Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Bringing Down The House

Bringing Down The House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions - Ben Mezrich

"Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit." - R. E. Shay

Once upon a time I made a little stop on a business trip and found myself sitting at a green baize-covered table flipping the pasteboards in a blaringly loud casino. The game was blackjack and, quite astonishingly, I found myself up $300 by the end of the evening. I was always quite pleased with myself for winning...and more importantly for walking away with my winnings in my pocket instead of fruitlessly pursuing more.

I was never foolish enough to attribute it to anything but dumb luck.

Bringing Down the House is the highly readable, if not mesmerizing, tale of MIT's underground blackjack club. The book tells the story of Kevin Lewis, a math-science "whiz kid" from Exeter, MIT student and card-counter extraordinaire, outlining his recruitment into the world of professional card-counting. Lewis joined a small, secretive, MIT-based card-counting team that would, eventually, take the major casinos of Las Vegas for more than $3-million, before fate and the casino security operatives eventually caught up with them.

Ben Mezrich brings a vivid cast of characters and settings to life, outstripping what you find in most fictional thrillers, opening up the hidden world of blackjack, professional gamblers, card counters, and casino backrooms to scrutiny. Interestingly enough, the card-counters of MIT weren't breaking the law (card-counting is perfectly legal as long as no artificial means are being used to count and the integrity of the game is not being violated)...just emptying the casino's pockets by cutting out their statistical edge.

Blackjack, more than any other casino game is predictable at a mathmatical level. It has a history - you know what cards have been played and can therefore guess what cards remain in the dealers' hand. You can't know the exact outcome, but you can know the statistical probability of the remaining unplayed cards. With a team tracking the cards, you can bet accordingly and ... bring down the house.

Mezrich's book is rich with compulsion, greed and adreneline, and filled with...well everything you need to know to count cards at blackjack, including Spotters, Gorillas, Big Players, the Eye-in-the-Sky, code signals, "back-rooming" and shuffle-tracking. Highly entertaining, tense and difficult to put down, Bringing Down the House is no gamble, it is a terrific read.

Did you know that playing cards have been traced back in popular culture to 1377? Check out more on the history of playing cards here or here.

Try out this magic virtual card trick. Did you figure out how he did it?

Want to find out what's happening right now in Vegas? Check out Las Vegas LiveCams for a look at where the gamblers like to roam.

Think you have a system that can beat the casinos? Have I got a card game for you!

Thank you for reading BookLinker! Feel free to post comments or book suggestions. I'd love to see some feedback and some discussion on these reads, so dive right in!

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