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: 9780743250849
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 12/02/2002
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 188,504
File size: 1 MB

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 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

Chapter Two

Boston, Present Day

Twenty-five thousand dollars in hundreds, strapped to each thigh. Another fifty thousand in a Velcro bag taped to my chest. Fifty thousand more stuffed into the pockets of my jacket. A hundred thousand nestled against the small of my back.

I felt like a cross between the Michelin Man and a drug dealer. Bulging and nervous, I pushed through the revolving glass door and entered Logan Airport. Refrigerated air smacked me full in the face, and I paused, getting my bearings. Terminal B was bustling with college kids fleeing town for the long Memorial Day weekend: backpacks, baggy jeans, baseball caps, duffel bags. Everyone moving in every direction at once, the unchoreographed ballet of a modern American airport. I took a deep breath and joined the flow of people.

I kept my eyes low, watching my scuffed dark loafers pad across the tiled floor. Act casual, think casual, be casual... I tried not to think about the new BMW strapped to my back. I tried not to think about the down payment for a two-bedroom condo nestled in my jacket pockets. I concentrated on looking like everyone else; maybe not a college kid, but perhaps a grad student, a teaching assistant -- someone's older brother here to help with the luggage. Just part of the cacophony, a statistic in Logan's weekly FAA report. Act casual, think casual, be casual...

Suddenly, the modern equivalent of Stonehenge loomed in front of me: two airport metal detectors standing side by side, flanked by waist-high conveyor belts continuously feeding into boxy steel X-ray machines. My pulse rocketed as I mentally checked myself. No bills hanging from my sleeves, no glimpses of green sticking out through the buttons on my shirt. I stepped into line behind a pretty brunette in low-riding jeans, even offering to help her hoist an oversize, sticker-covered suitcase onto one of the conveyor belts. Act casual, think casual, be casual...

"Next." A tall African-American woman in a grey Logan uniform beckoned. There was a name tag on her right lapel, but I couldn't make out what it said because of the sweat stinging my eyes. I blinked rapidly -- but casually -- and stepped forward through the disembodied door frame. The invisible rays sliced and diced my entrails in search of metal. Just as I started to breathe easier, a high-pitched mechanical scream tore through the dead air. I froze.

The woman with the name tag pointed me back through the machine. "Empty your pockets of any metal objects and try again."

My throat constricted. My hands jerked instinctively toward the bulges beneath my jacket. Above the stacks of hundred-dollar bills, I felt something shaped like an enormous suppository.

Shit. I had forgotten about my cell phone.

My fingers shook as I reached into my coat and fumbled for my Nokia. I could feel the woman's eyes on me. If she asked me to take off my jacket, I was dead. She'd see the bulges and all hell would break loose. I'd spent the past six months researching stories involving attempts at sneaking undeclared fortunes through airport-security checkpoints, and I knew all about customs law.

The security agents can detain you for forty-eight hours. They drag you to a windowless room, sometimes handcuff you to a chair. They call in agents from the DEA and the FBI. They confiscate your stake, sometimes without even giving you a receipt. It will take lawyers and letters and appearances in court to get the money back. Maybe six months, maybe a year. Meanwhile, the IRS will descend on you like grey-suited locusts. It will be up to you to prove you weren't planning to trade the cash for little bags of fine white powder. Because to customs agents, money smells like cocaine. Especially hundred-dollar bills. I've read that 95 percent of the hundred-dollar bills in circulation have minute traces of cocaine embedded in their fibers. That means those specially trained customs dogs can sniff out a professional blackjack player faster than they can spot a drug courier. To the dogs -- and the customs agents -- they both smell the same.

Fear soaked my back as I handed the woman my cell phone. She looked at it like she'd never seen one before. She turned it on, turned it over, then handed it back. Behind me, a kid in a tie-dyed sweatshirt tried to shove a potted plant onto the conveyor belt. The woman with the name tag rolled her eyes. Then, thankfully, she waved me past.

"You're okay. Have a nice flight."

I was barely breathing as I stumbled toward my gate. America West, flight 69. Boston to Vegas direct, the Friday-night neon express. A line of people had already formed by the check-in desk; boisterous, drunk, mostly male, palpably eager.

Kevin Lewis was waiting quietly near the back of the line. I spotted him immediately. Tall, athletically built, but with a slight, shy stoop to his shoulders. Dark hair, dark eyes, a wide, boyish face beneath a mop of dark hair. Vaguely ethnic, but beyond that, indeterminate. His roots could have been Asian, Latino, even Italian or Russian. Like me, he was older than most of the college kids boarding the flight, but he easily fit in with the crowd. He could have been twenty-one, twenty-six, or thirty-five. Wearing a jeans jacket and a baseball cap, he could have passed for a BU frat boy. In a suit and tie, he would have blended in on Wall Street. At the moment, he was wearing an MIT sweatshirt and baggy shorts. The classic MIT stereotype, right out of his parents' dreams.

He saw my flushed cheeks and smiled. "That's what it felt like. Every day."

The bravado seemed incongruous with the shyness in his shoulders. In many ways, Kevin was the classic MIT stereotype. His résumé was perfect: a math-science whiz kid who'd graduated at the top of his class from Exeter, the exclusive New Hampshire boarding school. An electrical-engineering major with an incredible affinity for numbers, a straight-A student who'd covered all the premed requisites -- partially to appease his father, partially because the challenge excited him.

But Kevin's résumé didn't tell the whole story. There was another side to his life, one written in neon signs and purple casino chips.

In Boston he'd earned straight A's at MIT.

In Vegas he'd partied with Michael Jordan, Howard Stern, Dennis Rodman, and Kevin Costner. He'd dated a cheerleader from the L.A. Rams and gotten drunk with Playboy centerfolds. He'd been chased off of a riverboat in Louisiana and watched a teammate kicked out of a Las Vegas casino. He'd narrowly escaped being thrown into a Bahamian jail. He'd been audited by the IRS, tailed by private investigators, had his picture faxed around the globe by men with shadowy reputations and guns holstered to their waists.

Along the way, he'd amassed a small fortune which he kept in neat stacks of Benjamins in a closet by his bed. Although nobody was quite sure how much money he had made, it was rumored to be somewhere between one and five million dollars. All of it legal, none of it spawned from his perfect, stereotypical résumé.

Shy, geeky, amiable Kevin Lewis had led a double life for nearly four years. Now I was going to tell his story.

"The Velcro's starting to itch" was all I could think to say as I shook Kevin's hand. "There's got to be an easier way to carry your stake."

He grinned, his head cocked to one side. "Sure. Fake umbrellas. Phony laptop computers. Plaster casts and hollow crutches. We went through a gadget phase. You know, James Bond kind of stuff. But hollow crutches are a lot harder to explain to the FBI than Velcro."

If there hadn't been a quarter million dollars taped to my body, I'd have thought he was joking. But Kevin was dead serious. He was keeping his part of our bargain, disclosing the secrets no one on the outside had ever heard before.

I met Kevin Lewis nearly seven years earlier, in a local Boston bar. I had graduated from Harvard a few years before he left MIT, and we shared a few mutual friends as well as a few minor interests: sports, late nights at college pubs, widescreen TVs. I was a fledgling writer at the time of our introduction, just about to publish my first novel. As far as I knew, Kevin was employed by some sort of computer software firm, something he had never explained in detail -- probably because I had never been interested enough to ask.

Kevin seemed too much the typical MIT grad: a true engineer at heart. As my writing career began to take off in the years that followed our first meeting, we rarely crossed paths. It was almost six years later that we ran into each other at a Super Bowl party in an apartment located a few blocks from Fenway Park. Kevin had just flown in from a "business" trip to Las Vegas. During the game's halftime show, I found myself alone with him in the kitchen. After a quick exchange of pleasantries, he surprised me by lowering his voice and beckoning me in close: "I've got a great story for your next book," he began.

I immediately thought about edging toward the exit. Like every other writer, I had heard this opening a thousand times in my career. Everyone had a story he believed worthy of a best-seller; for me, reality was rarely interesting enough to take the place of fiction.

But as Kevin began to open up to me, I felt the hair rising on the back of my neck. Unlike the thousands of other cocktail party stories I had heard, Kevin's tale had all the elements of a high-concept, cinematic thriller -- but it was real. Everything Kevin was relating to me had actually happened. He had lived it, every minute of it, and he was willing to let me get it all down on paper.

"Why?" I had asked, amazed.

Kevin never answered my question directly. Over time, I've tried to piece together an answer of my own.

Kevin had been part of something incredible. He and his friends got away with one of the biggest schemes in Vegas history -- and nobody knew a damn thing about it. Telling the story was his way of reliving the experience in a public forum. It was a way for him to prove to himself and to anyone who cared that it had actually happened.

More than that, it was a way for Kevin to come to terms with the choices he had made, the decisions that had led him to his double life. Many of those choices might have seemed immoral to the outside world. By telling his story, Kevin could explain himself to those who believed that what he did was somehow wrong.

In other words, his story was part boast, part confession. For me, this was too good a story to pass up.

As the Super Bowl played on in the other room, Kevin made me an offer. He promised to tell me everything, to give me access to his contacts and his lifestyle. He promised to teach me his system and show me the key that could unlock the casino's coffers.

In return, I would give him his moment.

The deeper I delved into Kevin's double life, the more I realized how far I had come out ahead in our bargain. When I finally sat down to put the words onto paper, Kevin's story flashed by my eyes in Technicolor as bright as a Vegas marquee...

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.)

Customer Reviews

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Bringing down the House: The Inside Story of Six M. I. T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 168 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.
ctmsrybo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich is the story of how a group of MIT students used card counting to take Vegas for all the money it had. The book is centered around student Kevin Lewis, who is going about his college duties, studying and working for his degree. Then one day, Kevin is asked to come to a MIT blackjack team meeting by Fisher and Martinez after one of his swim practices, and he complies. Kevin is then asked by legendary blackjack player Micky Rosa to join MIT¿s blackjack team. Kevin soon agrees, and goes through rigorous training to eventually learn the game inside and out, and be ready for Vegas. When the time comes, Kevin gets ready and sets off for Vegas with team. Kevin can¿t believe the amount of money to be made through card counting.Throughout the next few years, Kevin and the team go on to terrorize Vegas, taking millions from casinos and striking it rich. Eventually however, the casinos catch on. They don¿t like card counting, even though it is legal. Will the team continue to rack in the dough, or will their new partying lifestyle in Vegas go up in smoke?Bringing Down The House includes a very exciting, action-packed, and on the edge storyline told by Mezrich himself. The thrill of winning huge sums and the life of partying almost every weekend is almost paradise for Kevin Lewis. This thrill, told very thoroughly and expertly by Ben Mezrich is filled with a great deal of action some of it good, some of it bad. The MIT team eventually runs into issues from casinos, such as being forced to leave, being privately confronted, or being threatened to have their money taken away. This excitement, as well as the problems cre ate a great storyline that leads to a shocking ending to Bringing Down The House.Another aspect of Bringing Down The House which I enjoyed was the theme, or moral of the story. The theme really and truly is saying not to push your luck too far, especially in Vegas. In the book, the MIT blackjack team earns lucrative cash, as well as endless luxuries in Vegas, that is, until the casinos start to catch on to their card counting. In our lives, we can take risks financially and physically, but eventually they will start to catch up with us. This is a great moral on life, as it can be proven fairly easy. There are also other parts of Bringing Down The House which I enjoyed, such as the layout of the chapters, and the character personalities. The layout of the chapters went so that the story always resumed on a certain date, summing up what happened in between and skipping right to the key parts to the plot. I really enjoyed this, as the story was spread over a long period of time and you really get to see all of the ups and downs of everyone. The second thing I enjoyed were the differing character personalities, which really played a role in how Bringing Down The House played out. This is shown in how each of the characters acted different while in Vegas, some more cocky, while some laid back, which eventually led to them being caught for card counting. Now, they have to try to escape the authorities and continue to card count.Overall, Bringing Down The House is a story of gains and losses, exactly what happens in real world Vegas. I have decided to give the book a 4-star rating out of 5. The storyline of the book is very interesting and action-packed, and really takes some unexpected turns. The theme of ¿don¿t push your luck¿ is also very good, and true to life as well as real world Vegas. The personalities of each character really contradict each other, and make a difference in how their card counting scheme works out. I also really enjoyed how the book spanned multiple years, making the whole card counting adventure seem like an endless party. I would certainly recommend this book, especially to any adventure seeker in a book, as it will keep you on your toes.
av0415 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Witty. It's a very nice story considering the fact that it happened for real. It has a strong effect on me because after I read this I had the urge to play blackjack and try their card counting techniques. The feel of the story was kind of like Catch Me if You Can by Frank Abagnale. My comparison is not because they have the same plot, it's because they both have the awesomeness and coolness in them.
ctmsludu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bringing Down the House was an exciting book that put you through the eyes of an MIT blackjack team. The ride it takes you on is one you will never forget. the book itself was fantastic and the plot was impeccable. the book was exciting, thrilling, and kept you on the edge of your seat. you will be wanting to read more. Bringing Down the House had, to me, no flaws. The book was great and one of the best books i have ever read.
co_coyote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure of the literary merit of this book, but it was a rollicking good read, a lot of fun, and even managed to get me interested in taking my friend, Charlie, up on teaching me to play Blackjack. (Charlie's old girlfriend traveled around the world as a member of a team of card-counting Blackjack players. I guess he picked up a couple of things along the way.) If you have a couple of hours to kill on an airplane, you could do far worse than this book!
skokie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. A story of how a group of talented students were used by some savy investors to make a lot of money playing blackjack. The author takes you behind the scenes of this story, while giving you some insight that could only be provided by one of the cheaters themselves.
foof2you on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A facinating read of how a group of people went to Vegas and made money. Interesting how it was done eventually made into the movie "21"
Jenners26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Recently made into a movie called "21," this book tells about a group of math whizzes from M.I.T. who form a card counting group and plot to win money -- lots of money -- from Vegas casinos while playing blackjack. Although not technically illegal, card counting is not very popular at casinos and can result in being barred. The book has a definite suspense aspect to it as the casinos begin to zero in on the students and their system, which involves an elaborate system of aliases, hand signals and "secret" words. I haven't seen the movie so I can't speak on that, but I found the book fast-paced and exciting. If nothing else, it helped me realize that being good at math could actually be helpful!
skinglist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I know next to nothing about card counting and had only vaguely heard about the MIT teams. Fun, but not over technically work.
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Applied statistics turn into a page-turning thriller that is the basis for the currently popular movie, "21." The underlying mathematical assessment of blackjack is interesting in its own right, but the suspense comes from this true story about the scheme these students used to beat the house. Mezrich subtley overlays observations about the effects of the Vegas culture and the impact of the whole experience on Kevin Lewis.
tbc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book. It's an easy read. The story is engaging. But I question its veracity.If you want to read a gambling story that predates this book, search for localroger's "A Casino Odyssey" at kuro5hin.org. He tells a strikingly similar tale. Stikingly similar. If nothing else, the Web publication of localroger's story -- a year before Bringing Down the House came out -- makes me wonder just how much this author has in common with Jayson Blair.I read through all reviews (160 at this writing). I seem to be the first MIT alum to speak up (although "A reader from Cambridge, MA" is probably also familiar with the school.) I was there in the early 80's. There were rumors about undergraduates who earned their tuition counting cards at blackjack tables. I never met one. I did, however, know some of the authors of a bona fide MIT "hack" book: The Unix Hater's Handbook. "Hacking" (loosely translated as a "prank") is a core and longstanding tradition at MIT. Bringing Down the House smells like another hack to me, but I can't be sure.On one hand, several reviewers have pointed out what appear to be exaggerations and inconsistencies. On the other hand, The Tech, official source of MIT news archived on the Web, published an article titled "Card Counting Gig Nets Students Millions," which essentially confirms the author's claims. It includes quotes purportedly from the people potrayed in the book. On the other hand, The Tech itself is not immune from being hacked. On the other hand, I got confirmation from another alum that Micky Rosa is for real. OK, enough with the hands.There are other elements that leave me with questions. One detail that any MIT alum would include in his account is that MIT students aren't called geeks. We're nerds. N-e-r-d nerd. I realize the author isn't an alum, but he shouldn't have missed that -- he doesn't use the word "nerd" ONCE in the whole book. I was also surprised that googling for '"kevin lewis" MIT' doesn't turn up his real name. Are any of the portrayed characters traceable?To maximize my satisfaction of this tale, I would like to have more assurance that it is true. A fiction writer claiming to write his first non-fiction book simply isn't good enough these days. (Thank you, New York Times, for showing me how stupid publishers can be and for utterly destroying my confidence in writers of all sorts. :-)
kashakona on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Disappointing. Great story, poorly written.
HvyMetalMG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I had superior intellect and extraordinary mathematic skills I would take my gifts to help design something that would change the world. Yeah. Right! I would do exactly what these MIT students did and learn to count cards and rob the casinos blind! This is a great book based on a true story of the MIT kids who formed a gang of card counters and the consequences of their high stake exploits in casinos around the country. Written very well, this book makes you want to go out and learn how to count cards. Than you realize it is impossible and go back to playing $5 tables and losing your money before you get refreshed on that comped Jack and Coke. One can dream though...
shawnd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like this. A very quick and enjoyable read. Made me remember college days and some students. I'm not a gambler but made me wonder if I could be a professional gambler. A real life John Grisham!
dvf1976 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
MIT nerds vs. Las Vegas makes for a compelling story. I'm itching to see how much hi-lo card counting I can use when I play.I thought the main insight this book gave me (and it's probably pretty obvious to most folks already) is that Blackjack is one of the (if not only) casino games that has a 'history'. What you've seen before can help you figure out what you're going to see.
jess0124 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!! I couldn't put it down... I am really looking forward to seeing the movie. Makes me want to head to Vegas!
Nekosohana on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The single best blackjack book I have ever read. It's so well written I would often forget that this was based on a true story.Also, it's an easy read. I read this on a flight home from Vegas in about 3 hours. Loved it the first time I read it, and loved it every time since then.
brendajanefrank on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing story of very nervy students making money against the odds.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title of the book pretty much summarizes its thesis. A small group of students from M.I.T. learn to count cards and play blackjack, taking ostensibly sophisticated Las Vegas casinos for millions of dollars over a short time. Actually, they returned only a little over 30% per year on their investments--pretty good, but a lot of sweat equity went into those returns. They probably would have made more working in a high tech industry during the relevant time period. The casinos made quite an effort to identify these kids and certainly pushed the borders of legality in discouraging them from plying their "trade." The kids used team work rather than rely on individual card counters. Some served as low betting counter/spotters, looking for tables at which the odds had turned against the house. The counter/spotters would then signal a Big Player, who would sit down at the table and start betting near the limit. The process worked for quite a while. One time, they were discovered at a casino when they had accumulated a large cache of chips. They could not cash in the chips, so they relied on their contacts among the local strippers and lap dancers (who often received tips in chips) to launder their winnings. An unimportant book, but a fun read.(JAB)
MissWoodhouse1816 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great story with much potential. I did find the language to be objectional and gratuitous for the most part. In all, I really enjoyed the fictional flair of this real-life event, and I can't wait to see what they do with the plot in "21".
Djupstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great nonfiction book that reads like a fast-paced action adventure. It was just a matter of time before they made it into a movie. Now if only this group of students could use its talents for the good of mankind...like erasing our national debt.
MortimerRandolph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Essentially a novel arranged around the wraith of a true story but prossing itself as non-fiction, it can`t even fare well as fiction.Its focus is off. Instead of depicting the MIT blackjack team as it operated, the book spends manifold pages exaggerating the seductions and the dangers of the trade. Too much space is devoted, also, to attempts to justify morally something few readers will find problematic to begin with.A book that should have been interesting instead bogs down in pitiful attempts to be grandiose and cinematic.
mmillet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book presented a really interesting look at the MIT 'club' that ended up winning millions of dollars playing blackjack at various casinos. Very fast-paced read for a nonfiction book and gave a good insight to the adrenaline rush and lifestyle these 'geeky' kids lived. Lots of language however and some descriptions of Vegas lifestyle so watch out gentle readers!
sdave001 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book - One of the most entertaining non-fiction books I have ever read. I caught myself feeling very envious of the group while they were flying high - the cash, the red carpet treatment, the excitement - it must have been a wild ride. On the other hand, this book also really made you feel the pain, loneliness and emptiness that they felt as it all started to crumble. Excellent book - highly recommended.
Capfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year 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.