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I'm all in.

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Position Staff In Brief
34/43 Kim Hollis Pretty blah, though not really as bad as I had expected it to be.
43/98 David Mumpower The book was much better, but I still found this to be a decent albeit shallow exploration of the MIT gamblers.
134/196 Max Braden This more interesting than Lucky You.

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Everyone who has watched the World Series of Poker on ESPN has had this fantasy. An unknown stranger, you show up at the casino and dominate the proceedings, breaking the bank with your gambling acumen. Breaking Vegas (or whatever the hell Trigger Street is calling it this week) tells the story of a group of young super-geniuses who proceeded to live out this dream. Based up on the infamous Ben Mezrich book, Bringing Down the House (a title that has since been sullied by a disastrous Steve Martin/Queen Latifah movie of the same name), this movie looks to tell the story of these gamblers.

Blackjack is a strange game by gambling standards in that there are certainly points in time where the odds actually switch off to favor the player. In short, blackjack is beatable. The problem in exploiting this advantage is that few people have the mathematical skill required to know the numbers and capitalize upon those instances where the odds favor the player. In the early 1990s, a former math instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had the epiphany that the people possessing the extremely high level of intellect required to beat blackjack were sitting under his very nose.

The plan this professor implemented was to assemble a team of hungry young math wizards. The group became known as the MIT Blackjack Team, and their infamous travails will be the body of the movie. Bankrolled by complete strangers given only a perfunctory description of the concept, the crew of Blackjack experts repeatedly traveled to Las Vegas. They worked as a team to count cards, then communicate to one another when a lucrative financial opportunity presented itself. At this point, a massive amount of capital would be wagered. Since the odds favored the gambler, it was an odd system of casino arbitrage.

The problem with such a system is that casinos are aware of its existence. While the practice is legal and therefore (theoretically) cannot be banned, the owners of such establishments frown upon savvy gamblers breaking the bank on their dime. It's just not good business to encourage the return of people who never lose. The MIT Blackjack Team was forced to play an odd game of Cat-and-Mouse with the various Las Vegas establishments in order to circumvent this constraint. Using fake names and professing to have no knowledge of one another, the various members of the group would use elaborate systems to notify one another of the moments when the odds favored the player. This electric double thrill of gambling and doing something naughty right in front of the notoriously hard-ass Vegas enforcers proved tantalizing to all the members of the team.

The book Bringing Down the House was a #1 best seller. Given the current voracious appetite North American audiences have for all things Vegas, the movie seems like a very solid play for MGM. (David Mumpower/BOP)

Vital statistics for 21
Main Cast Laurence Fishburne
Supporting Cast Kevin Spacey, Liza Lapira, Josh Gad, Jim Sturgess
Director Robert Luketic
Screenwriter Peter Steinfeld
Distributor MGM
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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Friday, December 8, 2023
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