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Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions

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Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions Cover

ISBN13: 9780743249997
ISBN10: 0743249992
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Bringing Down the House Ben Mezrich

Introduction

Blackjack is beatable — so we beat it.

We beat the hell out of it.

Author Ben Mezrich takes readers into the inner circle of the M.I.T. blackjack club whose members develop a system for card counting based on techniques from Edward Thorp's 1962 book, Beat the Dealer. Using their unique system, this group of highly educated young men and women take Vegas for more than three million dollars.

And it's all legal.

Told from the perspective of amiable, attractive Kevin Lewis — an M.I.T. electrical-engineering major who is torn between a life where his knack for numbers cashes out big and a life that will please his traditional, hard-working father, Bringing Down the House follows Kevin from his elaborate induction into the club and his first time counting cards to his role as Big Player and life as a Vegas high-roller. Under the guidance of the mysterious mastermind and former M.I.T. professor, Micky Rosa, Kevin and his teammates work together to win large sums of money, one casino at a time. Their success opens up a world where luxuries are comped and everyone — whether a high-priced stripper or high-rolling celebrity — is cheering them on. But shadows begin to appear in their neon lifestyle in the shape of casino managers who want to talk to them "downstairs" and an investigator who always seems to be one step ahead of the team. Within the group itself, tensions build and betrayal surfaces, and Kevin learns that "the most important decision a card counter ever has to make is the decision to walk away."

A New York Times bestseller and soon to be a movie starring Kevin Spacey, Bringing Down the House is the true story about "working the system, turning the math into money, [and] keeping the count without breaking character."

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you see the M.I.T. card counters in this book as heroes who beat a greedy system or do you see them as spoiled Ivy Leaguers with too much time on their hands? When reading the book, do you root for them to succeed? Discuss greed and its role in our society. Do you think it contributes to, or detracts from, the "American Dream"?

2. If Kevin values his father's approval so much, why is it that he becomes a card counter — a profession of which his father would not approve? Do you think Kevin is rebelling against the stereotype of the studious, straight-laced Asian? If so, is he helping to perpetuate a new Asian stereotype — that of the Asian gambler?

3. Have you ever counted cards at a casino? If so, did it work? If not, would you try it now that you've read this book? Before you read this book, would you have considered card counting to be gambling? Would you have considered it illegal? What is your opinion about card counting now that you've read the book?

4. The fact that these club members are Asian and of college age is significant in helping them avoid suspicion and dupe the casinos. This is not the only way appearances can be misleading. How do stereotypes play a role in this book? What is your stereotype of a gambler?

5. Are Kevin and his card-counting colleagues gambling addicts? If not, how are they different from addicts? Do you think they are driven simply by ego and greed? Or are they driven by something more complex?

6. How does Bringing Down the House portray gambling centers like Las Vegas and Atlantic City? Do you think books and films about card counting can hurt or help casinos?

7. The book has a who-done-it element that is never fully revealed. Who do you think ratted out the team, selling a list of card counters for $25,000? The Amphibians? Mickey? A member of their own team?

8. Is Micky Rosa a good guy? A father figure and misunderstood genius? Or is he something more sinister? Kevin Spacey will be taking on the role of Mickey in the film version. Who would you choose to play this part?

9. In Kevin Lewis's essay at the end of the book, he tells us, "Keep in mind, card counting isn't gambling" (page 257). If gambling is defined as betting on an uncertain outcome, do you agree with Kevin? If not, explain your reasons.

10. Now you are the card counter. Decipher these code numbers:

One more drink and I'll fall off this stool.

The all-you-can-eat buffet here has the best eggs you ever had.

If I don't start winning, my girlfriend can kiss that engagement ring goodbye.

They've got a great sports book here. Especially when it comes to football.

Hey, where can I go bowling around here?

And translate these phrases into the team's gestures:

The deck's warm

The deck's turned hot

I need to talk

What's the count?

Something's wrong, get out now!

Who Said That?:

"A whale is someone who can lose a million dollars at cards — and not give a damn." (Answer on page 22.)

"We're freedom fighters, Kevin. We liberate money from the hands of the oppressors. We're Robin Hood, and the casino is the sheriff." (Answer on page 41.)

"Card counting can be good for business, too. They make the civilians think the game is beatable." (Answer on page 66.)

"...the law is pretty clear: As long as you don't alter the outcome of the game, or use a mechanical device such as a calculator or a computer, the worst they can legally do is throw you out." (Answer on page 124.)

"Every time you walk into a casino, they're watching. Every time you cash in a chip, they're taking notes. Sooner or later, they're going to start asking questions. And things will change." (Answer on page 138.)

"Card counting is a misnomer; the practice has nothing at all to do with the ability to count the cards coming out of the deck." (Answer on page 257.)

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

aloof, March 4, 2008 (view all comments by aloof)
i'm buying this book. but i'm irritated that a clip from the movie is there. i know you have to sell the book, but the movie is super offensive. in real life, all those kids were asian. it's a true story. and their being asian affected their ability to pull off the card counting (as in, if they weren't asian, it wouldn't have worked as well), so it's not a trivial detail. not that it would be anyway. when are they going to start making movies about real white people and making the characters asian?
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(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Robert Christiansen, September 13, 2006 (view all comments by Robert Christiansen)
A real good read for anyone in the gaming industry, a definite must-read for anyone in a supervisory position or above.
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(7 of 16 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780743249997
Author:
Mezrich, Ben
Publisher:
Free Press
Location:
New York
Subject:
General
Subject:
Other Miscellaneous Crimes
Subject:
Gambling - General
Subject:
Gambling
Subject:
Gamblers
Subject:
Students
Subject:
Cardsharping
Subject:
Massachusetts institute of technology
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
General Current Events
Subject:
General Games
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Gambling - Table
Subject:
Criminals & Outlaws
Subject:
Blackjack (Game)
Subject:
Biography - General
Subject:
college students blackjack; harvard blackjack; mit blackjack team; mit blackjack; 21 movie book; kevin spacey; kevin spacey poker movie; card counting; ben mezrich 21; 21 ben mezrich; card counting book; card counting movie; jeff ma; mike aponte; busting
Subject:
college students blackjack; harvard blackjack; mit blackjack team; mit blackjack; 21 movie book; kevin spacey; kevin spacey poker movie; card counting; ben mezrich 21; 21 ben mezrich; card counting book; card counting movie; jeff ma; mike aponte; busting
Subject:
college students blackjack; harvard blackjack; mit blackjack team; mit blackjack; 21 movie book; kevin spacey; kevin spacey poker movie; card counting; ben mezrich 21; 21 ben mezrich; card counting book; card counting movie; jeff ma; mike aponte; busting
Subject:
college students blackjack; harvard blackjack; mit blackjack team; mit blackjack; 21 movie book; kevin spacey; kevin spacey poker movie; card counting; ben mezrich 21; 21 ben mezrich; card counting book; card counting movie; jeff ma; mike aponte; busting
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B102
Series Volume:
no. 218
Publication Date:
September 2003
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
8.44 x 5.5 in 8.89 oz

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Biography » General
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Hobbies, Crafts, and Leisure » Games » Gambling » General
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Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Free Press - English 9780743249997 Reviews:
"Review" by , "In this high-octane tale with rich, sharp dialogue bordering on Elmore Leonard turf, the plot races by at a Nascar pace and the characters on both sides of the table are as real as an inside straight, making their moves and planning their scores like a croupier on speed. Take the odds, bet the bank, and stare down the dealer. Bringing Down the House is a can't-miss deal."
"Review" by , "Although Mezrich's prose never rises above serviceable (and he pointlessly injects himself into the narrative at every turn), the story he tells will grip anyone who has ever hoped to break the bank at Monte Carlo."
"Review" by , "Ben Mezrich takes us where every man dreams of going but precious few ever have — beating the casino. In this rollicking truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale, Robin Hood meets the Rat Pack as the hero steals from the rich and gives, um, to himself. Odds are you'll love it."
"Review" by , "Ben Mezrich's fast-paced Bringing Down the House is a sweet read for anyone who has ever fantasized about beating the insurmountable house odds of their nearest casino."
"Review" by , "[A] suspenseful tale that portrays the players as Davids going up against casino Goliaths."
"Review" by , "Details the intricate movements and thoughts of these young and ambitious men and women in a lively tale that could pass for thriller fiction. It is more amazing because it really happened."
"Synopsis" by , #1 National Bestseller!

The amazing inside story about a gambling ring of M.I.T. students who beat the system in Vegas — and lived to tell how.

Robin Hood meets the Rat Pack when the best and the brightest of M.I.T.'s math students and engineers take up blackjack under the guidance of an eccentric mastermind. Their small blackjack club develops from an experiment in counting cards on M.I.T.'s campus into a ring of card savants with a system for playing large and winning big. In less than two years they take some of the world's most sophisticated casinos for more than three million dollars. But their success also brings with it the formidable ire of casino owners and launches them into the seedy underworld of corporate Vegas with its private investigators and other violent heavies.

Filled with tense action, high stakes, and incredibly close calls, Bringing Down the House is a nail-biting read that chronicles a real-life Ocean's Eleven. It's one story that Vegas does not want you to read.

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