it contributes to, or detracts from, the "American Dream"?

2. If Kevin values his father's approval so much, why is it that he becomes a card counter — a profession of which his father would not approve? Do you think Kevin is rebelling against the stereotype of the studious, straight-laced Asian? If so, is he helping to perpetuate a new Asian stereotype — that of the Asian gambler?

3. Have you ever counted cards at a casino? If so, did it work? If not, would you try it now that you've read this book? Before you read this book, would you have considered card counting to be gambling? Would you have considered it illegal? What is your opinion about card counting now that you've read the book?

4. The fact that these club members are Asian and of college age is significant in helping them avoid suspicion and dupe the casinos. This is not the only way appearances can be misleading. How do stereotypes play a role in this book? What is your stereotype of a gambler?

5. Are Kevin and his card-counting colleagues gambling addicts? If not, how are they different from addicts? Do you think they are driven simply by ego and greed? Or are they driven by something more complex?

6. How does Bringing Down the House portray gambling centers like Las Vegas and Atlantic City? Do you think books and films about card counting can hurt or help casinos?

7. The book has a who-done-it element that is never fully revealed. Who do you think ratted out the team, selling a list of card counters for $25,000? The Amphibians? Mickey? A member of their own team?

8. Is Micky Rosa a good guy? A father figure and misunderstood genius? Or is he something more sinister? Kevin Spacey will be taking on the role of Mickey in the film version. Who would you choose to play this part?

9. In Kevin Lewis's essay at the end of the book, he tells us, "Keep in mind, card counting isn't gambling" (page 257). If gambling is defined as betting on an uncertain outcome, do you agree with Kevin? If not, explain your reasons.

10. Now you are the card counter. Decipher these code numbers:

One more drink and I'll fall off this stool.

The all-you-can-eat buffet here has the best eggs you ever had.

If I don't start winning, my girlfriend can kiss that engagement ring goodbye.

They've got a great sports book here. Especially when it comes to football.

Hey, where can I go bowling around here?

And translate these phrases into the team's gestures:

The deck's warm

The deck's turned hot

I need to talk

What's the count?

Something's wrong, get out now!

Who Said That?:

"A whale is someone who can lose a million dollars at cards — and not give a damn." (Answer on page 22.)

"We're freedom fighters, Kevin. We liberate money from the hands of the oppressors. We're Robin Hood, and the casino is the sheriff." (Answer on page 41.)

"Card counting can be good for business, too. They make the civilians think the game is beatable." (Answer on page 66.)

"...the law is pretty clear: As long as you don't alter the outcome of the game, or use a mechanical device such as a calculator or a computer, the worst they can legally do is throw you out." (Answer on page 124.)

"Every time you walk into a casino, they're watching. Every time you cash in a chip, they're taking notes. Sooner or later, they're going to start asking questions. And things will change." (Answer on page 138.)

"Card counting is a misnomer; the practice has nothing at all to do with the ability to count the cards coming out of the deck." (Answer on page 257.)

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Bringing Down the House Ben Mezrich

Introduction

Blackjack is beatable — so we beat it.

We beat the hell out of it.

Author Ben Mezrich takes readers into the inner circle of the M.I.T. blackjack club whose members develop a system for card counting based on techniques from Edward Thorp's 1962 book, Beat the Dealer. Using their unique system, this group of highly educated young men and women take Vegas for more than three million dollars.

And it's all legal.

Told from the perspective of amiable, attractive Kevin Lewis — an M.I.T. electrical-engineering major who is torn between a life where his knack for numbers cashes out big and a life that will please his traditional, hard-working father, Bringing Down the House follows Kevin from his elaborate induction into the club and his first time counting cards to his role as Big Player and life as a Vegas high-roller. Under the guidance of the mysterious mastermind and former M.I.T. professor, Micky Rosa, Kevin and his teammates work together to win large sums of money, one casino at a time. Their success opens up a world where luxuries are comped and everyone — whether a high-priced stripper or high-rolling celebrity — is cheering them on. But shadows begin to appear in their neon lifestyle in the shape of casino managers who want to talk to them "downstairs" and an investigator who always seems to be one step ahead of the team. Within the group itself, tensions build and betrayal surfaces, and Kevin learns that "the most important decision a card counter ever has to make is the decision to walk away."

A New York Times bestseller and soon to be a movie starring Kevin Spacey, Bringing Down the House is the true story about "working the system, turning the math into money, [and] keeping the count without breaking character."

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you see the M.I.T. card counters in this book as heroes who beat a greedy system or do you see them as spoiled Ivy Leaguers with too much time on their hands? When reading the book, do you root for them to succeed? Discuss greed and its role in our society. Do you think it contributes to, or detracts from, the "American Dream"?

2. If Kevin values his father's approval so much, why is it that he becomes a card counter — a profession of which his father would not approve? Do you think Kevin is rebelling against the stereotype of the studious, straight-laced Asian? If so, is he helping to perpetuate a new Asian stereotype — that of the Asian gambler?

3. Have you ever counted cards at a casino? If so, did it work? If not, would you try it now that you've read this book? Before you read this book, would you have considered card counting to be gambling? Would you have considered it illegal? What is your opinion about card counting now that you've read the book?

4. The fact that these club members are Asian and of college age is significant in helping them avoid suspicion and dupe the casinos. This is not the only way appearances can be misleading. How do stereotypes play a role in this book? What is your stereotype of a gambler?

5. Are Kevin and his card-counting colleagues gambling addicts? If not, how are they different from addicts? Do you think they are driven simply by ego and greed? Or are they driven by something more complex?

6. How does Bringing Down the House portray gambling centers like Las Vegas and Atlantic City? Do you think books and films about card counting can hurt or help casinos?

7. The book has a who-done-it element that is never fully revealed. Who do you think ratted out the team, selling a list of card counters for $25,000? The Amphibians? Mickey? A member of their own team?

8. Is Micky Rosa a good guy? A father figure and misunderstood genius? Or is he something more sinister? Kevin Spacey will be taking on the role of Mickey in the film version. Who would you choose to play this part?

9. In Kevin Lewis's essay at the end of the book, he tells us, "Keep in mind, card counting isn't gambling" (page 257). If gambling is defined as betting on an uncertain outcome, do you agree with Kevin? If not, explain your reasons.

10. Now you are the card counter. Decipher these code numbers:

One more drink and I'll fall off this stool.

The all-you-can-eat buffet here has the best eggs you ever had.

If I don't start winning, my girlfriend can kiss that engagement ring goodbye.

They've got a great sports book here. Especially when it comes to football.

Hey, where can I go bowling around here?

And translate these phrases into the team's gestures:

The deck's warm

The deck's turned hot

I need to talk

What's the count?

Something's wrong, get out now!

Who Said That?:

"A whale is someone who can lose a million dollars at cards — and not give a damn." (Answer on page 22.)

"We're freedom fighters, Kevin. We liberate money from the hands of the oppressors. We're Robin Hood, and the casino is the sheriff." (Answer on page 41.)

"Card counting can be good for business, too. They make the civilians think the game is beatable." (Answer on page 66.)

"...the law is pretty clear: As long as you don't alter the outcome of the game, or use a mechanical device such as a calculator or a computer, the worst they can legally do is throw you out." (Answer on page 124.)

"Every time you walk into a casino, they're watching. Every time you cash in a chip, they're taking notes. Sooner or later, they're going to start asking questions. And things will change." (Answer on page 138.)

"Card counting is a misnomer; the practice has nothing at all to do with the ability to count the cards coming out of the deck." (Answer on page 257.)

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    FANTASTIC STORY -- MOVIE TOO!!

    Ben Mezrich tells the story of a card counter of Blackjack, Kevin Lewis, and how Blackjack changed his life forever. In Bringing Down the House, he tells the inside story of six M.I.T. students who took Las Vegas for millions of dollars. Ben Mezrich, a Harvard graduate has written eight books, and this book has been made into a movie, titled "21". Ben Mezrich did a very good job in accomplishing his goal of letting the world know the exact story of how college student became rich. He interviewed many people, and all of them were from different backgrounds. During these interviews, Ben Mezrich was thorough and included everything that occurred in the interviews. During the time that Kevin counted cards, he had met people that one would not see every day and many very extremely peculiar. In one chapter, Mezrich meets with one of the pit bosses that Kevin was acquainted with, though this man knew him as David Lee, and Mezrich interviewed him, and wrote that he could not believe the stories this man was telling him, as many were more dangerous than one would think. In another chapter Mezrich met one of the women at a club that helped Kevin during his "working" days. She was a bright woman and she knew how to work Vegas, she assisted Kevin in working the casinos. During the story of Kevin and his Blackjack team, many of the accomplishments that were carried through were unbelievable. There is no one else that has lived the incredible, daring life that Kevin Lewis has, and I believe that Ben Mezrich captures the story perfectly. This is a very interesting read. I felt as if I was right there in Las Vegas with Kevin's team, playing the night away. Get the book. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2008

    Read the book before the Movie

    A very entertaining story. I really enjoyed reading this book. I think the story is more intersting in the book than the movie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 31, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    this is a well written account of a true story involving MIT stu

    this is a well written account of a true story involving MIT students and a plot to read cards and casinos and make huge amounts of money in the process. Unfortunately they run into a few snags along the way. without pointing out the spoiler, I will say that the ending a favorable twist that you wont see coming. Read the book. you wont be disappointed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Vegas!

    This book is entertaining, absorbing, and thrilling, much like Vegas itself. Incredible because its true. I recommend both this and the movie.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2008

    Great Book

    This book was awesome, I had a hard time putting it down. I love how this book is based on true events. I wish I could beat Vegas at their own game. That would be awesome.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2008

    AN AWESOME REALITY!!!

    This was a real page turner for me. It had me hooked from the start. I wonder how things might change at MIT from now on. This book is action filled. I could just imagine how this had really happened. Well written. Good story...or resume. I love how things ended up at the end though. I wont give it away, but lets just say you will like how the hero wakes up, smells the roses, and victoriously triumphs over the manipulative professor. Excellent story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2008

    WOWZERS

    I usually don't read not even if it's for school but this book really got my attention. I loved all the action in it and kept me wanting more. I seriously read the book in a day it was so exciting to see what would happen next. The best part is that IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2008

    Couldnt keep my hands off this one.

    Im not the type to read books its just hard for a book to keep me concentrated for that long but from the mine i read the first two pages i was hooked wanting to read more and more. Talk about crazy things happening to people this is one life i would have loved to live. This book has everything greed, betrayel, friendships, you name its in that book . I give it two thumbs up this book is a must read. If ur into gambling ull really enjoy this one.

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    Posted February 8, 2009

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    Posted October 27, 2008

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    Posted April 18, 2009

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