πŸ’ Blackjack Team Book Embellished; Mezrich Claims Alterations Needed | The Tech

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Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich had been a best seller that was based on the famous MIT Blackjack Team. The book had increased the popularity of the​.


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Uston's book on blackjack team play, Million Dollar Blackjack, was published shortly before the founding of the first MIT team. Kaplan.


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A MIT graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, Ma was the de facto leader of the infamous MIT Blackjack Team that gained notoriety in Ben Mezrich's best-seller book Bringing Down the House. (Wired.


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The result is a crowd-pleasing story, eagerly marketed by his publishers as true β€” but which several of the students who participated say is embellished beyond recognition. But he said he is uncomfortable with the idea that an author would also change facts to tell a better story. And while some of the former MIT players interviewed for this story could remember instances of teammates being threatened by casino personnel, none could recall an actual beating. In one of them, Mezrich quotes Lewis describing the methods the team devised to smuggle hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash through airport security. Recent high-profile revelations of exaggeration and outright fabrication in memoirs have rekindled a long-running debate about how much massaging of the facts is acceptable in a nonfiction book. On weekends, the book reports, the team members would board planes for Vegas with hundreds of thousands of dollars strapped to their bodies, or concealed in hollow umbrellas, laptops, or casts. Editors and industry analysts say that with sales of fiction flagging, book publishers are pressured toward the genre of dramatic nonfiction. And I think the same thing is happening, and perhaps more so, on the book publishing side. Much like reality television shows, the shift is fed by the sense that what audiences want is reality, but packaged with an excitement and drama that the original facts lack. Anfuso refused to provide a definition of the standards he uses to distinguish fiction from nonfiction, and did not return follow-up calls. Micky Rosa, they told the magazine, was a completely fabricated character.{/INSERTKEYS}{/PARAGRAPH} Fourteen former players spoke to the Globe for this article; five of them were, at some point, on the team that was the primary basis for the team in the book. Of a dozen former players asked about the swallowed chip story, none recalled it, and some described it as implausible. Whatever readers expect from a work of nonfiction, it is unlikely to be this. Most readers and writers, he said, have no problem with that. {PARAGRAPH}{INSERTKEYS}And its runaway success transformed its Boston-based author, Ben Mezrich, into a local celebrity and a one-man publishing brand, a specialist in true tales of egghead kids pulling off acts of lucrative derring-do. The book is vaulting back to prominence at a time of big scandals elsewhere in publishing, and low public trust in the media. Five of the six main team members are amalgams of people who played on or managed various, occasionally competing MIT blackjack teams over the course of two decades. Instead of a tightknit group of six and, later in the book, nine , players remember the team as a looser assemblage that at various times encompassed as many as 25 people, not all of whom were MIT students. The book, they point out, was published with a disclaimer in fine print, on the copyright page warning that the names, locations, and other details had been changed, and that some events and individuals are composites, created from other events and individuals. But Ma, the person on whom the Lewis character is based, said that he never described those techniques to Mezrich, or knew of anyone using them. Similarly, the book has Lewis occasionally catching glimpses of the blue-eyed man shadowing the team. Accompanied by two goons, the man catches up with another character, Jason Fisher, in the bathroom of a Bahamian casino and has him beaten bloody. Though Mezrich claims that his techniques are standard practice in journalism and nonfiction writing, many editors, critics, and nonfiction writers strongly condemn these methods, and the frank justification Mezrich offers for them. But Ma says he never saw a man matching that description following them. Until he read the book, he said, he had never heard of them at all. He had to change things, he says, in part to protect the identities of the people he wrote about. And, far from being a young graduate, he took 10 years to finish college. Nearly all the details and facts in the book were culled from his research, Mezrich says, and where they were compressed or creatively rearranged, the fundamental truth of the story he tells is undiminished.