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4.4 out of 5 stars
Bringing Down the House: How Six Students Took Vegas for Millions
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2004
In the beginning I felt a bit confused by the way in which the book was written. Some chapters were written from the experiences of the author while some were written in third person and on top of all that it was shelved in the Biography section in the local bookstore. Once I had established what was what and who was who I really started to enjoy the book. It's about a group of MIT boffins who make a heap of money by counting cards in any casino where there's a free seat.
What's fascinating is not the exact mechanics of counting the cards (this is too difficult for a dummy like me to understand though it is explained) but it's more about the way in which they deceived the wary casino operators and the twin lives they had to live. For instance, to transport the amount of cash the team had to use some members literally strapped hundreds of thousands of dollars to their bodies whilst trying to edge past airport security.
The story is effectively told from the viewpoint of one of the main team members, namely Kevin. Kevin doesn't deny that his alter profession is profitable but for him it was the thrill of deception that really turned him on as well as the NFL Cheerleader he saw on his every visit, one of the many advantages of being a high roller. Other advantages included free rooms and tables appearing from nowhere in a full booked restaurant. As long as the risks were in his favor it was fine to keep on doing what he did so well. But within the ranks were colleagues that treated card counting as a career, which spelt trouble.
To some extent the last third of the story reads more like a mystery thriller which is great but unfortunately Monsieur Poirot was not on hand to solve the crimes. Shame. But you can draw you're own conclusions quite easily. The next time I step into a casino I will be looking for those hand and verbal signals that maketh a card counter and I shall grin with great joy. If only it were that easy.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 August 2003
This is the most bizzare blackjack book I've ever read. There is enough information in it to pick up the absolute bare minimum basics to count cards, but as a biogrpahy, it reads like a novel.
The story is discussed elsewhere. The author who took up Kevin Lewis' words and put them onto the page previously only worked on works of fiction, and you can feel his desire for high drama. To be honest, I've read a lot of gambling books and this was only the second I've ever read where I literally didn't want to put it down. That sounds cliched, but I literally stayed up until 5am reading this book and missed a morning of work.
This is not really a gambling book though. The point is, as the book comes to a close, it becomes evident that the pit bosses now are able to spot team play. It's a dangerous game to play, and in the UK it can be dealt with in all sorts of horrible ways. The tells and signals of team plays are now obvious to the dealers and bosses and preventative measures have been taken to try and wrap this up. Do not buy this book if you think you and your friends are going to be able to try it out and make some money. If you want to make money, use this book as a guide to what has already been done and would now fail.
If you want a cracking read, and trust me this is less patronising and more realistic than most novels you could find, this is a great little book. It shows that Vegas is addictive, nasty and driven on greed. It shows how a clever young man can see his life suddenly shift away from him, out of control. It allows you for just a few minutes, to dream about being a player. Just don't think, even though this is a true story, any of it's real - that's what Vegas is all about.
5 stars, for me a must read, the New York Bestsellers list can't be wrong. Go for it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2006
This is the story of how a bunch of M.I.T. Students developed a system that enabled them to play blackjack and win, and win big. The story is told, ostensibly, from the point of view of Kevin - one of the big players - and occasionally from other viewpoints. It charts their story, how they did it, where they did it and what they did with the money.

This is an illuminating book which highlights a flaw in the system (which I guess is not there anymore!)which these students exploit. It is exciting and it does give all of us a glimpse into the highlife of big-league American gambling, who inhabits this world and what they get up to. It is difficult not to have a certain amount of sympathy for them as casinos are built with the prime purpose of fleecing punters but I did detect a certain amount of arrogance that I think was their Achilees Heel.

I gave this four stars because it is a great story, simply told. The book is like Vegas: exciting and worth visiting but if you scratch the surface you find it is essentially shallow. Good book for a plane, or if you are visiting Vegas, but nothing more than that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2003
Now i'm not usually a gambling man, but I bet you'll like this little read. Although the book will never be a literary classic, the story definitely should become legendary. I lost a well-needed night's sleep last week due to the fact that I picked this book up to read it at midnight and was prevented from putting it down until I had finished it, by which time it was shower-and-shave o'clock.
The story would still be good even if it was fiction, however knowing that it actually happened makes me wanna dust off my silk shirt, jump in my pontiac and point it in the direction of Vegas!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This could be called "How a team of very intelligent students count cards and use this to make BIG money in Vegas" - and that would neatly capture the sheer simplicity of this story... essentially blackjack is a game that can be beaten if you work as a team and you have a method (and you're VERY smart), but eventually the house wins... See how much they made and what the consequences were in this gripping tale...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2004
At the turn of every page you just know the author has gone to real lengths to understand the thinking and feelings of his characters. There's a real depth to this which draws you in.... to the inner circles of a daring, adrenaline soaked scam and keeps you turning pages to see what happens to each of the characters. A great book, easy to read, well-paced and thoroughly well researched.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2015
I am not a huge gambler as all I have to do is look at the massive profits that the various casinos and online gambling companies make to know that someone is winning and it ain’t the punters. However, there is one game that can be beaten and that is Blackjack. This is a game of statistics and if you are clever enough and wily enough you can count your way to success. ‘Bringing Down the House’ by Ben Mezrich is based on the real life events of a group of MIT students who took Vegas for millions. They say that real life is stranger than fiction, I cannot say that is true, but after reading this book I can tell you that badly written non-fiction is just bad.

Mezrich himself explains in the book that he is a fiction writer that happened to stumble across this story at a party when a friend of a friend wanted to tell someone everything that happened. The actual events that are written about in ‘Bringing’ are intriguing and you can well believe that the savvy pre-Facebook inventing generation of mathematical whiz kids could take Vegas by storm. A straight retelling of these events may have been dry, but interesting. Mezrich decides to add spice into the mix by including one unnecessary ingredient; himself.

‘Bringing’ is the book equivalent of all those self-indulgent film documentaries where the director is always on camera giving interviews *cough* Michal Moore *cough*. Mezrich is in the book himself as a way of bookending significant events, but where does the real start and the fantasy begin? This is a fiction book through and through; it reads like one and has the narrative structure and internal monologues of one. Mezrich continually assumes too much and gives details that would be impossible to know. What it boils down to is that the author is trying to make something that is a little dull, sexy. The most interesting bits in the book are all about the art of the fix, but Mezrich is too busy thinking about the screenplay to worry about that (‘21’ the film based on the book is available in all good bargain bins now).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2010
This book is about how a group of students from MIT, took on the casinoes, by playing Blackjack and counting the cards. In some places it is interesting and even informative. It is a book which you enjoy reading while you are reading it, but aftwards wonder if you really did get much out of it. This was how I felt. It was certainly useful when I had little else to do and no mates to talk to while in the pub.

The style of writing is quite clear and it makes it easy to read. The story traces how a MIT student called Kevin is recruited into a card counting syndicate. He becomes addicted to the life style of winning big money and taking on the casinoes. Acting as a player in part of a team he goes from table to table winning mostly and occaisinally losing. You learn an iota about card counting and so how a knowledge of both statistics and good memory are fundamental to beating the dealer. I must admit I was interested in the story.

The author Ben Mezrick narrates what he says is a true story, from the perspective of a researcher about to write this book. In some of his chapters he jumps to the present day, which must be 2002 when the book is copyrighted. So if you think a couple of pointers might of been picked up, beaware, it's out of date and casinoes have even better technology today.

I only give this three star because the story becomes predictable, you know where it's going to end and it ends in an anticlimax. I would recomend this to a friend as something mildly entertaining, but don't expect much more out of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2003
This book is the true account of a group of super-bright students from MIT, who figure out an unbeatable system of winning at Black Jack. They treat themselves to big money hospitality at the casinos in Las Vegas, all at the expense of the casinos, while all the time winning tens of thousands of dollars a night at the card tables. The risk of losing is so low, it even be caled gambling. The only risk is if the casinos catch them at it!
When I picked this book up in the store I read the first page, then the first chapter. I immediately bought it then had it read within a few hours. This book is riveting. The plot, the characters and the action, all intriguing because it's true.
The book is also cleverly spread around the authors own experiences of trying to discover what really happened, while most of the book focuses on the account of Kevin Lewis, one of the students.
The plot moves along at an unbelievable pace and includes some incredible twists to go with the high excitement you feel along with the characters. All through the novel you share the same sense of foreboding that it could all collapse, and this, in my opinion is the only area where the book falls down. I felt the ending was lacking someting, however you can't really complain as that's how it really happened.
All in all, a very exciting book that makes you want to book your flights to vegas tomorrow.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2003
This book tells the tall of six MIT students, using the common 60’s card counting technique of high –low.
Mezrich takes you through the world of mathematics, suggesting exactly the intertwined nature of this with blackjack. He takes you into the world of the big casinos, and leads you onto (after a lengthy 79 pages) the main character of the piece, Kevin Lewis and how he becomes drawn in to a world of a big money, big stakes Las Vegas living.
He forms a partnership with five other students, after discovering what two of his fellow students get up to on their weekends. The story then takes you through a whirlwind of events in big Vegas casinos, which finally ends with the splitting up of the team, and an attempt by Kevin to recreate the magic with new team members.

From the aspects of their work (with the categorisation of different types of players such as ‘gorillas’ and ‘big players’, that they use in their strategy), to the intricacies of the signals used to let each other know when the ‘eye in the sky’ was upon them, Mezrich lets you into a life that most of us will never get experience, but most would love to.
I have never gambled at a casino before, but this book would tempt me, just to see if these strategies would work. A thoroughly good book.
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