Well, in recognition of MR’s Vegas trip, we thought it might be an opportune time to reprint this review (which originally ran almost two years ago) of Ben Mezrich’s books Bringing Down the House and its followup Busting Vegas. Especially in light of the former’s imminent movie adaptation. Enjoy, and rest assured that Pam will be back soon, though perhaps a few dollars lighter.
Hey, we can’t all be MIT whiz kids.
Win Money Playing Blackjack
That was what I was supposed to be doing. But our plans to go to Atlantic City for the beginning of spring break fell through. Instead I found myself on Monday sitting on the front porch, and then the back porch, and then the front porch again, reading about gambling. No, I correct myself. Not reading about gambling reading about winning.
(Did you hear that? That was the sound of people leaving this site when they found out it was about books, not blackjack.)
Ben Mezrich’s two books, Busting Vegas: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought The Casinos To Their Knees and Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions, are extraordinary. They are action-adventure books for geeks. They give the nerds their day in the sun. You know, in case übernerd Bill Gates ruling the world wasn’t enough for you.
In Busting Vegas, the author tracks a M.I.T. kid who learns a new system for beating blackjack. It is almost cheating, but not quite. Using three techniques more sophisticated than card counting, he and his team make tons of money in one case fifty thousand dollars in one hand. In ten minutes of play. Of course, you can’t make that kind of money without drawing some attention, and some of it isn’t the nice kind of attention. For with the comped suite and plane ticket and arena fight, there’s back-room intimidation, gunpoint confrontations, and one memorable plane crash. It wasn’t an easy life for a kid, but it sure was a profitable one, and now he is sharing his secrets with us.
In Bringing Down the House, the author presents a group of M.I.T. students who find their way to money through card counting. But this isn’t your Rain Man kind of card counting; this is a simple high-low strategy the students are learning. But that strategy alone won’t pull in the kind of money they want, and it always attracts the attention of the casino managers who don’t like card-counters. Instead, the students work in teams, with “Spotters” playing hands until the decks get “hot” with high cards, then the “Big Players” swoop in on a signal, and play hard and fast on the good run. Then they take off with the winnings and everyone splits it later. But again, with the freebies and money come danger and risk. And sometimes, even with the best odds in your favor, the cards don’t go your way.
Both of these books were quick, incredible reads. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play a little blackjack.