Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich****

Suspenseful and great fun; nonfiction. My son has a good friend who has been a professional gambler for years. He doesn’t do what these guys do, though, because it’s true, you do become unwelcome once you have won too many times, or if you come in as a team.(It seems credible, too, that it might be illegal to signal someone to come join a card game at the very moment you know the shoe is loaded with face cards and aces).

It’s an exciting book to read–and I’ve read it twice–simply because it is so daring, and Vegas seems like such a powerful entity to challenge. I am glad the writer did not include all the casino names and the minutiae that others seemed to crave. For one thing, the urban topography of Vegas changes constantly. The MGM burns to the ground, is rebuilt further up the street. A couple of casinos don’t do well and go under, but then Steve Winn throws up some brand new ones…I think if the writer had become too specific with each and every casino, color scheme, manager’s name, etc., it would have become irrelevant within a year, as employees change, walls are repainted, casinos are razed to put up mega-casinos.

For the rare few, like the fellow I know, who have such brilliant memories and math skill that they always remember what each player at a table has played and how many face cards and aces have shown out of a six-deck shoe (set of cards the casino uses for its patrons), the only way to win consistently, though of course not every time, since luck is a factor, is to go and play at tables with other players, never against the house. Our friend of the family also makes it a point to order one strong drink and nurse it steadily throughout the night, so everybody else is drunk and he is sober.

This reviewer, being a liberal arts type and no kind of math wizard, spent an entire week in Vegas once and did not gamble a single penny. Saw lots of great shows, watched other people bet astonishing amounts of money…and then went out to eat somewhere awesome. I spent a lot of money, but lost none of it. But teachers are generally sensible that way.

Obviously, this book was not published because of the writer’s skill with prose, but with such an interesting story to tell, I am glad it was published. I greatly enjoyed it, and passed my copy on to a couple of friends before I sent it to a charity used-book sale. This is light reading, but also a page-turner. If it sounds like something you might enjoy, read it. Just don’t regard it as an instructional manual that will lead to great riches, unless your skills are similar to those of the folks at MIT.

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