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

by Ben Mezrich

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743249997
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 09/15/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 97,247
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. He has published seventeen 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. He lives in Boston.

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

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments9
111
2Boston, Present Day16
3Boston, June 199426
4Atlantic City, June 199436
5Boston, September 199466
6Boston, October 199481
7Boston, October 199495
8Las Vegas, Present Day105
9Thirty Thousand Feet, November 1994117
10Las Vegas, November 1994128
11Weston, MA, Thanksgiving 1994154
12The Double Life, 1994-95164
13Chicago, May 1995180
14Boston, June 1995191
15Foxwoods Casino, Present Day202
16July 1995 to October 1995213
17Boston, Halloween 1995225
18Boston, November 1995232
19Las Vegas, Present Day256
20Las Vegas, Fall 1997267
21Boston, Fall 1997287
22Las Vegas, Present Day303
23Boston, Valentine's Day 1998313
24Las Vegas, President's Day 1998319
25The Bayou: Shreveport, LA, 1998329
26Boston, Spring 1998345
27Boston, Spring 1998350
28Boston, Spring 1998360
29Boston, Spring 1998373
30Las Vegas, Memorial Day 1998385
31Boston, June 1998392
32Las Vegas, Hard Rock, Present Day402
How to Count Cards and Beat Vegas411

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.)

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.)

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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. 145 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.
Capfox on LibraryThing 3 days ago
So here's a classic story: team of underdogs find their way into a crack in the system and use it to attack the empire. Right? That's what we have here, in a sense. It's hard to argue that casinos don't represent a big power base - after all, they win at just about anything they allow you to play, in the long run. Except maybe for blackjack, and that's where this story begins.Blackjack is exploitable, you see, if you can keep track of the cards and you know the strategy, and Mezrich tells the story of a team of players from MIT who got together and, making use of the strategy of knowing when the odds come to favor the player in blackjack, as a team took the casinos for huge amounts of money before getting burned out. It's an intrinsically intriguing story, as Mezrich notes at the outset, watching the lead character, Kevin Lewis, get trained, take on a bigger and bigger role on the team, and enjoy the fruits of his labors. When the end comes, though, it comes almost too quickly.Here's the thing about this book for me: as enjoyable as the story is, there's not really much in the way of nuance to the telling of it; Kevin is shown having some doubts about the life he's leading as he's going along, but really, not too much. And maybe that's really how it was, but beyond the chapters showing other people being like "dude, you can't beat Vegas forever" to Mezrich, it's really a charge straight ahead kind of book. That makes it fun enough, and a fast read, but it's almost too slick; it feels unreal.And maybe that's really my main issue with the book: it really does feel unreal. This is really more of a movie-style "based on a true story" book, rather than non-fiction proper; it feels that way when you're reading it, and some of the principle people involved (including Mezrich) have owned up to it not all being true. Some of the events were made up for dramatic effect, but beyond that, as a reader of more wholly truthful non-fiction, it's hard to accept this style of extended dialogue and quotes, and such. No one was taping these conversations, and so it feels like this misrepresentation of the story when you're reading through it.I have a feeling I might have enjoyed this more if it had been billed as not being entirely real; it's still a good story, and it's slick, glossy and fast, much like Vegas, I guess. I enjoyed it, but I'm not giving it much more than a tepid recommendation. You could do worse for a plane ride, though.
DSD on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Bringing Down the House was a very enjoyable and easy read. It grips you from the first page with a nerve wrecking description of a mule's walk through airport security till it spits you out at the end after having shown you the various facets and history of Las Vegas' card counters. It's a book that definitely opens your eyes to the life styles of a select few and I don't mean celebrities or business/entertainment moguls. At the same time it covers the people involved in a very personal way which makes you identify with the characters very quickly. If you like strategy, suspense and a good story then you'll like this book and no doubt, the other book swritten by the author.
Miche11e on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Apparently, MIT has a long history of student participation in an underground blackjack "card counting" club. If you can remember what cards have been played, you can calculate the probability of good cards coming up. When the odds are in your favour, you increase your bet. When the odds are against you, you decrease your bet. And if you work as a team, you can beat the house.An easy interesting read, highly recommended.
jennyo on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I ripped through this book in less than a day. It's the story of some math whiz kids from MIT who developed a very sophisticated system for counting cards while playing blackjack. Now, counting cards, as long as it's done without mechanical devices, is not illegal, but casinos tend to go to pretty great lengths to discourage it.This book reads like a thriller. So much so, that I wasn't the least surprised to find out that Kevin Spacey is making it into a movie. I think it'll be a good one.Even if you don't normally read non-fiction, you might want to check this book out. It's completely engrossing, and you'll stay up late in order to find out what happens to these kids.
ngennaro on LibraryThing 3 months ago
4/2004 This is a great story, easy to read and not hard to believe. This is what I was expecting Poker Nation to read like but didn't. Excellent.
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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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