Friday, January 9, 2015

Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich

by Austin Critchlow

Bringing Down the House is a non-fiction thriller about the MIT blackjack team in the 90’s as they use team card counting to reap rewards from Las Vegas casinos. If you have seen the 2008 movie 21, this book was the inspiration for the screenplay. While Mezrich takes several liberties with the “true events” that inspired the story, including the use of composite characters and the embellishment and fictionalization of major events, the book is mostly based in truth. One unique aspect of the book is that it reads like a fictional novel. This keeps the story very engaging and it kept me on the edge of my seat as I was reading. I also found the premise of the story fascinating: MIT students using math algorithms and statistical analysis to make thousands of dollars every night from a system designed to make the player lose. Equally interesting was the aspect of secrecy and intrigue that the students had to use to evade casino managers and constant video surveillance. They not only had to be able to keep track of all the cards in a six-deck shoe, but also be a skilled actor to fit the part of "high rolled" forking down thousands each hand, and deter the suspicions of dealers and casino management.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a relatively quick, interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking read. Don’t feel like you need to have any prior knowledge of blackjack or card counting, speaking from personal experience, the story is easy to follow. Mezrich’s detailed descriptions, fast-paced dialogue, and suspenseful peaks of action put the reader into the shoes of Kevin Lewis, the main character who is drawn into the captivating world of card-counting.

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