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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The #1 national bestseller, now a major motion picture, 21—the amazing inside story about a gambling ring of M.I.T. students who beat the system in Vegas—and lived to tell how.

Robin Hood meets the Rat Pack when the best and the brightest of M.I.T.’s math students and engineers take up blackjack under the guidance of an eccentric

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Overview

The #1 national bestseller, now a major motion picture, 21—the amazing inside story about a gambling ring of M.I.T. students who beat the system in Vegas—and lived to tell how.

Robin Hood meets the Rat Pack when the best and the brightest of M.I.T.’s math students and engineers take up blackjack under the guidance of an eccentric mastermind. Their small blackjack club develops from an experiment in counting cards on M.I.T.’s campus into a ring of card savants with a system for playing large and winning big. In less than two years they take some of the world’s most sophisticated casinos for more than three million dollars. But their success also brings with it the formidable ire of casino owners and launches them into the seedy underworld of corporate Vegas with its private investigators and other violent heavies.

Editorial Reviews

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.

In the Greed Is Good '80s, 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's 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.
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743249997
Publisher:
Atria Books
Publication date:
09/15/2003
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
92,424
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(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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Meet the Author

Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. He has published fifteen 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 was the basis for the hit movie 21, and most recently the national bestseller Once Upon a Time in Russia. He lives in Boston.

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Bringing down the House: The Inside Story of Six M. I. T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 139 reviews.
JSchaefer22 More than 1 year ago
The book “Bringing Down the House,” features an MIT grad student who is living a double life. Kevin Lewis, the main character is brought to work with a club called the MIT blackjack team who has a knack for counting cards on the biggest stage, Las Vegas. Kevin gets on to the team and as a whole they make a whole lot of profits. He goes through many adventures getting banned for casino’s and his face is known forever to the “eyes in the sky.” A major theme from this thrilling novel is Duty vs. Desire. Kevin wants to live up to his parent’s wants of him having a nice job and live a “real” life but also he wants to have the double life counting cards partying with celebrities and being rich. It is all up to Kevin. Another minor theme in this book is the idea of big brother. There is always someone watching you in those casinos and most defiantly someone is watching Kevin and knows his face. A minor theme also is quitting while ahead. The team always wants more which could lead you into trouble. One major like of this book is all of the action is has in store page to page. Every time I read it I always looking for more. I love how I feel like I am on the edge of my seat reading it. I also like how the author, Ben Mezrich, is very detailed with his writing. It makes me feel like I am sitting at the same blackjack table as Kevin and the rest of the MIT Blackjack team. One dislike I had of the book is that Mezrich uses very large words and those words are sometimes hard to comprehend with all of the action going on. I have to go back and use other words to figure what it means. Why I think someone should read this book is because it is action packed and will leave you wanting more and more. Also because it is very interesting how such a prestigious school like MIT would have a club that makes a huge profit and lives a double life. Also there is another book that is similar by Mezrich which is called “Busting Vegas” about another MIT student living a double life and living it up. Similar to this story just a different character. My overall rating of the book, “Bringing Down the House” has got to be 4½ stars out of 5 Stars. I give it that because it is so exciting and I could not put it down and even though Mezrich writes in a big vocabulary it does not slow down the reading one bit.
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I could not put it down, I could not wait to see the movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book "Bringing Down the House" is about the MIT blackjack team and their card counting adventure in Las Vegas. The book has a lot of drama and exciting moments, but some of them seem a little far fetched for non fiction. I enjoyed the book because it was honestly a page turner, the book was exciting and kept the reader interested through out the whole thing. This book would be a good read for someone who likes a fairly basic storyline with moderate character development. It was an easy read but don't read if you want a strictly non fiction book. A lot of the topics and dialogue is highly over emphasized and could be made up. A good motif I noticed was duty vs. desire, there is always the desire to make more money and enjoy life but the duty is to keep playing by the rules of the club to make money to help pay for college. This is a constant battle throughout the story. Hodges 6block
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If you loved the movie, you'll love the book. If you haven't seen the movie, read the book first. Thrilling, absorbing, exciting, and simply awesome. Recommended for all.
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Cyberiasha More than 1 year ago
First things first, this book is a slow read. Putting that aside, it does pick up steam, and become very interesting in terms of the turns that it takes for each of the characters. You will find yourself rooting for them toward the end and wishing that things turned out a differenct way for them. I will say that it was more interesting than the movie based on it, because the movie failed to really capture the essence of the time and place that the story takes place in. I still recommend this for anyone looking for a different kind of read, it will fit the bill.
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