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

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

4.4 139
by Ben Mezrich
     
 

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Welcome to the world of a group of audacious MIT math geniuses who legally took the Las Vegas casinos for over three million dollars -- and still found time for keg parties, football games, and final exams. The students were handpicked for a decades-old underground blackjack club dedicated to beating the system. While classmates worked long hours in labs and libraries… See more details below

Overview

Welcome to the world of a group of audacious MIT math geniuses who legally took the Las Vegas casinos for over three million dollars -- and still found time for keg parties, football games, and final exams. The students were handpicked for a decades-old underground blackjack club dedicated to beating the system. While classmates worked long hours in labs and libraries, they traveled to gambling locales with hundreds of thousands of dollars from shady investors taped to their bodies. Filled with tense action and incredibly close calls, this is a real-life mix of Liar's Poker and Ocean's Eleven -- and a story Vegas doesn't want you to read.

Editorial Reviews

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.
Kirkus Reviews
Thriller author Mezrich (Reaper, 1998, etc.) depicts a team of card-counting MIT students who live the Vegas high life for a while before getting caught and barred from all casinos everywhere. Approached to join the MIT blackjack club, Kevin Lewis was hesitant: Aren’t they nerds who play cards in the library all night long? Still, Kevin is far enough along in his education to know that he’s not cut out for the typical life of an MIT alum, so he decides to check out the club, which he discovers is churning out teams of card counters. (The author suggests that the Techies developed a new system for card counting, but it seems more likely they simply expanded its possibilities.) After passing a series of tests, learning "basic strategy," and such, Kevin is allowed to join the teams of counters spread throughout a casino so as to raise the chance that someone will find a sufficiently advantageous situation to play in. (Playing alone can take forever.) Soon he’s mastered all the dodges, and before he can say Ocean’s 11 he’s rolling in dough and dating an LA Rams cheerleader. The scam works for a time—it’s legal, actually, so where’s the fun?—but soon enough the casinos seem to be onto them. Faceless authority suddenly assumes the form of Vincent Cole, who may work for a private investigation service specializing in routing out counters. From there it’s mainly a question of how the counters got caught. Did one of their own turn them in, or was it facial recognition software developed at (you guessed it) MIT? Mezrich’s prose is generally colorless, and he unwisely attempts to punch it up with some over-dramatized scenes at the card tables and by using italics wherever he’s talking about a lot ofmoney. Compelling—if you’re into that sort of thing.
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:
9780743225700
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
09/28/2002
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 1.00(h) x 9.10(d)

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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