- Bringing Down the House (book)
name = Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions
language = English
publisher = Free Press
release_date = 9 September
pages = 272 pp
"Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions" (ISBN 0-7432-4999-2) is a book by
Ben Mezrichabout a group of MIT card counters commonly known as the MIT Blackjack Team.
While represented as
non-fictionby Mezrich and Free Press, the book contains significant fictional elements. Many of the key events propelling the drama did not occur at all; others were exaggerated greatly.citation
last = Bennett
first = Drake
title = House of cards
newspaper = Boston Globe
language = English
publisher = The New York Times Company
date = 2008-04-06
url = http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/04/06/house_of_cards/
accessdate = 2008-05-06 ]
The book's main character is Kevin Lewis, an MIT graduate who was invited to join the
MIT Blackjack Teamin 1993. Lewis was recruited by two of the team's top players, Jason Fisher and Andre Martinez. The team was financed by a colorful character named Micky Rosa, who had organized at least one other team to play the Vegas strip. This new team was the most profitable yet. Personality conflicts and card counting deterrent efforts at the casinos eventually ended this incarnation of the MIT Blackjack Team.
Although not revealed in the book, Kevin Lewis's real name is
Jeff Ma, an MIT student who graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1994. Jeff has since gone on to found a fantasy sportscompany called ProTrade(a stock market simulation game).cite web
title = About Us / The Protrade Team
publisher = Citizen Sports Network
date = 2008
url = http://www.protrade.com/AboutManagement.html
format = English
accessdate = 2008-05-06 ]
Mezrich acknowledges that Lewis is the sole major character based on a single, real-life individual; other characters are composites. Nonetheless, Lewis does things in the book that Ma himself says did not occur.
One of the leaders of the team, Jason Fisher, is modeled in part after
Mike Aponte. After his professional card counting career, Mike went on to win the 2004 World Series of Blackjack, and started a company called the [http://www.BlackjackInstitute.com/ Blackjack Institute] , which offers instructional products and services.
The team's principal leader, Micky Rosa (also known as Mr. M), is a composite character based primarily on John Chang and J.P. Massar, and, possibly, Bill Kaplan. Bill Kaplan founded and led a blackjack team in the 1980s and co-managed the team, with Chang and Massar, from 1992 to 1993, but quit blackjack and had no involvement with the team during Jeff Ma's playing career. [http://www.wickedlocal.com/allston/fun/entertainment/x1277310722 The Allston-Brighton Tab: Kaplan Inspires Hollywood Film '21.' Retrieved April 12, 2008.] [http://mickeyrosa.com/?p=12 MickeyRosa.com 'House of Cards' Retrieved July 31, 2008.] Chang has questioned the book's veracity, telling "The Boston Globe", "I don't even know if you want to call the things in there exaggerations, because they're so exaggerated they're basically untrue."
Boston Magazine and Boston Globe Articles
In its March, 2008 edition, "
Boston magazine" ran an article investigating long-lingering claims that the book was substantially fictional.citation
last = Gonzalez
first = John
title = Ben Mezrich: Based on a True Story
magazine = Boston magazine
language = English
publisher = Metrocorp, Inc.
year = 2008
date = 2008-03
url = http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/ben_mezrich_based_on_a_true_story/page1
accessdate = 2008-05-06 ] "
The Boston Globe" followed up with a more detailed story on April 6, 2008.
Though published as a factual account and originally categorized under "Current Events" in the hardcover Free Press edition, "Bringing Down the House" "is not a work of 'nonfiction' in any meaningful sense of the word," according to "Globe" reporter Drake Bennett. Mezrich not only exaggerated freely, according to sources for both articles, but invented whole parts of the story, including some pivotal events in the book that never happened to anyone.
Disclaimer and Leeway
The book contains the following disclaimer:
The names of many of the characters and locations in this book have been changed, as have certain physical characteristics and other descriptive details. Some of the events and characters are also composites of several individual events or persons. [Mezrich, Ben, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (New York: Free Press, 2002), p. iv.]
This disclaimer allows broad leeway to take real events and real people and alter them in any way the author sees fit. But Mezrich went further, both articles say.
The following events described in Bringing Down the House did not occur:
* Concealing funds within devices. In the book, Kevin is quoted as saying that the team tried using fake umbrellas, laptop computers, casts, and crutches to carry their cash. However, Ma had never heard of any of these techniques before reading the book.
* Underground Chinatown Casino. The underground casino used for Kevin's final test (pp. 55-59) is entirely imaginary, according to
Mike Aponteand Dave Irvine.
* Use of Strippers to Cash Out Chips. Also according to Aponte and Irvine, strippers were never recruited to cash out the team's chips, as described on pp. 149-153.
* Shadowy Investors. The "shadowy investors" first referenced on p. 3 are a major source of intrigue for Mezrich's story, but did not exist, according to Aponte and Irvine. The investors in the team included the players, one of Kaplan's college roommates, a few of Kaplan's Harvard Business School section mates, and Kaplan's friends and family members.
* Physical Assault. The scene in which Fisher is beaten up (pp. 221-225) is imaginary. "No one was ever beaten up," according to Aponte and Irvine.
*Player Forced to Swallow Chip. In a scene on pp. 215-218, Micky Rosa recounts a story in which Vincent Cole -- a private investigator for Plymouth Investigations -- forces a member of a count team to swallow a purple casino chip while detaining the player in a back room. Sources in the "Globe" described the story as "implausible," and none recalled having heard it.
*Theft of $75,000. One MIT player, Kyle Schaffer, did lose $20,000 when it was stolen from a desk drawer. Mezrich inflates the amount of the theft by 375% and turns the desk drawer into a safe pried dramatically from a wall. Moreover, the robbery scene (pp. 240-244) creates the impression that a team member or Vincent Cole was the likely culprit. Schaffer says the theft was likely unrelated to blackjack, noting that $100,000 or more in casino chips also inside the drawer was left untouched ("strongly suggesting that the thieves had no idea of their worth").
*Forcible Entry to Kevin Lewis's Apartment. Kevin hurries from the scene of the robbery to his own apartment (pp. 244-245) to make sure all is well. Nothing has been stolen, but Kevin finds "a single purple casino chip sitting on his kitchen table." The implication is that the chip is a calling card left by Vincent Cole as a warning to Kevin. This scene again asks readers to accept that the chip-swallowing story is factual (or at least was actually in circulation among MIT counters as a myth).
Though not originally intended to have a sequel, Mezrich followed this book with "
Busting Vegas" (ISBN 0060575123). "Busting Vegas" is about another splinter group from the MIT Blackjack Team. Despite heavy marketing "Busting Vegas" did not do as well as "Bringing Down the House" although it did briefly appear on the New York Times Best Seller list.
A film adaptation of the book, entitled "21" (so as not to cause confusion with the unrelated 2003 comedy film that bears the same name as the book), was released in theaters on March 28, 2008. [ [http://productionweekly.com/2006/12/01/luketic-hacking-las-vegas/ Production Weekly: Luketic Hacking Las Vegas. Retrieved March 6, 2007.] ] The film is from
Columbia Picturesand was directed by Robert Luketic. Kevin Spaceyproduced the film, and also portrays the character of Mickey Rosa. Other cast members include Laurence Fishburne, Kate Bosworth, Jim Sturgess, Jacob Pitts, Liza Lapira, Aaron Yoo, and Sam Golzari. [ [http://benmezrich.com/news/?m=200702 benmezrich.com. Retrieved March 6, 2007] ] Although the main characters upon which the film 21 is based were Asian-American, most of the cast was not.cite web
title=MIT Alumnus and ‘Busting Vegas’ Author Describe Experience of Beating the House
work=The Tech] "21" was filmed at Boston University, throughout Cambridge and
Boston, and in Las Vegas.
Says Mezrich, "...Kevin Spacey came to me about making a movie. He read the "Wired" adaptation [Cite web
last = Mezrich
first = Ben
title = Wired 10.09: Hacking Las Vegas
date = 2002-09
accessdate = 2008-05-14
url = http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.09/vegas_pr.html] of the book and became interested... The funny thing is filming may take place in casinos such as the The Mirage and Caesar's Palace, where the real thing happened." [Cite news
edition = Issue 50
last = Zhang
first = Jenny
title = Card Counting Gig Nets Students Millions
work = The Tech, MIT Newspaper
accessdate = 2008-05-14
date = 2002-10-25
url = http://www-tech.mit.edu/V122/N50/50bj.50n.html]
The Eudaemonic Pie
* [http://www.necn.com/Boston/Arts-Entertainment/Bringing-Down-the-House-with-Bill-Kaplan/1207956706.html Chet Curtis Report on NECN - "Bringing Down the House with Bill Kaplan"]
* [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.09/vegas.html Adaptation of the book] in "Wired" issue 10.09
* [http://www.BlackjackInstitute.com/ Mike Aponte's website]
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