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21: Bringing Down the House
Six smart MIT students are mentored in the ways of card counting by their math professor and stack up a fortune on the Blackjack tables of Las Vegas, until one casino catches them red handed.
Kevin Lewis was an awkward, shy, nerdy sort of a guy, and not really someone whom you would look at twice. Smart enough to win a place at the Boston's Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kevin's lackluster life takes a dramatic turn for the better when he is invited to join a group of Blackjack-crazy students. Like Kevin, this group consists of geeky kids who just happen to be brilliant at math. Under the tutelage of a controlling campus math professor, the group forms an inner circle with one clear goal - to win millions on the Blackjack tables of Las Vegas.
The teams' mentor is convinced that the Blackjack game can be beaten using a method that, while complicated to employ, can actually swing the odds seriously in favor of the player. Down on his luck financially, Lewis is sucked into the razzmatazz existence offered by his new peer group, and quickly becomes the star of the team. Using the technique of counting the high and low cards in the Blackjack pack, Lewis learns to bet on those hands where chances of receiving the winning 21 combination are on his side.
Mezrich's book was based on the "hi-lo" card-counting system popularized by professional card player Edward Thorp in his own book entitled "Beat the Dealer", written in 1962. There is no doubt that card counting works, but it is extremely difficult to perform. Add to this the casinos are on the constant lookout for this activity using trained floor observers as well as electronic eye-in-the-sky wizardry. While not illegal, casino management are entitled to ask persons suspected of card counting to vacate the premises.
The sting operation takes place when team members book into Vegas hotels under assumed names and meet up around the Blackjack tables of the casino. Using a pre-arranged sequence of code words and gestures, the lead player stakes the group's funds on beating the bank, stacking up millions of dollars in the process. Naturally, they get into hot water, and then the real fun begins as casino henchmen pursue them to retrieve the group's ill-gotten gains. With a clever twist in the tail, the book will keep you guessing as the plot constantly changes direction. 21 offers a great read and a fascinating insight into the practice of card counting.
Ben Mezrich is an American author who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. His work covers a range of non-fiction as well as fiction titles and centers on the world of gaming, gambling and high finance. Mezrich's books have appeared in 20 different languages and his total books sold exceeds three million copies. His most famous work, "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions" was turned into the movie box-office smash, "21".