Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: "Busting Vegas"

Last Friday I finished up grading Ben Mezrich's book called "Busting Vegas". If you're not familiar with Ben's writing, he's the author of "Brining Down the House" which is now a "major" motion film called "21." While the book was great, the St. Paul Pioneer press only gave the movie two stars. I've yet to see the show so I'll refrain from giving my review until later.

When I first saw "Busting Vegas" at the book store, I thought it was simply a repackaged version of "Brining Down the House." Both subtitles state something like "MIT Wiz kids...". But a friend of mine quickly corrected me and said it's about a different group of MIT kids who have a different formula. The group in "Bring Down the House" uses a common card counting formula with some team twists (i.e. Big Player).

To be honest, I'm not sure if I believe the Busting wiz kid's approach works as well as Ben writes. The approaches are a bit complicated to explain, but they all basically come down to identifying where cards will show up during play. For example, after the dealer shuffles and offers a cut to the players, if the Busting kids see an ace at the bottom of the deck, they'll make sure to cut exactly 52 cards when offered the cut card. That way they know that an ace will be coming out in exactly 52 cards (or 51 if there is a burn card). Once they know where the ace is coming out, they'll place a max bet on that position.

Of course there are some caveats like; they make sure that the table only has team members playing so they're assured that the ace will hit one of their players. And, they have to play a lot of hands to finally get an ace at the bottom. But they have two other mechanisms to fill in the gaps which Ben describes for you in clear detail.

Ben is a risky writer. The book opens with him at a brothel called "The Ranch" just outside of Vegas. You're not sure if he's describing a side sex trip he took or not. I'll let you read the book to see what happens here.

Later on, he has a young prostitute meet him at his hotel. He purchased her services to get a story on why these girls are in the business of selling themselves. After getting the story he leaves the reader with the Vegas marketing theme, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." If I remember right, he alluded to the fact that escorts can legally strip for paying customers, but not go all the way to home base. Or first or second I would imagine. So I think he was saying that he only purchased the time to get a story and a private strip show, but he never really said exactly what happened. That's a risk that most authors wouldn't take.

The book is an average read in length at only just under 300 pages. If you liked "Brining Down the House," I'd recommending "Busting Vegas." The story is a bit embellished, but worth a few nights if you enjoy reading about wiz kids who take on casinos.

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