Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Bringing Down the House
March 30, 2008 10:08 AM   Subscribe

21, a highly fictionalized movie based on Ben Mezrich's somewhat fictionalized book Bringing Down the House based on the real-life story of the MIT Blackjack Team, released over the weekend. What's fact and what's fiction? The real-life "Mickey Rosa" (played by Kevin Spacey in the film) starts a blog. And Jane Willis, who claims to be the inspiration behind Kate Bosworth's character, steps briefly into the limelight. Also: Behind the scenes at casino security.
posted by lou (36 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Card counting.
posted by Brian B. at 10:23 AM on March 30, 2008


I have to think that banning card counting has to be a lawsuit waiting to happen. (Perhaps it has? Anyone?) I mean, they can call it "cheating" all they want, but if the casinos offer a game in which the mark can find an edge, let them live with the consequences. Either that or stick with slots.

Or am I missing something here?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:44 AM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Neat. I'm just working my way through this and was wondering how much it differed from the movie as the first few pages of character description had nothing to do with the actors on the cover...(mer..movie tie in edition book covers)
posted by beautifulcheese at 10:44 AM on March 30, 2008


Or am I missing something here?

No, you have it. The casinos use their clout in state laws to define cheating as winning regularly. They can 86 you from a casino for consistently winning, no proof required, because it only means to them that you beat their rigged system.
posted by Brian B. at 10:48 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's a fellow here on Metafilter — localroger, I believe — who used to count cards for awhile.

Ah, here we are: A Casino Odyssey | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:58 AM on March 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


their rigged system.

Rigged? It's no secret that the odds favor the casio.

These MIT guys came up with some innovative game strategies. Good for them. Problem was that it required even more clever acting to pull it off over any length of time. The style of play needed to pull it off made it obvious that something was up. In the book, they never even got away with it for more than one evening.

Even a total idiot can bring down the house for one night if he gets lucky.
posted by three blind mice at 11:01 AM on March 30, 2008


white out. no thanks.
posted by cazoo at 11:12 AM on March 30, 2008


I was going to mention localroger's story as well.

Even a total idiot can bring down the house for one night if he gets lucky.

Well, over time a total idiot will lose money, and the casino will make it. That's the whole point of the gambling industry. Also, most casinos (I think) have limits to prevent one person from totally bankrupting them due to a string of good luck.
posted by delmoi at 11:14 AM on March 30, 2008


From the wikipedia link:

"A myth casinos propagate is that card counting is illegal. Card counting without outside device is completely legal. There are no provisions in the rules of blackjack or United States law that prohibit card counting. Despite this, casinos still offer blackjack as a game knowing that a skilled player will have an advantage over the house. Casinos avoid losing money by preventing card counters from playing. In Las Vegas, casinos are allowed to do this because the casino is private property, and the owner can decide who is allowed to enter."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:23 AM on March 30, 2008


My entire family has seen a low-budget Canadian film, based on the same MIT team. It's called The Last Casino.

When we saw the trailers for 21, we all independently came to the same conclusion: Hollywood is really good at sucking soul out of films. At least the Canadian film had sex shop humour.

And if you don't believe me, you can see the entire Canadian film in low-resolution glory on Youtube. Get it while it's hot up.

The movie has some not insubstantial flaws, but if you showed me a trailer for The Last Casino vs 21, I would always choose The Last Casino.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:35 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also: if 21 is 'highly fictionalized', then The Last Casino bares only a passing resemblance to the MIT team's reality. It's very funny, though, to see a high-stakes gamblin' movie talk about Montreal and Ottawa instead of Las Vegas.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:38 AM on March 30, 2008


I was happy to hear this movie was being made - I mean, what an interesting story, but when I saw the cast and the trailers and posters I lost all excitement.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:42 AM on March 30, 2008


This month's Playboy has an article on the subject. ILt tell s you how to do it. and it tells you how to dress, act etc to avoid getting spotted by the casino dudes.
posted by Postroad at 11:59 AM on March 30, 2008


Huh. I can accept the Hollywood invention of Lawrence Fishburne's evil security guard character, but I was surprised to read the accusation at Mickey's blog that Mezrich simply "makes up a few lurid details" about players swallowing chips, hiring strippers and getting beaten up. Looks like Mezrich's been updating his site lately, too. I wonder if he's ever responded to the accusations that he mixed fiction and fact.
posted by mediareport at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2008


Casinos should advertise the fact that card-counting is ok. My guess is that most people who try to count cards are bad at it, and if you can attract a bunch of card-counting amateurs, you can give them a chance to part with their money.

I mean, what an interesting story, but when I saw the cast and the trailers and posters I lost all excitement.

I dunno. How much excitement can there be? Unless it's a documentary, you can't really make a movie "about" card-counting. And because it involves college students, it's inevitably going to be a "heartfelt coming-of-age story" with gambling serving as the background scenery.
posted by deanc at 12:11 PM on March 30, 2008


It was also a TV docudrama: Breaking Vegas.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:13 PM on March 30, 2008


Relatedly, you can use physics to win at roulette! Physics and math!
posted by logicpunk at 12:17 PM on March 30, 2008


I have a friend who was at MIT and played in a blackjack club. It really was as nutty and lucrative as all the stories say. Also incredibly boring and stressful.
posted by Nelson at 1:14 PM on March 30, 2008


The Eudaemonic Pie describes a similar thing where a group of physicists and computer scientists develop a set of wearable computers, using their toes to inputting data points as a roulette wheel ball spins around the wheel, to beat the casino.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:27 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


to input.
talk english pretty, me.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:28 PM on March 30, 2008


I have to think that banning card counting has to be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Card counting is not illegal, nor does it even need to be. Any casino worthy of the name will have implemented a number of procedures to make card counting unprofitable. A simple one is to cut the brick of cards higher and thus lower deck penetration. The more cards you don't see in the deck, the less reliable your count is. Of course then the game becomes training your personel to cut off enough that card counters have a hard time, but not too much that they end up shuffling too often, which means dead time, which means lost money.

Even the MIT team can't Wong a game if the dealer won't show you 40% of the brick.
posted by splice at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2008


It was also a TV docudrama: Breaking Vegas.

Breaking Vegas is on the History Channel right now...and will be re-aired next Monday (April 7).
posted by ericb at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2008


Thanks flibbertigibbet. Although I once knew a good card counter from MIT, I had no intention of going to see 21, but I'm enjoying watching the Canadian Last Casino.
posted by eye of newt at 4:05 PM on March 30, 2008


I have to think that banning card counting has to be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Wait a minute. Card counters are a protected class? Who knew?
posted by dhartung at 4:07 PM on March 30, 2008


Rigged? It's no secret that the odds favor the casio.

But if the law doesn't back the punters up (thank you, Brian B.) when the odds no longer favor the casino, then, yes, rigged.

And I suppose the feds can't be bothered to go after the equal access issue.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:46 PM on March 30, 2008


From the wikipedia link:

"A myth casinos propagate is that card counting is illegal. Card counting without outside device is completely legal. There are no provisions in the rules of blackjack or United States law that prohibit card counting. Despite this, casinos still offer blackjack as a game knowing that a skilled player will have an advantage over the house. Casinos avoid losing money by preventing card counters from playing. In Las Vegas, casinos are allowed to do this because the casino is private property, and the owner can decide who is allowed to enter."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:23 PM on March 30 [+] [!]


Most obviously eponysterical of all time.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:59 PM on March 30, 2008


(Maybe I should post this in Projects-- but--- the guy who plays the Clothing Store Manager who tells Young Hero-Boy he's late and he's getting a raise? That is me.
I had another, longer scene too but it was cut.
Still got paid, so it's okey-dokey.)
posted by Dizzy at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2008


(Oh-- wait for it to come out on video. I saw it this afternoon and was a tad bored...)
posted by Dizzy at 6:03 PM on March 30, 2008


Congrats, Dizzy!
posted by ntartifex at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2008


I would like to see most cities legalize a form of gambling that only pays out even odds on game action (<>double at least. People would buy their drinks of course, and the house would charge an interest fee for cashing in chips. There would be far less fancy lighting used to hypnotize people on a fixed income since profits would come from paid services. I'm curious as to how popular it would be and how rigged gambling with its secretive odds would fair under the competition.
posted by Brian B. at 8:26 PM on March 30, 2008


My post got screwed. Where "double" is mentioned should read: There would be no green pockets on roulette, and blackjack would pay double at least.
posted by Brian B. at 8:30 PM on March 30, 2008


I watched this movie at the premiere in SXSW, Austin earlier this month. The real Ben Campbell and the actor who played him were both present along with Kate Bosworth and a few others. All in all, a fun movie and the post-movie Q&A was quite interesting. The thing that made the film believable for me is the real Ben's attitude and personality - he seemed more larger-than-life (in size, brilliance, and attitude) than the actor who played him. So I can absolutely see him go to different casinos and act charming, interesting, extremely-rich etc.

I loved this true story about the one time they had about $980k in a duffel bag by the pool. One of them wanted to go take a swim and called for Ben to join. Ben asked if it was ok to just leave so much money without someone watching over it. His buddy replied back "Well, it's not like it's a million dollars or anything." So Ben just jumped into the water and the money was indeed left intact.

I walked into the film thinking it was going to be like the History Channel documentary, Breaking Vegas. I wasn't too interested in seeing another rehash of a documentary I'd already seen but was pleasantly surprised that the movie was fast-paced and had quite a good cast. I'd say it's well worth the ticket price and definitely Netflixxable when it comes out on DVD.
posted by chime at 8:55 PM on March 30, 2008


...the guy who plays the Clothing Store Manager who tells Young Hero-Boy he's late and he's getting a raise? That is me.

That scene was filmed in the J. Press store in Harvard Square, right? Oh, yes ... the exterior and interior depict it as such.

Trivia -- Tom & Tom's Nantucket Nectars' offices were located just upstairs from the store.
posted by ericb at 9:30 PM on March 30, 2008


Yes-- we shot it there last Spring. And it was originally supposed to be released in Thanksgiving '08, but they moved it up to March.
posted by Dizzy at 4:18 AM on March 31, 2008


I haven't seen the movie yet but I know the book is highly exaggerated. In particular, it has never been possible to play with the strategies they claim at the levels they claim. I think there is some truth at the core of the story, but that it got "sexed up" to purloin a phrase in the telling.

I have known a number of people who travelled extensively to play advantage blackjack during the mid 90's and early 00's and they broadly agree that with team play techniques and a sufficient bankroll, you can expect to earn around $100,000 a year per player. Earning more than that requires play at levels where there aren't enough players and games and your play gets scrutinized too closely to hide what you are doing.

And while counting is legal, it is also legal just about everywhere for the casino to throw you out at will, so it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse. Ben Mezrich did a Q&A some time back at Kuro5hin, and he didn't know what I meant by "orange action." That really tells me he has never cashed out for much more than $1,000.
posted by localroger at 10:26 AM on March 31, 2008


I worked with an older statistician who was an avid card-counter. He's been thrown out of every casino in Vegas. He tells of the time Atlantic City casinos were forbidden by the State Supreme Court to eject card counters. Some money people knew that the casino owners were powerful and that the ordinance wouldn't last, so they wanted to assemble teams of counters to work the tables around the clock until the ordinance was repealed. In order to get on the team, according to my friend, one had to go through an audition wherein the applicant had to count a deck or cards as the interviewer was tuning each card over about as fast as one could.

My friend tried out, but failed this very difficult test. I'm not sure if this is one of the famous teams or some other one. But I found it fascinating.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2008


« Older Dith Pran, the photojournalist whose story inspire...  |  ObitFilter: Robert Fagles. One... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments