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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Busting Vegas: A True Story of Monumental Excess, Sex, Love, Violence, and Beating the Odds

The book opens with a girls’ lineup in a Nevada brothel. (That will get your attention.) He follows the chosen girl up to a room, 232, and there the girl leaves and he meets up with the Russian MIT student who had used a technique that would take millions from the casinos.  It was the safest place to meet.

Forget counting cards that only increases your advantage slightly, this team, led by Victor (of whom we really learn very little), another MIT student, this team developed several strategies that involved knowing exactly how to cut cards and would seek out dealers who were just a bit sloppy during the shuffle.  (I know nothing about Vegas or Blackjack but don’t they all use mechanical shufflers now?  In fact, Mezrich suggests this change was a direct outcome of the casinos’ fear of the MIT strategy.)  In any case, these techniques increased their odds to 30% or better, a huge advantage, and by knowing just when to place the bets and knowing when the dealer was going to bust, they could take in hundreds of thousands in just a few hours.

The casinos were not stupid and knew they were doing something (the kids had fake IDs and posed as wealthy businessmen or foreigners) but couldn’t figure out what.  Not that they were doing anything illegal except that to casinos anything that doesn’t give them their guaranteed 2-5% edge is wrong and needs to be punished.

The book has been somewhat controversial with some of the principals reporting the events didn’t happen as reported in the book. So take it with a grain of salt.  Nevertheless, it’s a good read, just assume it’s like a novel. I’m downgrading it a bit because it feels very superficial, more a recounting of what happened (certainly fascinating in itself) but without much analysis of the characters and their motivation.

Perhaps the great irony is that their strategies had little to do with math and probability (MIT students weren’t needed, the personalities were more crucial) and more with concentration, card control, and knowing how to cut decks precisely.  In an interview at the end of the book, Mezrich insists he still uses the techniques successfully in Vegas. Bullshit.  I don’t buy it.

I'm a bit curious as to why the title was changed from Busting Vega$: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees (2005?) to Busting Vegas: A True Story of Monumental Excess, Sex, Love, Violence, and Beating the Odds  (2006).  Both are hyperbolic.  No casino was brought to its knees and love played no part.

Audiobook read by the author who does a creditable job.

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