Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Book Review - Breaking Vegas, by Ben Mezrich


From the author of "Bringing down the House - how the MIT blackjack team makes millions, comes the granddaddy of the MIT crew"

I got this book for my flight back to Reno - it's a bio of Semyon Dukach - I've seen him on specials on the MIT blackjack team - he's a Russian who was at the top of the food chain - he was the top of the top of the crew - with 20 id's and he spread so much money around that hosts everywhere called him "The Darling of Las Vegas" for his whalish appearance.

Whereas the card counters acted in suberfuge and anomynity, this team was supposed to be boistrous, loud, out front, and noisy front and center -

But this goes in many ways in a totally different direction - so much I almost feel like it could be fictional. Here's what the book says.

The Card Counting Teams was a diversion - they made things look ok and were reliable, but the best of the best half dozen - the CORE group thing - the core was about 6 people using advanced techniques that didn't even involve Card Counting. These techniques, instead of giving you 2% edge by card counting, can throw hands into the 30-50% advantage range.

That's better then what the Casinos get from you - on anything....

Technique 1: - reading the bottom of the shoe if a dealer gets sloppy covering it up - - you then cut to a precise practiced point in the shoe (usually 52 cards) and then you know exactly what the 52nd card will be most of the time - you use it for A's and then bet big on those spots for Blackjack - it can give you a 51% advantage- by betting small on some spots and big on the ones you think will get the blackjack - you have an overall expectation of 45% if you get that cut right - which I understand after a few hrs is very easy to do - their toughest problem was if the dealer wasn't sloppy - but they rarely weren't and if they were a bit careful a well planned lover's spat at the table could distract them.

Technique 2: finding a dealer with a perfect practiced shuffle and sit at his table and memorize a sequence of cards - for example - you see A A Q Q come out in a row - eventually those 6 cards are usually together in the stack that gets shuffled - a practiced and perfect shuffler will put one card in between them for each shuffle but will leave the order intact.

So after three shuffles and the cut trick from before, you know that after so many cards in you'll see a memorized pattern and be able to anticipate the A, three cards, another A, three cards, a Q, three cards, and another Q and you can use that to hit or fold so you get the ideal card for your biggest bets.

Technique 3: - well - it's like this - remember the first one where you try to steer the A towards your can be a bit imprecise in that cut and still pull it off if you have the whole table covered and a saftey bet to the left and right of where you think it will be.

But the last technique means targeting a dealer with a Ten - that gives every hand a 30% advantage every time a 10 is the 3rd card dropped on a dealer's hand - but it takes EXACT precision to cut at exactly 52 cards or wherever you're cutting - toughest of all.

The rest of the book involves the usual harassment - this seems much more severe then in the first book - probably because the casinos didn't understand how it was happening - some of the techniques required plays that were contrary to any card counting strategy - but it scared the hell out of them cause they couldn't see it -

I won't go into all the drama - but let's just say I'll never gamble in a foreign country ever again - Hold Up's and beatings -and those from the OWNERS -

Even Vegas is tarnished - one guy got roughed up after a winning streak - it must be big - it's a big casino in Vegas but out of fear of lawsuits or reprisals Ben won't say which casino beat up one of the card mechanics -

In the end - we are lead to believe that Semyon agreed to do all this and wrote the ending - in which he believes by sending out all this info, it'll be harder for short term profits but it'll encourage a new generation of game "hackers" to develop new ways to outwit the casinos and get money back from the most evil institutions they have become. Obviously, it's easy for any casino to institute safeguards that render the first three techniques useless, but he's saying it'll be hard to get everyone and impossible to stop players from trying to find new systems - a very hacker ethos in the end, which I expect from an MIT student, the home of hackers -

I highly advise getting this book, as you can tell...If it was fiction, it's damn good fiction, but I've heard of some of this stuff on documentaries on TV too, so I don't think it's fiction - this is heavy stuff. - and I think it's true and it's very entertaining to read as well.

absolutely worth your time to read - even if you've already read bringing down the house - ESPECIALLY if you've read Bringing Down the House -



At 1:29 PM, Blogger StB said...

Do you miss part of the story if you don't read the first book?

At 10:11 PM, Blogger whiskeytown said...

not tremendously -

most folks know the first part of the story - MIT groups go to Vegas and casinos to count cards and make a 5% edge on their money -

what the advanced team was doing was something else entirely -



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