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Thread: ZG Goes to Blackhawk PART 1-3

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  1. #1

    Default ZG Goes to Blackhawk PART 1-3

    BJI Newsletter, January 2015, #180



    Zengrifter has been counting since the 70s, having played several counts. His story is found in ‘The Zengrifter Interview,’ an abbreviated version was published in 2003 in Blackjack Insider and the full unexpurgated version at Ken Smith’s BlackjackInfo.com. He has also figured prominently in many of the Barfarkel trip reports (www.youvegotheat.com) , as well as articles by Nathan Tilton, Dan Pronovost and others relating to his unique signature betting tactic sometimes called ‘Grifter’s Gambit.’

    Recently I had the opportunity to spend five weeks in the Denver, CO area working on a new "green-goldrush" business opportunity (don’t ask, don’t tell), and I was determined to make a series of first-time visits to the Blackhawk and Central City casino venues located 60 minutes away. I loosely planned to invest 40-60 hours in play during my five-week business trip.

    I first heard about Colorado’s "mining town" casinos in the early 90s when I was knee-deep in telecommunications-related syndication. Colorado was, I think, the third state to legalize casino-banked games, a decade after New Jersey, and getting a jump on the rest of the nation. But the casinos soon to come (back then) were of little interest to me, other than the investment- raising side – private placement offerings were flying like crazy – but the novelty of Colorado gambling law in the 90s was to limit the maximum table games betting limit at $5.00. This is about as exciting as a box of California "safe and sane" fireworks. The Maloof brothers’ start in casino enterprise was this Blackhawk venue with $5.00 maximums. Then in 2008, the table game betting limits were raised to multiple hands of $100.

    My first trip to the Blackhawk casinos was with a new business associate, and soon-to-be blackjack protégé, "Salohcin." We rode in his BMW i8, which was luxurious, and the trip through the mountains was reminiscent of the hour drive to Lake Tahoe from Reno. The road skirted a whitewater river with occasional rafters shooting the rapids.

    I had given Salohcin (i.e., Sal) a single task prior to our visit: learn basic strategy (BS). It was an experiment actually; my old friend and memory science teacher Robin Clark of Mind Dynamics Institute had been developing a mnemonics-based technique for learning BS in a few hours rather than days or weeks and Salohcin was to be our guinea pig. And it worked! I was skeptical actually and wanted to test him in person but I had already heard he was "crushing it" on Dan Pronovost’s Blackjack Mentor iPhone app (deepnettech.com). We rendezvoused for coffee and I was impressed, he beat me 2 out of 3 contests on BS on the app. I decided to purchase the app too.

    Sal is a frequent poker player in Blackhawk and knew the casinos fairly well. There are two routes in and he had decided that we’d arrive via the adjacent smaller casino venue of Central City, which like Blackhawk proper, was an old gold mining town. Driving into Central City was like a time machine moment; the old buildings restored with casino gambling signs were very visible. If only the games were as old and good as the mining town atmosphere, I reflected.

    Our first stop was the newly opened Reserve casino that featured five six-deck tables with typical rules: h17, DAS, and RSA, about 78% penetration, and 0.55% house edge off the top for BS players. This was to be Sal’s first counting experience; we had spent breakfast going over some elementary hand signals that would allow him to be the "gorilla BP" while I signaled the bets and BS departures from first base.

    Sal got coffee while I settled in for 20 minutes playing a $5-25 pseudo progression and scored my first Colorado player’s card. Pretending not to know me, Sal pulled out his player’s card and $500. We would be spreading to a maximum bet of three (or four?) hands of $100.

    He arrived right as the shuffle commenced and I already made an important discovery: the house shuffle, a simple single-pass with no discard plugs, was ideal for "cut-offs tracking," the easiest form of shuffle tracking (and the only form I can actually do well). It turns out that only two of the tables are hand-shuffled, this being one.

    I was handed the cut card and proceeded to cut a count-rich 2.5 deck portion to the top of the pack and discreetly signaled my "secret" partner to bet our max off the top. The max bets continued for about two decks when the cut-offs portion ran out and I signaled him to take an imaginary cell call. I played out the shoe, ending with a moderately negative count.

    Sal returned and I whispered, "Let me cut," as he deferred the honor to me. This time my cut was determined to place the diluted cutoffs to the back, giving us about 3.5 decks of rich count. I signaled his initial bet at one hand of a hundred and soon he was betting our max three hands again.

    Our play continued like this for about two hours; him taking frequent cell calls and deferring the cut card to me. Up about $1,400, which was well above expectation, I gave the "end" signal and he colored up, copped a dinner café comp for two, and waited for me at the car. If Sal had been unsure of his interest in "scientific" BJ, this mostly lucky session cinched it.

    We drove five minutes to an off-property coffee shop for sandwiches, and next door I checked out a recreational cannabis shop and purchased a couple grams of top shelf Sativa and a pre-loaded pocket e-cig for which to imbue some additional flavor to this beautiful mountain-high BJ venue.

    Our next stop was Johnny-Z’s, a tacky dive-joint formerly owned by the Maloofs, and the only club in Colorado with a s17, DAS, two deck game; about a 0.20% house edge off the top. According to Wong’s CBJN, the penetration was a poor 50% dealt from a shoe, but worth a peek in these parts. Sal would watch this time. The game was doubly tough, owing not only to the shallow penetration but also the no mid-entry preventing me from going from one to multiple hands between shuffles while being capped at $100.

    I bet off the top three hands of $30 and switched it up to $50 per two hands with any modest count and two hands of $100 in any moderate or higher count. When the count would tank, I would go to two hands at $25, and below that I would mostly try for the old cell-call interruption. The cell-phone-call-out-ploy wasn’t always working to plan, however, playing heads-up, the dealer was instructed to wait for players in general. On a few occasions I was able to strike the three-times $100 max bet, but most of my max bets were only two handed. On the good side, two of our three dealers were playing out closer to 60% of the pack, making it a bit more comfortable to extend the three hands of $30 bets and doing a semi-play/all approach with a minimum of two hand $25’s.

    We ended the session after about 75 minutes and felt lucky to be up another $800 given the poor net-effective betting spread, Sal was beside himself and stopped me on the street excitedly, "Were you counting?!" I had been playing fairly fast, easily hitting 300+ hands per hour heads-up, and this was the first time he had seen anything like that.

    We headed another five minutes up the road to Blackhawk proper, and the venue was noticeably livelier than the Central City area with 11 clubs of merit. We parked near the nexus of clubs comprising the Lodge, Ameristar, Golden Gates and Mardi Gras. Three of the four have two-deck games worth checking out and the fourth, Ameristar, looming high above the rest, has the best six-deck game according to Wong’s CBJN, with 85% penetration and the same h17, DAS, RSA rules.

    Our first play in Blackhawk proper was at Golden Gates, a divey and noisy place with two double-deck pitch games. Sal went to enter his poker tourney and I scoped out the BJ for a few minutes – these double deckers were no mid entry BUT spreading to multiple hands IS allowed, and the notched shuffle card appeared to be just shy of 60%. One of the two seated players walked as I reached for some buy in.

    I jumped in after the shuffle with three hands of $25, the count rose marginally and I switched up to two hands of $50; another uptick occurred, and I went to one hand of $100. I lost the $100 as the count spiked so I threw out three hands of $100, winning two of the three and bet the three-times $100 again. This round was a monster with two doubles and a pair of tens that I split once as the shuffle card came out.

    Winning all three doubled bets I was faced with a conundrum: the dealer was shuffling, should I reduce my bet? Nope. I decided to bet the three max off the top, won one of the three and let it go again solo at $100, despite the tanked count, and won and bet it again for another win as the count dropped further south. Faced with my payoff, I reached for an imaginary cell call and remained seated. The pit critter in attendance told me I had to step away and I complied, staying on the call until the shuffle, at which point they asked me if I had a player’s card and I produced my ID.

    Now I had an interesting pattern devised on the fly; a quasi-grifter gambit with a canonical twist – betting three hands of $25-30 in moderately minus counts, consolidating to two times $50 in modest plus counts, and then one hand of $100 in moderate plus territory … and then spreading out again to two and three hands of $100 as the count dictated, while avoiding the worst counts with "phony" cell calls. Each time I grabbed my phone, I feigned oblivious to the need to step away until reminded by the dealer or boss.

    Along the way, I checked for possible hole-card flashing but the house dealing method was a new technique that had the dealer sliding her second card off the back of the pack flat unto the surface, so no go. I also tried key-carding aces despite the shuffle machine, but after a limited sampling, I was seeing no correlation so I gave it up quickly.

    After about an hour and another semi-lucky win of $600, three for three so far, I colored up and got a couple of buffet comps. Sal was settled in on his poker tourney and I stepped out to the smoking lounge (no smoking in Colorado casinos) and took a couple of discreet puffs on my cannabis e-cig.

    So far, despite the limited and mediocre games, I was grooving with this new "virgin" venue. My single fear, borne of the small similar Tahoe venue in a previous era, was that maybe if I got barred in one club, they might flyer the entire list. Maybe I should try to be careful?

    To be continued next month with Zengrifter’s conclusion of his first visit to Blackhawk,
    and his second and third visits there, where Sal starts counting for real.
    "The dogs bark but the caravan moves on."
    .....................The Zengrifter Interview (PDF) |
    The Zengrifter / James Grosjean Reputation Debate
    “Truth, like gold, is obtained not by growth, but by washing away all that is not gold.” — Leo Tolstoy........
    "Is everything a conspiracy? No, just the important stuff." ZG

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006

    Default Great narrative!

    I see you are still the Master Of The Game Very entertaining and I take it you are long gone from that area, thus your narrative about the conquest.

    Had I been there I would have played nothing but the STing game, and your chance of being flyered would have been greatly reduced, and the EV off the chart.

    Congrats, I am happy for you.

    "Midwest Masters Of Advantage", "Strength and Honor."

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Atlanta area


    Blackhawk, with Ameristar rising four years ago.
    The Ameristar is the 'Mirage' of that area --

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    In the YO


    The Doolin-Dalton gang rides again...

    They were duelin', Doolin-Dalton
    High or low, it was the same
    Easy money and faithless women
    Red-eye whiskey for the pain

    Well, the towns lay out across the dusty plains
    Like graveyards filled with tombstones, waitin' for the names
    And a man could use his back, or use his brains
    But some just went stir crazy, Lord, 'cause nothin' ever changed

    'Til Bill Doolin met Bill Dalton
    He was workin' cheap, just bidin' time
    Then he laughed and said,"I'm goin,"
    And so he left that peaceful life behind
    Last edited by Katz; December 29th, 2014 at 07:25 PM. Reason: Stay away from Coffeeville

  5. #5

    Default BS guinea pig

    I tried to teach a friend of mine basic strategy and he failed with flying colors. He had weeks to prepare himself before this casino trip and I quizzed him as we were in en route. I was disappointed because the first 5 questions I asked him he got wrong. It probably doesn't help that his eye sight is a crutch to him but there are no excuses when the money hits the felt. On this trip I took my buddy and his girlfriend. I was the only winner on this trip and gambled on the NLHE table until the sun came up the next morning leaving a big winner, I got several wins on different BJ tables but scored much better on the poker table by the virtue of patience.
    Last edited by Blitzkrieg; December 30th, 2014 at 02:03 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2006


    Great report! I see Colorado now has everything you need ZG!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2008

    Default ZG Goes to Blackhawk PART 2

    When do we get part 2 of the saga?
    Truth demands knowledge. Deceit demands faith.

  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by Nazgul View Post
    When do we get part 2 of the saga?
    Right now, your Sorcerership! Note prominent mention of CP and Mac


    BJI Newsletter, February 2015, #181



    Zengrifter has been counting since the 70s, having played several counts. His story is found in ‘The Zengrifter Interview,' an abbreviated version was published in 2003 in Blackjack Insider and the full unexpurgated version at Ken Smith's BlackjackInfo.com. He has also figured prominently in many of the Barfarkel trip reports (www.youvegotheat.com), as well as articles and citations by Nathan Tilton, Dan Pronovost, Frank Scoblete and others relating to his unique card counting tactics, including his consolidation betting often referred to as ‘Grifter's Gambit.'

    Note: Part 1 found HERE

    Two weeks after my first Blackhawk visit, I was driving back there again (only solo this time), and reflecting on my first jaunt...

    After I ended my third session at Golden Gates casino, I took some recon time walking to the adjacent clubs in the cluster while I waited for Salohcin to bust out of his poker tourney.

    The Mardi Gras, which is connected to the Golden Gates by an overhead catwalk and recently made part of the same ownership, also had a double-deck game with rules and penetration on par with its sister property across the street. The table there was full and I didn't want to play another session at what is essentially the same property.

    I went down the escalator then out the door and across the street beckoned The Lodge. Entering it, there is a coffee and pastries bar; I stopped to grab a triple-shot espresso macchiato for a little caffeine boost. Then I went up another escalator to the main casino floor. This was a step up in class (slightly) from the previous properties. The Lodge had about a dozen tables and all were in action. I saw two double-deck games, both $25 min with poor rules (h17, RSA, no DAS).

    One of the tables had a unique layout: only three player seats, but each player seat ‘zone' had three separate betting boxes, and although the tables were no mid-entry, it appeared that the rules did allow spreading to multiple spots between shuffles as well as placing the minimum $25 on up to three hands. I threw out a $200 buy in and stood while placing a quarter at the first seat on the #2 box for that zone and the dealer promptly moved my bet to the first box. Clutching my coffee drink, I feigned being anxious and fatigued. (You know, like a losing gambler.)

    A 20-minute session at The Lodge was a buzz-saw and I quickly tumbled down $1100.

    I crossed the street to the Ameristar casino, texting Sal for his status. The Ameristar was the first truly class joint I visited here, its hotel tower rising high above the fray. Inside it was pure third generation state-of-art casino/hotel. I passed a bustling large poker area, and saw a sign to what implied is a luxury spa, and made my way to the 21 games.

    It was early evening and most of the twenty or so six-deck games were open, some with minimum bets of $50. The penetration was as good as reported, even better in some cases, dealer dependent, but none were being cut more than a deck. This was a decent place for back counting, with rules of h17, DAS and RSA yielding a house edge of about 0.55 percent against a basic strategy player.

    Sal texted me back that he was done and would pick me up at the Ameristar valet. The Lodge would be my final play of the day, still up $1700 for about 5 hours total play and I estimated ending above EV by about $1000.

    On the drive back, Salohcin and I discussed various counts and considerations for him to proceed with learning a system: Speed Count, unbalanced running count or balanced true count type system? Level-1 or Level-2? 2D, 1D, or 1/2D true count adjustment? And after a 30 minute consideration his assignment was to purchase Arnold Snyder's book "Blackbelt in Blackjack" and learn the HiLo Lite system.

    Returning to the mining-town casinos at Blackhawk (BH), my first return play on visit #2 was at The Lodge where I had my single previous loss.

    After my previous four sessions and a fair amount of reflection, I was determined to limit my minus count exposure even more: spreading from 0 to three hands of $100. With my ZEN count (mid ‘80s version), each true of +1 equals a tad over +0.25 increase in player advantage, so with the mediocre Lodge rules (the worst rules I would find in BH double deck - no DAS, h17) I would need a true of +2 to neutralize the house-edge and a +3 to bet either $100 or two hands of $75 or 3x $65 (playing to a $30k bankroll), and a +4 would take me to three hands of $100. Given the dynamics of the theoretically floating house edge (the house edge for this game is about 0.50 percent off the top but declines to under 0.20 at the one-deck mark), I would adjust my bet markers as each shuffle progresses.

    To still maintain some decent camouflage, whatever my final max bet was before the shuffle, if I won I would keep it the same off the top of the next shuffle, or maybe drop it by no more than half, plus a fair amount of improvisation in between. For negative counts, -1.5 or above, I would use a negative sideways progression, spreading laterally to two and three hands of $25, and below -2, I would grab for my cellphone.

    In a positive count of +2, I would parlay from $25 to $50 after a winning hand, and above +2, jump aggressively to one or three hands of $100 as the count indicated.

    On my first $25 hand, I got two tens against dealer three. I split them (incorrectly), got a third ten and split again - I just wanted to establish my ten splitting early and incorrectly - I wound up making three stiffs and the dealer made eighteen. I smiled sheepishly like the schmuck I wanted to appear. Then the "pitcritter" swooped in and informed me that I could not play standing ("Face down double-deck requires players to be seated," he informed matter-of-factly.)

    Still in a neutral count, I sat down and spread to three hands of $25, and lost all three. The count dropped to -1 and I bet the three times $25 again. This time I won all three as the count sunk below -2 so I answered my phone even before I touched my chips and stalled just long enough to be advised to step away, while the dealer pushed my bets and payoffs back.

    After the shuffle, I re-entered with two hands of $25, won both but again the count tanked, again I took the cell call and appeared oblivious to the need to step away as I made the same bet again. When the dealer reminded me to not play on the phone, I set it in my lap, played the round, and then left my chips after settlement as I picked the phone back up and stepped away, and again the dealer was forced to push my bets and settlement back.

    The tens splitting, the constant in and out, the repeated change-up in number of hands played ... this was quickly taking its toll on the two other players, one of whom was Asian and not hiding his displeasure. Now the count was below -3 and I stepped back to the table mid-deck and ‘clueless attempted' to bet two hands of $100 and the dealer pushed them back and told me to wait for the shuffle as the Asian player gave me a another snotty look.

    Another pit boss, an older rugged dapper gentleman named Salvatore Salamoni, suddenly appeared and asked me in a noticeable east-coast accent if I had a player card. I looked at him for a moment and told him, and the rest of the table, "You know, they say that the mob is no longer embedded in casino gaming, but when I meet a gentleman like you, paisano, I know that can't be true!" Salvatore smiled and the dealer and one player laughed, and the Asian player just scowled again. I produced my card and bet three hands of $50 off the top and asked Salvatore, "When you track play does this make three $50 bets or one $150 bet?" flagging his attention to make a $150 slip entry.

    I lost all three hands as the true rose to +2 and I bet a single hand of $50, and lost as the count rose another tick up. Salvatore was still lingering, feigning interest in my play, and I jumped my bet to $100 and said to him, "Double up and catch up, right?" He responded smiling, "It's all just money management." Again I lost, busting against a dealer 8, and again the count rose, now in the beyond +4 territory and I threw three hands of $100 out and announced half-heartedly, "Okay triple up and catch up?," and Salvatore replied smiling, "Sure let's see you do that." Dealer showed a 6 and my first two hands were 16 and 19, I stood, and my third hand was a pair of unmatched 10s. "Am I allowed to split these?" I asked feigning innocence and Salvatore replied with a chuckle, "Yes, in fact we encourage it."

    I threw my 10s over and put out another $100 as the Asian player scowled and clucked something in his native tongue that sounded Mandarin to me so I turned to him and said "haba hao" (I once lived in Taiwan for six months) and waved with a smile, further pissing him off. The dealer shook his head wistfully as I turned a hard 20 into a 17 and a 19. The dealer made 18 and I won two of the four hands.

    I bet a couple more rounds of 3x $100 before the shuffle came and I saw Salvatore prematurely make another slip entry on me as he headed back to the pit station.

    I played for a good two hours, religiously avoiding counts at -2 or below as my chips rose and fell like a roller coaster, and ended with a $900 loss. I schmoozed a dining room comp for two from Salvatore and headed for my car.

    Salohcin texted me - he was at The Reserve where he had revalidated his dining room comp for two - and I drove back to Central City for an early supper with him and our CPA Joe Sheryl, who had recently purchased Snyder's "Big Book of BJ" and started using the Red-7 count at my suggestion. CPA Joe was a long-term loser, having switched to BJ after being down some $30k after 3 years of poker.

    On the drive, I got a surprise call from the AP ‘Creeping Panther' who was still fuming over his inappropriate recent banning at a certain BJ discussion forum where a number of seasoned BJ community members were voicing similar gripes.

    The Panther told me he wanted to organize another of his famous "BJ Bash" get togethers; his previous gatherings had seen impressive turnout and a lot of fun, I was told. He was suggesting Tunica and I told him I was in BH and maybe this would make for a good venue, and that I'd lead them all to the cannabis shop on the outskirts, which made him laugh.

    Creeping Panther and I hung up as I pulled into The Reserve. I entered and headed first for the casino to check out our cutoff-tracking game - the two hand-shuffled tables were closed, bummer. I noticed something I had missed previously: two of the tables had the Lucky Ladies side bet, the compromised 4-9-19-125 payout version - with about 80% penetration it's worth a shot - still I hoped that our cut-off tracking table would be open after dinner.

    My dinner mates greeted me warmly and Sal couldn't wait to demonstrate his new-found counting prowess. Sal had been putting in the time to practice the HiLo count, learn his top 20 indices that I had indicated for him, and to convert his running count to true by number of remaining half decks. He had purchased the Deepnet ‘BJ Counter' and ‘Expert' iPhone app and was hitting it at every opportunity. I quizzed him and also watched as he broke the 20 second barrier for counting down a single deck.

    CPA Joe was in awe of his client's new ability; and then he confessed that he had lost his last three sessions using Red-7. He said he was having trouble keeping the count while totaling his hands. I admonished him that he should not be adding his hand totals, that his hand values should just be mindlessly obvious, and that as a CPA he should "just know." Joe also confessed that he was mostly playing at the Golden Gates and playing a sidebet there called "Bust Bonus" - a sidebet that offered extra pays if the dealer busts, based on the initial up-card.

    Again I chastised him for playing the bust bet. He felt that the bet became favorable when the count was positive and the dealer showed a 3-4-5-6. I asked why he thought that and he said, "It just makes sense!" It took me about a minute to google an analysis of bust-bonus at Discountgambling.net, and another couple of minutes to confirm that it was a loser, doesn't correlate with our standard counts, and even with a specialty count was hardly worth the effort.

    Despite my quick dismissal, CPA Joe still clung to his belief that maybe there was something there, which got me to thinking that maybe we needed a new CPA.

    After a fine comp meal of cracked peppercorn filet mignon au poivre, lobster, wine and crème Brule, and some green-goldrush business discussion items, we bid CPA Joe adieu. Later I learned that our CPA returned to the Golden Gates and played even more bust bonus sucker bets.

    Sal and I discretely returned to the casino area to discover that our hand-shuffled shoes were still not in play so we sat at the machine-shuffled Lucky Ladies (LLs) table, our purpose was twofold - one, I would audit Salohcin's counting game for mistakes and constructive feedback, and two, we'd try to pound the extra sliver of gain that the LLs afforded.

    This time Sal entered first by several minutes. We had gone over his betting regime at dinner: With Hilo Lite, converting running count to true count by remaining half-decks, he would simply go to a max bet of 3x $100 at a true of +1 with a 0.50 percent advantage over the game, in lower counts falling back to 2-3x $25 and at -1 stepping away. Also, at +2 he would bet the LLs on all three hands. When stepping away in the minus counts, he'd try to keep the count so he could jump back in (mid entry allowed).

    I wandered around the four games, entering each with 2x $75 at a (Zen) true of +3, and once in, exiting at -1, and leaving to another table at -2. My LLs strike point was +8. Frequently returning to the first table, my spot audit of Salohcin's counting noticed no apparent error.

    At Sal's table I was hitting more than my fair share of LLs, only the suited and non-suited variety (4x and 9x payouts), but despite that, after about an hour, I was a net loser for another -$325. Sal was elated though; he not only ended session up over $1000, nearly half of that ($475) was attributed to a match 20 when he caught a pair of 10-spades.

    Sal was heading over to Ameristar for some poker, and I wanted to scope out the remaining double-deck games in BH: The Monarch, Lady Luck and Casino Isle.

    Waiting for valet at Reserve, I got a call from the uber AP ‘Machinist' who had heard on the grapevine (Panther) that I was in Denver and getting to know the Blackhawk venue.

    Machinist related his love of the BH scene and said he might be up here sometime soon, and that we should hook-up. I told him that would be great because with my limited skill-set as an "advanced hobbyist" I was sure that I was missing out on a number of potential opportunities that I was simply blind to, and that it would be good to spend some time with a "real pro."

    He said it sounded like a plan and signed off.

    I parked valet at Casino Isle and found my way to the casino floor. There was a single dog of a double deck game, machine shuffled $25 minimum, no DAS, h17, no mid-entry, shoe dealt, 50% shuffle point, no spreading to multiple hands mid-shuffle, and the minimum two-hand bet was $50. I found nothing to incite me to play, and the rest of the games, six decks with only 75% penetration, were just as depressing. I quickly moved on, crossing the street to the Lady Luck.

    Walking the half-block distance, I did a quick tally: after 8+ hours of combined play I had blown most of our initial $2800 lead, but with Sal's win at Reserve our combined yield was about $1500 for an aggregate 9 hours of effort. I reminded myself that these low-limit games were just a dry-run informal sort of thing while Sal gets his BJ sea legs, then maybe Vegas and elsewhere where the full value of his BR could be better leveraged.

    To get to the casino floor of Lady Luck required an elevator ride. I only counted six BJ games, one of which was double deck from a shoe and the present dealer had cut about two-thirds penetration: DAS, h17, no RSA and a machine shuffle. I checked out the rest of the six-deck games and it seemed like every table had a different side-bet thing going: Bust Bonus on some, something called Magic-21 on another, and two of the tables had the "Lucky-Lucky" bet.

    I was vaguely familiar with the Lucky-Lucky as a possible beatable proposition IF one used a specialty count and IF the pay odds were reasonably true to the original version. That table was closed and I made a mental note to do a quick refresher on Lucky-Lucky soon.

    Having circumnavigated the table games pit back to the double-deck, once again it was a game that prevented spreading out to multiple hands mid shuffle, but with a $10 minimum I could bet 2x $20 or 3x $30 off the top, and maybe play most all counts to a single $10 bet, and once down to one hand I could raise to a max of $100. I kicked off with 2x $25 and then fell to 2x $20 as the count fell and then grabbed an "annoying imaginary call" when it crashed further. I returned at the shuffle and bet 3x $30 only to have the count fall again and be noticeably bothered by yet another call and forced to step out.

    This was one of those sessions where there appeared nary a count over most of a 90-minute play to provide little more than a handful of opportunities to bet even two hands of $50-75, yet I was up $175.

    And then I would suddenly encounter one of the most bizarre playing episodes I had ever seen in four decades of haunting BJ games.

    I had been playing mostly heads up for the past 30-minutes and then an Asian lady joined the game. She appeared to be well known and pulled a stack of 100s from her purse. She seemed to barely speak English and immediately there were two pit-critters in attendance catering to her with faux-friendly chit chat. She bet three hands of $100 and placed three matching bets on the "21 Magic" side bet. The gist of the 21-Magic is that if you get 21, depending on the number of cards required, whether suited, three 7s, 6-7-8, etc., there were various payoffs ranging from 4-1 to over 100-1.

    I stepped away to the smoking lounge to take my doctor-recommended "medicine," and then returned hoping to see the Asian lady gone, and instead there was some degree of excitement at the table. Our Asian lady had just hit a three card 18 against dealer 7 and caught a three for a 10-1 21-Magic payoff ... huh??

    Now I was in pure spectator mode and colored out. This gal only bet 3x $100 with $100 matching 21 side bets. With 18 or less she appeared to care not about the dealer's up card, she was only playing to 21 or bust and pulled some amazing momentary victories with multi-bet payoffs.

    I was seeing for the first time a 21-Magic "power-player." She would even hit hard 19 with the dealer showing 10 and even caught a deuce once for a 5-1 pay. After about 30 minutes and an exhilarating spike of action and burst of winnings, she had fully collapsed her stake, shook her head disgustedly and spoke angrily at her male companion in what I think was Cantonese, and told the pit manager, "We go eat and come back."

    I gave some thought to what I had just seen: a 21-Magic power bettor. What if there was a specialty count and strategy that allowed one to pound this sucker bet while looking like the idiot I just saw? What an act! I headed to the cage making a mental note to find out what I could about the 21-Magic. Just maybe, I mused.

    ... To be continued next month.

    Last edited by zengrifter; February 3rd, 2015 at 08:19 PM. Reason: formatting
    "The dogs bark but the caravan moves on."
    .....................The Zengrifter Interview (PDF) |
    The Zengrifter / James Grosjean Reputation Debate
    “Truth, like gold, is obtained not by growth, but by washing away all that is not gold.” — Leo Tolstoy........
    "Is everything a conspiracy? No, just the important stuff." ZG

  9. #9


    In regards to the Asian lady hitting her pat hands with the "magic" side bet, even the casino knows who their best customers are. I'd imagine that this lady dumps a lot of money at the casino. It seems like a sucker bet to me. I imagine that if the player tries to push to a 21 just to get the payoff on the odds (sidebet) that they are going to lose a lot more than they win. Even with using a count like Tarzans it would be hardcore gambling with no way to determine that a 2 is going to come if a player has a 19. I wonder if this lady watched Wahlbergs version of, "The Gambler." If I would have seen this lady playing the way she was, I may have sat down and used her as my cover since the casino likes to cater to their special guests.
    Last edited by Blitzkrieg; February 2nd, 2015 at 03:46 PM.

  10. #10


    The magic side bet doesn't seem like it would be advantageous to go after. A player could play all of his hands under 17 according to strategy but if a player has a pat hand like 17, 18, or 19 then it would only make sense to me to track the grouping of 2's, 3's, and 4's remaining in the deck or decks to be played to be able to make a 21. Which seems like a long shot call to make because the blackjack flat bet is still at risk of losing with a bust to where I think it would be a bad bet to chase a 21 because both bets could lose. A losing game is what the casino is trying to lure players into.
    Last edited by Blitzkrieg; February 2nd, 2015 at 04:13 PM.

  11. #11


    Quote Originally Posted by Blitzkrieg View Post
    If I would have seen this lady playing the way she was, I may have sat down and used her as my cover since the casino likes to cater to their special guests.
    Yes, I missed a good opportunity to play under some quality 'shade' but I was just awestruck!
    "The dogs bark but the caravan moves on."
    .....................The Zengrifter Interview (PDF) |
    The Zengrifter / James Grosjean Reputation Debate
    “Truth, like gold, is obtained not by growth, but by washing away all that is not gold.” — Leo Tolstoy........
    "Is everything a conspiracy? No, just the important stuff." ZG

  12. #12


    Quality shade no doubt. If I seen a player pushing to point on all hands in BJ I might have to check out that action for a minute, only to leave the table shaking my head saying, "Wow." Your CPA buddy who's having trouble keeping the count while totaling his hands should have fixed that mental block before he set foot in the casino. He doesn't sound ready to hit the casino. That's a mistake that shouldn't be experienced by a blackjack player while at the table or they don't belong on the table in my opinion. It seems that many newer players have this problem in the beginning because their minds are not in tune with what's going on. It only takes a split second to look at and add up the total face value of 2 cards without doing any mental arithmetic. Then it's just cancellation. What's hard about that?
    Last edited by Blitzkrieg; February 2nd, 2015 at 05:57 PM.

  13. #13

    Default ZG in Blackhawk FINALE

    The final installment and result ...


    BJI Newsletter, May 2015, #184


    Zengrifter has been counting since the 70s, having played several counts. His story is found in ‘The Zengrifter Interview,' an abbreviated version was published in 2003 in Blackjack Insider and the full unexpurgated version at
    Ken Smith's BlackjackInfo.com. He has also figured prominently in many of the Barfarkel trip reports (www.youvegotheat.com), as well as articles and citations by Nathan Tilton, Dan Pronovost, Frank Scoblete and others relating to his unique card counting tactics, including his consolidation betting often referred to as ‘Grifter's Gambit.'

    It had been five weeks since my first visit to Blackhawk and I had only managed to squeeze in barely 20 hours of play during five previous visits, far short of my original goal of up to "60 hours." Part of my limitation was due to the relative small number of playable BJ games - 10 casinos with BJ and maybe 25 tables in all ... and maybe half of those clubs without a two-deck game on the graveyard shift.

    Now I was driving up again with "Big Sandy," a cousin of one of my Denver associates, an aerospace engineer and seemingly high intelligent person with a penchant for casino gambling. As we drove up in Sandy's rental car, Sandy behind the wheel, I checked my emails via my tablet and saw that a couple more questions about my Blackhawk play had come in.

    One querent wanted to know more about the count system I use and what software did I sim my indices with? Actually I did not use a simulation program - I use Zen count with 80+ indices devised by Sam Case two and a half decades ago using the late Peter Griffin's method of ‘algebraic-approximation.' This approach was underscored by a
    paper submitted by Arnold Snyder to the Fifth National Conference on Gambling and Risk (University of Nevada-Reno 1980).

    So why not update the accuracy and precision of my index numbers, given the sheer power of modern BJ simulation software like the QFIT or Deepnet varieties? If anything, I purposely reduced the supposed accuracy of even the Case algebra devised numbers by radically rounding them.

    I have debated this "precision indices" thing many times, my point being that there is really no such thing as a precise departure index. First of all, any given basic strategy departure index, regardless of how many billions of hands were simulated, are nonetheless hugely approximated averages - 12 vs 3 for instance: my per-deck index is +3, but what does that mean? It's an imperfect average of many different indices relating to 12 vs 3 - each different card combination of 12, 10+2, 9+3 or 8+4 has a different index. But wait, two or six decks, also a different index. And finally, different levels of deck penetration at the moment of decision also would require a different index. So in the end all that a high-speed simulation does is calculate all the possible indices for a given hand and then calculate an overall average based on frequency of occurrence. Therefore, for me, the most "accurate" indices are "hand-crafted" using algebra, not computer simulation, and then further rounded for pattern recognition ease and speed of deployment.

    But even my approach could be further simplified for today's games: HiLo level-1 count with 40 indices being more than adequate. Or even a paired down unbalanced running count system would be sufficient in the right hands.

    Another writer had questioned me on a discussion board thread, actually denouncing me as a ‘dinosaur' carry-over from another era. "No real advantage players' count cards anymore ZG," he chided. Actually I disagreed because I know several counters who continue to win the money. Sure, hole-carding BJ is better, at up to three to six times stronger than a good conventional counting game - nice work if you can find it - but hole-carders may spend five hours doing recon for each hour of play. And hole-carding a carnival game like Three Card Poker (TCP) is perhaps only less than 100% stronger than a strong counting game and with greater variance to contend with.

    Big Sandy the aerospace engineer was boasting that he used psychic intuition to win at TCP, or perhaps what he was saying is that when he is winning at TCP he feels quite psychic and intuitive. I tried to explain to him that being lucky and feeling lucky is a chicken-egg consideration and that the mind overlays a gloss of pattern recognition where perhaps none exist.

    Sandy said he didn't like BJ, his games of choice being TCP and roulette, but I gave him a pep talk and a basic strategy chart and explained that he best play BJ and use the chart for every play, and use his "psychic intuition" for deciding when to bet bigger and smaller. He also knew that I was spending some time with him and riding up together because after this one visit to the mining town casinos I needed his players' cards he would apply for. In return he asked only one thing: "Please don't get me in trouble."

    We arrived first at JohnnyZ's in Central City, and after getting his club card, Sandy made a bee-line for the TCP while I went straight to the double-deck game - with double after splits and dealer stand on any 17, the house edge is a scant 0.20% off the top, and with the downward floating house edge the game is zero house edge at the one-deck remaining level. I threw out three hands of $100 off the top, just to get them comfortable with my sudden max bets, and lost all three. The count spiked upwards and I continued with my three max bets all the way to the shuffle point - I needed only a true of +3 per deck near the start of this double decker (a player advantage of +0.50%) and barely +2 at the halfway point.

    Around the third shuffle, the Asian pit boss "TC" swung by and inquired if I had a club card. I told him yes but I would not be using it today - and he asked why not - and I told him that I had come to win money and "not another$2,000 free dinner, thank you!"

    As we spoke, I was dealt 16 vs 7 with a $100 max bet out. Instead of motioning for the hit, I asked the dealer to make change of a greenie and then I told TC that I was going to make a small bet for the dealer even though cards were already in play, and he said that I would not be allowed to do so. I smiled and winked at the dealer and said, "This is bet for you sweetheart." And TC and the dealer for a split second seemed confused and concerned as I placed a nickel alongside my four quarters in apparent defiance of the rules, and then announced, "Double for less," and they both laughed. We lost the hand and TC walked away excited saying, "Double on hard 16, that is a good one sir!"

    I played JohnnyZ's for a good three and a half hours, not wanting to quit stuck as I continued to slip downward, finally ending with a $1,800 loss.

    Next stop was the Monarch, a good double decker when the table isn't filled, which it often isn't in the early part of a weekday. Unlike JohnnyZ's, and Lady Luck across the street, Monarch allows players to increase the number of betting spots during mid-shoe, though the overall penetration was mediocre at about 55%, and a hit soft-seventeen game with double after split - a starting house edge of 0.40%, double that of JohnnyZ's and requiring a true of +4 at the beginning of the pack, and about +2.5 closer to center, for my max bet of three hands of $100.

    At Monarch I used my club card, partly because it seemed to bother management on a previous occasion when I declined. I frequently exited the table on negative counts and I had added a new repertoire: in addition to getting frequent faux calls and texts to "distract" my play, I had since determined that while the casinos of the venue were non-smoking, the DID allow electronic (nicotine) cigarettes. While I certainly could inhale the vapors right at the table I instead used my apparent nicotine cravings as another excuse to politely step away, especially after a lost hand.

    Big Sandy had spent the first two hours at Monarch playing his beloved TCP and roulette and suddenly plopped down at my table. I previously advised him to play at a six-deck table and use the BS chart right at the table, but he wasn't having any. Now he's at my table and betting randomly (or psychically?) from $10 to $100. I discovered he really was somewhat clueless on the play of the hands, and so I reminded him of the chart "he showed me" earlier - he was funny, faced with a hand, like pair of 7s, he would look at his chart, ponder for a moment, and then as many times as not, go against correct basic strategy. Sometimes the smartest people become really dumb inside casinos, but Sandy was enjoying himself and I would be getting all his club cards.

    I played about 2.5 hours at Monarch and was stuck another $1,500 - $3,300 total down for six hours of play today. Sandy wandered back to my table and invited me to have comp lobster buffet with him so I ended my session.

    After the meal, Sandy was heading back to Denver to catch a flight to Chicago, so we quickly made three more stops only to join the reward clubs at Golden Gates, Lady Luck, and The Lodge, and then he and I said our sayonaras and I continued to play at The Lodge. The two double-deck games there have the worst rules (no DAS) but the best penetration overall, some dealers cutting 80%.

    I played The Lodge for another two hours and dropped another $950.

    I was now stuck over $4,200 for the eight hours of play, and my overall Blackhawk (BH) result over 28 hours was a pitiful +$1,100, and this was to be my last visit here for the foreseeable future, my flight home to California was scheduled for the day after tomorrow.

    I headed to the Lady Luck hoping to bounce back, but instead I sunk even lower, another -$600 after another two hours of play at a mostly heads-up game.

    Salohcin texted me, he was at Saratoga and stuck -$1,800 after his poker tournament ended. I went over to his location and saw him seated alone, with two pit bosses intensely hawking his game. Sal had not even believed that there was such a thing as heat from counting and now there he was, the object of intense, unfriendly scrutiny as he muddled through trying to camouflage his play with excessive cover bets and silly comments.

    Sal should have ended his play over an hour ago, we analyzed later, but at the moment I was watching the scene with a chuckle - two bosses with eyes glued on the perp, as it were, and making frequent calls. I decided, it being my last night and all, that I would give Sal the full experience that he apparently was craving, so I approached the table - when he saw me, he broke our protocol and said hello and invited me to join his table. "Don't mind if I do," I chuckled.

    I made no cover bets and jumped my amounts and number of hands with the count aggressively for the next twenty minutes as the two unsmiling pit bosses came to grips with having not one but now two counters at the table, and Sal still trying to throw them off the trail with excessive cover bets and stupid incessant comments.

    Finally it came down, I think they were waiting on approval from the casino manager or something, as one of the bosses sat down at third base and instructed the dealer to stop. He was about to attempt sounding diplomatic as he started, "Look guys we can't ..." I abruptly stood up grabbing my chips in his mid-sentence and gently thrust my open palm out and invited him with a smile to, "Talk to the hand," and walked away while Sal went into inquisitive mode, "Why not, what did I do, I don't understand, yada yada?"

    Several minutes later, I met him on the street and admonished him for over-staying his welcome. He told me okay he now gets it, "Yes Mary, card counting really can get you unwelcome and barred."

    I shared the predicament with Sal - stuck over $4k in ten+ hours of play and running out of time in BH. I was prepared to stay through the next afternoon if necessary, to attempt to stem the receding tide. Sal was heading back to Denver because he had a late morning meeting scheduled, so I had him drop me back at Ameristar where one of his poker buddies had vacated a comped suite that was good through tomorrow noon, and he gave me the keys.

    I was feeling noticeably fatigued and went to the room, a very adequate mini-suite with the obligatory sound system and center-stage round Jacuzzi tub, so I turned on the water and submerged my mind and body for nearly an hour. After that I was really tempted to sleep, but instead I dressed and popped a pill - a non-stimulant cognitive and alertness drug called ‘
    Modafinil' - a new ‘smart-drug' being used by Navy jet pilots on time-extended drills and college kids cramming for finals, without the ‘speedy stimulation' of amphetamines like Adderall. The scientific difference is explained in Wikipedia as "promoting wakeful alertness" - The primary difference between these drugs and amphetamine-like stimulants is that wakefulness-promoting agents specifically trigger activation of neurons in the hypothalamus-based wakefulness circuits, as opposed to producing diffuse neuronal activation."

    In fifteen minutes, I was a new man. I headed down to the Ameristar casino and grabbed a quad-shot espresso Americano at the Starbucks stand and them mozied over to the 12+ open six-deck tables, the best six deckers in town with an 83+% penetration.

    I tried several times over to pick a wong-in spot where I could back-count two tables at once, ala Nathan Tilton, but only twice in four hours did I find two adjacent shuffles commence at about the same time. My overall approach would go like this: wong-in at a true of +3 with two hands of $50 and jump to three hands of $100 at +4. Once in, I would hang as long as I could, dropping to one hand of $25 down to -2 and then grow apparently bored or disenchanted with my table and looking for new promise. I was careful to let the pit critters know when I was on the prowl for a new table and/or get their attention when I was entering a new table - nothing the least bit furtive about my activity, making sure they clocked all my action and movement.

    As we got down to the 1.5 decks level, I could spread to my max 3x $100 at +2.5, and any large bets I won in the final round I would let stand off-the-top of the fresh shuffle, so as to further allay suspicion. As a new shoe would commence, I would hang in until it fell to below -2 and then start walking the pit casually again until I could case another fresh shuffle - wonging-in at +2 and then wonging-out at -2.

    After four hours at Ameristar, a total of 14+ hours of play, I was down another $1,000 and essentially even after more than 40 hours total play in BH over a four week period. I called it a night and went back to the suite for some shut-eye.

    I arose about 10am, my final day, and luxuriated in the Jacuzzi again before popping a second Modafinil and enjoying a steak and eggs room service breakfast while catching up on the CNN news.

    By the time I got to the Lady Luck it was noonish. My results for 90 minutes were encouraging - I jumped up +$1,800 returning back into green territory.

    Departing Lady Luck, I saw an email on my phone from Dr. Eliot Jacobson, asking me if I was in Vegas and to call him "right now!" And I did call him and informed him, no I was in Blackhawk and what's up? He was laughing that he was in LV for a gaming exhibition where he spoke on game protection and that his sister was in town for the first time in decades - so he asked her what she wanted to do, expecting her to say visit the Bellagio fountains or check out the Stratosphere sky deck or maybe ride the giant observation wheel across from Paris ... but no, she, "Wanted to meet Zengrifter!" LOL

    We all spoke for several minutes, Eliot bringing me up to speed on the Phil Ivey controversy at the London Crocker's casino where Ivey had won approximately $8,000,000 using the technique of edge-sorting and then Crocker's cried foul and refused to pay the winnings, claiming Ivey "had cheated." Even though Eliot mostly makes his living consulting for casinos' table games protection, he was consulting on the player's side in the Phil Ivey case. He was even quoted in the Washington Post on this controversy.

    Now back up in total, about $1,900, I walked across the street to Monarch and used Big Sandy's club card and instantly the pit-critters appeared to remember me from the previous day, announcing, "Big Sandy, you're back!" That's right and I'm here to win, I told them, shaking hands as I re-entered the only two-deck table.

    Suddenly, I almost fell off my chair, a dealer who was cutting less than 60% the previous day just cut over 75%, wow! Was it a fluke? No, he did it again and again. And then the next dealer, nearly 80%! Eureka!

    Apparently, the casino just suddenly got enlightened - casinos that deal deep make more money - don't be afraid of the counters - deal deep and increase the profits. It's so elementary to us, that the same games that are good for counters are good for the house. Well now I had the best two-deck game in town - as good a game as I saw 20 years ago in Las Vegas, and not a moment too soon!

    I dove in at a 45 degree angle, relishing my good fortune, though the thought crossed my mind that their experiment with enlightened profit-increasing deep penetration might wind up being short-lived after I got done with them ...

    ... But alas, I played for a solid 4.5 hours and lost a total of $4,500, one thousand dollars per hour of play! At least the new penetration would not be cut short by my greedy aggression.

    It's a paradox, actually - the games that are most theoretically profitable for us are where we see our biggest losses - it's simple actually: those really great games where we increase our bets most frequently, when the variance goes against us we lose even more than might be typical, and so my best game encountered was to be my final Blackhawk play, and my biggest single loss.

    Oh well, if a counter is not expecting the worst, he or she is basically inexperienced and unprepared. Me? I'll return to Denver in 90 days and probably take another run at it. Nothing I'd rather do more, actually.


    Last edited by zengrifter; May 6th, 2015 at 03:50 PM.
    "The dogs bark but the caravan moves on."
    .....................The Zengrifter Interview (PDF) |
    The Zengrifter / James Grosjean Reputation Debate
    “Truth, like gold, is obtained not by growth, but by washing away all that is not gold.” — Leo Tolstoy........
    "Is everything a conspiracy? No, just the important stuff." ZG

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Nov 2006

    Default zman

    Nice report! Keep up the good work.

    "Midwest Masters Of Advantage", "Strength and Honor."

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    In the YO


    The final installment and result ...

    zg "...and then further rounded for pattern recognition ease and speed of deployment."

    zg "... pattern recognition where perhaps none exist."

    VOODOO. Hey! That's my go... and intuitive flashes.

    Nice report, zg, and well written. What a pity you just proved card counting doesn't work. And don't even mention the fabulous long run... because nobody ever gets in it, until you played your 2,000,000th hand this non stop session. Therefore, each of us is condemned to the short run.

    But obviously you are one clever dude who can count two tables at the same time and still... lose.

    cp has been saying for a long time that card counting is not enuff these days. I suggest the time might be ripe for you to have a serious eyeball with him and add shuffle & ace tracking to your 1990's card counting skillz.

    BTW, I thought you'd made your peace with Barry and Michael. This thing below, was spotted hanging around for quite some time above your hotel in Blackhawk... What does it mean?

    Last edited by Katz; May 7th, 2015 at 01:09 AM.

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