Would you believe that someone has written a book about an advantage blackjack team from MIT locked in high-stakes combat with the Las Vegas casinos? How about two books? Ben Mezrich has returnedNick Christenson is widely regarded as one of the best gambling book reviewers publishing today. He is a contributor for Poker Player magazine, and has published in Full-Tilt and Gambling Times. He is also the editor of the very funny 'Casino Death Watch,' which chronicles the comings and goings of casinos in Las Vegas. He is an avid poker and blackjack player. Nick's website is www.jetcafe.org/~npc/ to the story line he covered well in Bringing Down the House with a whole new cast of characters in his new book, Busting Vegas.
Superficially the two books by Mezrich sound like the same story, but they are distinct. In both books we follow a shining star of an MIT blackjack team as he finds the game and learns the ropes and comes to excel at beating the casinos amassing a small fortune until it ultimately all comes crashing down. In Bringing Down the House Mezrich followed the career of a team card counting prodigy identified as Kevin Lewis, in Busting Las Vegas the hero is card steering phenomenon Semyon Dukach.
While our protagonist has become relatively forthcoming about his casino exploits in recent years, appearing on several television programs and doing several interviews to support the release of the book, not everyone portrayed in Busting Vegas is interested in such a high-profile life. Consequently, Mezrich has changed around a lot of the details concerning who and where in order to protect some identities and, I suspect, to punch up the story a bit. I think it's a shame that all the book's details aren't recounted as accurately as possible, mostly because the final act is so astonishing that it loses some power if we can't be absolutely certain of its veracity. Even with these changes, though, the fundamentals of this tale are so compelling that even the most cynical readers are likely to be amazed at much of what is recounted in these pages.
Since writing Bringing Down the House, it's clear that Mezrich has honed his blackjack chops. While there are still statements in the book that had me cringing a bit, overall his understanding of the game has increased, and this makes the book more appealing to serious blackjack players without annoying more casual readers. Still, I think the audience would have benefited for a little deeper explanation of just a few of the nuances surrounding the strategies that Dukach and his compatriots have adopted. Even though these techniques are very powerful, they do not always win. Yet, my recollection is that the details of only one losing hand is recounted in the entire book. Winning at blackjack just isn't these easy, even for the best players.
The bottom line, though, is that this is yet another entertaining book on the subject of team blackjack from Mezrich. Just about everything I said in my review of Bringing Down the House applies equally to this book. Anyone who enjoyed the author's previous work on the topic will almost certainly enjoy this one as they're cut from the same cloth. Since I thought the first one was worth reading, I'll also happily recommend Busting Vegas to folks who think they might be interested in the subject. I'd think I'd mildly recommend reading them in the order in which they are published, but by no means is that necessary.
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