October 9, 2006

Bringing Down The House


One of the things we always get asked by readers is what we think about certain books. There are literally thousands of casino-related books out there that cover the gamut from strategies, systems, and rules to real-life stories and just plain fiction.

In order to help spread the word about the books we have taken a look at, we are starting up a new category here at Casino Snob, which is the Casino Snob Book Club. We will take a look at any kinds of books that have anything to do with casinos, be they real or fictional, and give you our observations and opinions.

And what book kicks off this new category? Why none other than one of the most famous casino books ever written: Bringing Down the House.

If you have not heard of this book, then you are a) living under a rock, and b) not reading our site. We gave a big mention to this book in our All About Blackjack article.

To start off, we'll give you Publisher Weekly's blurb:

"Shy, geeky, amiable" MIT grad Kevin Lewis, was, Mezrich learns at a party, living a double life winning huge sums of cash in Las Vegas casinos. In 1993 when Lewis was 20 years old and feeling aimless, he was invited to join the MIT Blackjack Team, organized by a former math instructor, who said, "Blackjack is beatable." Expanding on the "hi-lo" card-counting techniques popularized by Edward Thorp in his 1962 book, Beat the Dealer, the MIT group's more advanced team strategies were legal, yet frowned upon by casinos. Backed by anonymous investors, team members checked into Vegas hotels under assumed names and, pretending not to know each other, communicated in the casinos with gestures and card-count code words. Taking advantage of the statistical nature of blackjack, the team raked in millions before casinos caught on and pursued them. In his first nonfiction foray, novelist Mezrich (Reaper, etc.), telling the tale primarily from Kevin's point of view, manages to milk that threat for a degree of suspense. But the tension is undercut by the first-draft feel of his pedestrian prose, alternating between irrelevant details and heightened melodrama. In a closing essay, Lewis details the intricacies of card counting.

What We Think
This book is one of the seminal stories of the casino. It is a work of non-fiction, and it is a fantastic read about how these young folks used their brains and their will power to beat the casinos. As Publisher's Weekly notes, the writing is not the best, and it can get a little tedious at times, but overall its an excellent read.

You won't be learning any new strategies here. Th methods used in the book have become widely known, and the casinos have since been on the watch for it. You will, however, get from this book a very good understanding of the basics of card counting. Because the system is so integral to the story, the author does an excellent job of explaining card counting in blackjack in an accessible way for the reader.

We think that in addition to the story of the rise to success, this book also can serve as a cautionary tale about how the money this team earned can affect them. It also is a lesson to any would-be counters that the Casino will eventually get you. They have time on their hands, and they will figure out any scheme eventually, and then "encourage" you to stop. This is the main source of the drama in this book, and it is definitely well founded.

In closing, we here at the Casino Snob think that this is a must have book. If you gamble or not, you will enjoy the story. And if you DO play blackjack, the elegance of the method will tickle your mind and likely get you thinking about your own methods for how to win at the tables, or at least about when you can next head to them.

Read More in: Casino Snob Book Club

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Posted by Russell Miner at October 9, 2006 11:18 AM
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