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Best of John Robison

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Robison Reviews: Bringing Down the House

12 December 2002

Can it get any better than this: winning tens of thousands of dollars on almost every casino visit plus getting the full VIP treatment as you empty the casino's coffers?

The MIT blackjack team lived this dream come true and won millions of dollars until it all came crashing down around them practically overnight.

Bringing Down the House tells the story of how Kevin Lewis was initiated into the team and began to live a double life--MIT grad during the week, high-roller during the weekends. Rather than keeping a low profile, members of this team were well known by casino hosts--although not by their real names--and they stayed in comped suites and had the best seats to the biggest fights.

Mezrich takes us behind the scenes into how the team operated. Each team member had a different role to play in different casinos. In one casino, a team member may be the Big Player, jumping from table to table when other team members signalled that the count at their tables was positive. At another casino, that team member may be the lookout, looking to see if a group of suits was rushing to the blackjack pit.

Mezrich describes how the team used the casinos' own prejudices to their advantage. For example, Lewis and most of the other team members had Asian ancestry. When a team member was asked about his family, he usually said that he was the son of a rich Asian industrialist or doctor. The casinos, they knew, wouldn't look as closely at a young Asian male betting large sums of money as they would at a non-Asian.

The team liked to play when the casinos were crowded. One of the nights they planned to make a withdrawal from the MGM Grand was the night Tyson bit off Holyfield's ear. MGM had to close the casino after a riot broke out there after the fight. There would be no withdrawal from the MGM that night, but that wasn't the worst news the team would get. During the riot, chips went flying everywhere and there was no way to know how many were stolen. The MGM would change all the chips valued at $500 and up. The team had over $200,000 in high-denomination chips and there would likely be a lot of questions if they tried to exchange that many chips for new chips. No recreational gamblers keep that much money in chips. They were able to exchange the chips and you'll have to read the book to find out how they did it.

The team's experiences were not all suites and limos. Mezrich also tells of the times they were barred, thrown out of their hotel rooms, intimidated, and even beaten. And he tells how their aliases and the system that they spent years refining stopped working almost overnight.

If you want more details about many of the techniques that the team used, read John May's Get the Edge at Blackjack. If you want to know what it's like to be a member of a blackjack team, read Bringing Down the House.


Books mentioned in this review:


John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots