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Bringing Down the House
by Ben Mezrich
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May be the most fascinating book written on blackjack counting teams since the days of Ken Uston (who died in 1987). Written by Ben Mezrich, who gained the trust of a half-dozen MIT students (occupation: blackjack counters), this work covers a four-year period when the 'team' was in its heyday (1994 to 1998), winning big and escaping the clutches of casino management with minimum damage to self and bankrolls. Mezrich must have truly blended in with this group of near-geniuses and sharpies who often communicated in code right at the tables, signaling verbally and non-verbally. But the strength of the book is in his astute observations of how Las Vegas compares to Atlantic City; what the casino mentality is with regard to attracting players and high rollers, including the all-powerful 'whales' (the highest of high rollers), in how surveillance systems are designed to operate, how counters can be threatened, roughed up and warned never to return again.
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Ben Mezrich's WebsiteBen Mezrich is a man of many talents. He is the author of the best-selling "Bringing Down the House," about the MIT Blackjack team who took the Vegas casinos for millions, and "Busting Vegas," the story of Semyon Dukach, one of the MIT bunch that warranted a book on his own. Mezrich is also the host of GSN's World Series of Blackjack which is airing through the summer of 2006.

Mezrich's 'Bringing Down the House' Chronicles MIT Card Counting Team's Exploits

Only a handful of blackjack card counting teams have gained enough of a reputation to warrant repeated mention in the blackjack literature. One of the most famous of these is the MIT team.Nick ChristensonNick Christenson is widely regarded as one of the best gambling book reviewers publishing today. He is a contributor for Poker Player magazine, and has published in Full-Tilt and Gambling Times. He is also the editor of the very funny 'Casino Death Watch,' which chronicles the comings and goings of casinos in Las Vegas. He is an avid poker and blackjack player.  Nick's website is  Actually, there have been many MIT teams throughout history, sometimes multiple independent teams from MIT operating simultaneously. However, there has never been a published account of the adventures of any of the MIT groups. In Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich provides us with the adventures of one of these teams.

The book is presented through the eyes of team member Kevin Lewis. Mezrich chronicles his background, recruitment, and training as well as his rise through the ranks and ultimate culmination of both the story line and his team. The story is a familiar one to those who are well-read on the blackjack literature, it's a game of cat-and-mouse between the card counters and the casinos. As is often the case in these stories, the reader can't always be sure who is playing which role at any one point in time.

Mezrich obviously learned a great deal about playing blackjack over the course of researching and writing this book, but he's still no blackjack expert. Consequently, those who are familiar with the ins and outs of advantage blackjack, especially team play, won't find any techniques or tactics that haven't been covered more exhaustively in other sources. This is an entertaining story aimed at a mass market rather than a handbook on team blackjack play. However, the book is well written and the plot line is absorbing, so the author more than succeeds in achieving his primary goals.

Mezrich's lack of hard-core blackjack experience and the book's mass-market aims occasionally leave a sour taste in my mouth. For example, from the way the book is written one might logically come to the conclusion that the main characters in this book invented team blackjack play. From the account in Bringing Down the House, the reader might get the impression that the casinos were completely unprepared for these tactics. Of course, that ignores the fact that everything the MIT team did in this book was already carefully chronicled in Ken Uston's book, The Big Player, published 17 years before the first events in this book occur.

Nonetheless, even though Bringing Down the House follows a familiar plot line for blackjack story books, the story is well told and engaging enough to be entertaining both to serious blackjack players and to those who aren't. I'm glad to finally be able to read details about the exploits of one of the famed MIT blackjack teams. I enjoyed this book, and I can definitely recommend it.

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