I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Darryl Purpose interview

This interview originally appeared in Blackjack Forum in 2003.

The Performer

            Darryl Purpose is a battle-scarred veteran of the Blackjack Wars.  He moved to Las Vegas at 19, and learned just enough about counting cards to lose all his money.  He says, “I was the kind of counter that made Las Vegas.”  He went from sleeping in his car to a job in a boiler room selling pens.  He fell into a familiar pattern in Las Vegas—working a job, and blowing his paycheck.  At the same time he must have been learning something about blackjack.  A year later he was one of the best players on the Ken Uston team, driving down the Las Vegas Strip in a Rolls Royce with thousands of dollars in his pocket.  “Isn’t that why we came?” he says with a smile.
            The last bet Darryl made as part of a Ken Uston team was in December of 1979, yet he says that reputation haunts him to this day.  In Million Dollar Blackjack, Ken named Darryl as one of the four best blackjack players in the world, but playing with Ken, “was not a badge of honor,” says Darryl.  “Still, the reason you want to interview me is because I was part of the Ken Uston team.”
            It’s true.  That is why I wanted to interview Darryl.  But then I heard the stories of what happened after 1979.  Stories that will take you from Moscow to Sri Lanka.  Blackjack tales of the Sicilian Mafia, the Russian Mob, the Japanese Yakuza, and the Tamil Tigers who invented suicide bombing.  Matter-of-fact stories of running over to Caesars Palace to play a hole card because he needed a down payment on a house, or winning a million dollars with Thor, a shuffle-tracking computer.  For Darryl it was just his job.  “My job was to play until they didn’t allow me, and then take the money home.  I really didn’t consider whether it was dangerous.”
            Now Darryl is retired from blackjack.  He hasn’t played a hand in four years.  You wouldn’t know that from the Griffin fliers that continue to pop up claiming a Darryl sighting in Reno, or St. Louis, or New Orleans.  Darryl now does 150 concerts a year as a touring singer/songwriter.  I’ve seen him in concert, and his audience is mesmerized by his tales of traveling the world playing his guitar, and yes, blackjack.  He’s quite funny in concert, and the songs are excellent.  US Air in-flight magazine, Attache, featured Darryl in the August 2003 issue.   They said, “Take Darryl Purpose for example—he has the voice of James Taylor, the brains of Bob Dylan, and the soul of Willie Nelson.” 
You can purchase his CDs or check out his concert calendar at darrylpurpose.com

 RWM: How did you first get interested in blackjack?

Darryl:  My mother put a copy of Beat the Dealer in my Christmas stocking when I was 16.  I was interested in cards and games, and I had a natural talent for math, so it appealed to me.  I’ve since forgiven her.

RWM: You couldn’t play at that age.

Darryl:  Right. I was a little bit lost when I got out of high school, but I signed up for college.  I was a classical guitar major.  My left hand started to hurt for some reason, and they put a splint on it.  I had only one hand to use, so I practiced finger picking.  Then my right hand went.  So there I was a classical guitar major at Cal State Northridge, with splints on both hands.  I dropped out of school, got in my ’62 Chevy, and headed to Vegas.  I had $50, a couple of shirts, and my guitar. 

RWM: Were you 21?

Darryl:  I was 19.  I spent the $50 to get a room for a week downtown.  I wandered around living off the freebies.  I was a regular at Centerfold’s free breakfast, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.  I eventually landed a job selling ballpoint pens in a phone room.  Of course they didn’t pay you right away.  They paid you a commission the following week.  I was on the street for a little while.  Then I was offered a room with two of the guys who worked there.  I lived with a guy who wanted to be Evel Knievel, and another guy who’d come from Wisconsin with photos of the wife and children who died in a traffic accident.  Months later we found out that it was all a lie.  He was just running away, like so many others that end up in Vegas.

RWM: When you say, “on the street,” do you mean sleeping in your car?

Darryl:  Right.  I think my first paycheck was $20.  The next week was $50, and the next week was $200.  I went to the Stardust, and thought I would gamble with $50.  I turned it into $500.  I thought, “This is easy.”

RWM: You had learned to count already?

Darryl:  I had read Thorp’s book.  I was a bad counter like thousands of other people.  I thought I knew something about counting, and I thought that maybe it was enough.  That night I was the kind of counter that made Las Vegas.  From there it was a year and a half of working this phone job, and regularly losing my paycheck.  But each time I lost, I tried to learn more about the game.  I was so immersed in the game of blackjack, I remember having a recurring dream of being chased around by a giant eight of clubs.  I was living week-to-week, and never making any money.  Eventually, I became proficient with Hi-Opt 1.

RWM: Where did you get the Hi-Opt 1? 

Darryl:  That came from a guy I worked with in the boiler room.  His name was Marcus Dalton.  He was the same guy that I heard mention professional teams, and Uston’s team specifically.  The only useful technical information that was available at that time was Revere’s book, and anyone who was serious about blackjack was using the Revere Advanced Point Count.  I was about to learn it when I found out about the Hi-Opt.  Lance Humble had written a paper; it was no more than a few pages, but it had all you needed, including the count, the decision numbers, and the tests that Julian Braun had run to show that it was almost as powerful as the Revere Advanced Point Count.

RWM: What about the High-Low?

Darryl: I don’t know when Stanford Wong’s book came out.  I didn’t read it until years later, but by that time I was already playing professionally.  I wasn’t interested in learning about a count that wasn’t as powerful as the one I was using.  I was learning about how to get the money from people who’d done it in casinos, and from being in the casinos myself.  Also, the High-Low did not include a side count of aces, and we were playing lots of single-deck so we needed that.

[The ace has a dual nature in blackjack.  It should be counted as a high card for the sake of betting, but should be counted as a low card for the playing decisions.  Counts that include a side count of aces aren’t necessary for multiple decks, because very little of the player advantage comes from varying the play of the hand.]

RWM: What year did you get the Hi-Opt 1?

Darryl: Probably 1976.

RWM: How did you go from hearing about professional teams to being a member of one?

Darryl: I loved playing graveyard downtown during that time.  They were generally pretty cool about small stakes counters.  Steve Wynn would be on the floor at the Golden Nugget.  He could count down a deck himself, and he would talk to you about it.  He’d let me go one to four in dollars on the single deck. 
One day I was playing my one to four in dollars at the Horseshoe, and I noticed this guy at my table playing one to four in nickels.  He seemed to be counting, but wasn’t matching my betting exactly.  At some point we were in an ace-rich deck, and he made a play that told me he didn’t know that we were ace-rich more than ten-rich.  Maybe he took insurance.  I followed him into the Fremont coffee shop.  I said, “Don’t you think you should be counting aces on a single deck?”  He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  I told him, “I’m a card counter too.  I count the Hi-Opt 1 with a side of aces.”  That player was a guy named Art, and we became friends.  He lived in Berkeley at 21 Channing Street.  He would say, “My age is 21.  My address is 21.  And my profession is 21.”
Art and I formed a little team with a $2,000 bankroll.  We ran around playing single-deck betting up to $20.  I was losing, and Art was winning, but overall we were down.  It was all Art’s money, but it was not fun.  
You know the problem with blackjack?  It is that the bankrolls that are no fun drag on forever.  The good bankrolls are over quickly.  That just came to me now.  You spend most of your career down. 
Although I had only heard of professional teams, Art had met a guy in the Bay Area who was one of the big players on the Ken Uston team.   One day Art told me that the best BP from the Ken Uston team was living in the same apartment complex as me.  It was a crummy little complex called Enchanted Gardens.  I went around the corner, and knocked on this guy’s door.  I said, “Hi, I’m Darryl.  I’m your neighbor, and I play blackjack.”  His name was Ron Karr.  He was a nice guy, and he invited me in.  I was asking him about cheating, because we were losing and didn’t understand why.  He gave me advice, and I went on my way.  A week later I knocked on the door a second time.  Of course I had some questions, and he offered me a job.  He offered me $25 per shift to count down decks, and call in the big player.  I pulled Art into that also.  So we counted down decks for players on Ron’s team.  I called my mother, and said “Mom, I’m a professional blackjack player.”

RWM: Ron was not playing with Ken at this point?

Darryl: No, he had split from Ken.  It didn’t take too many plays to be barred for the first time.  It was at the Marina in Vegas.  [The Marina was at located where the MGM sits today.]  We had just started, and this pit boss came up and pointed at me.  He said, “You,” then he pointed at Art, “And you,” and he pointed to the BP, “And you.  If you guys don’t want to end up in the desert, you get out of here right now, and don’t come back.”  That was exciting, so I called my Mom again and said, “Mom, it works.”  
At some point during that time I quit my job selling pens, and that was the last real job I had.  What was happening with this team at the time was, they were trying to make a little money while they worked on a shuffle-tracking computer.  We didn’t know about the computer, but the development was going slowly and badly.  So at one point one of the players wanted to put up $10,000 to form a counting team to bet up to $100.  He invited me and Art to be part of that.  There were six of us.   I wasn’t even 21 yet, and I remember thinking, “bet $100!”  My apartment was $200 a month, and I had been making $200 a week before taxes.  The idea of walking into a casino and betting $100 blew me away.  I was very nervous.  We were going to play single-deck, one to four in quarters.  I guess I got over the nervousness pretty fast.  We won some money, and they raised the top bet to $200.  That was too much.  I thought I would have to quit, and go back to Los Angeles.  I was just too nervous, but somehow I got over it.  That team ended winning about $60,000 which was a great win back then, especially considering we started with a $10,000 bank.   I’d won about $25,000 of that.
In your book, Gambling Wizards, Tommy Hyland points out that while there were a few books on counting cards, there wasn’t any real instruction on how to actually do it—how to walk into a casino and get the money.  This was even more true when I was starting.
At some point we got invited to this big meeting with Ron.  It was all very dramatic, and they revealed that they were working on a shuffle-tracking computer.  Art and I were invited to be part of that team.  The way they were going to split the money was different from all the investor/player things we had done before.  It had always been very simple and clear.  Half the money went to the investors, and half went to the players.  That is how it was in my career for a long time.  What this team was suggesting was that everyone was assigned a percentage based on their importance to the team, and how long they had been involved.  Down at the bottom of the list were Art and me who would each get a small percentage of the win.  It was a generous offer.  We were nobody.  Why would they even want to include us? 

RWM: But you were going to have to put in hours.

Darryl: To earn the percentage?  No, it was going to be divided largely according to longevity on the team, and time and talent spent on R&D.  Art and I were good counters, but we were 20 and 21 at that point.  At the end of this meeting one of the players said, “You have another option.  I happen to know that Ken Uston’s team is looking for players.  You can try out for them, or you can stay here with the shuffle-tracking computer team.”  True to our personalities, Art picked the computer team, and I picked the Ken Uston team.  I think I was always meant for the stage.  With apologies to all the blackjack players out there, I was totally star-struck at the idea of being on the Uston team.  I wanted the glory of being on that stage.  I know when this gets printed I’ll never have another job in blackjack, but I think that’s okay with me. 

RWM: Did that computer ever come into existence?

Darryl: No.  So I made the right decision as it turned out.

RWM: So, now you must go meet “the great Ken Uston.”

Darryl: Exactly.  He was already the world’s most famous blackjack player.  Of course that was because none of the real blackjack players want to be famous.  That didn’t matter to me.  I was totally in awe of him.  It was like hearing that Stevie Wonder needed a player in his band, and getting an audition.  I counted really well at the time.  I quickly made my place on the team because I tested so well.

RWM: Tell me about the first meeting.

Darryl: I might have just met his partner Bill first.  I don’t know about the best blackjack player in the world, but if I had to pick one guy who could get the money from a casino, Bill might be that guy.  Just a few years before this, Bill had won a casino in France.  [This is the same “Bill” that Al Francesco spoke so highly of in his interview.]

RMW: He won a casino?

Darryl: Yeah, the owner just didn’t believe that counting cards worked, and he let Bill play.  Finally, he signed the casino over to Bill.  Ken was more of a figurehead, and Bill was running the team.  They were operating out of the Jockey Club, and the stories of Ken and the Jockey Club were mythic.  All the debauchery and excellent card playing combined in this mysterious scene full of shag carpeting.  I got to the Jockey Club, and it was just as advertised.

RWM: Debauchery and card playing?

Darryl: Drugs, women, and really good card counting.  It was all new to me.  I was so young, and green, not just in blackjack but in life experience.

RWM: Drugs and gambling sound like a dangerous mix.

Darryl: Although there were a lot of drugs and alcohol around, we had strict rules about not mixing them with playing.  I never drank, and didn’t do many drugs either.  But when I was taking the money off I would often order a gin and tonic, take it to the bathroom and pour it out in the sink, and replace it with water.  In Atlantic City just before the second no-barring period we thought we should go a step further.  We brought in a play-caller for me, so I could actually drink.  I ordered and drank four gin and tonics before the first one hit me.  I don’t remember what happened, but I hear I was a very funny drunk.

RWM: Do you remember what your test was?

Darryl:  It’s not clear in my mind, but I’m sure it was counting down shoes.  Also, they would flash hands at you on a slide projector, and you had to tell them the index numbers.  Then they would deal hands to you, and check the cards left at the end of the shoe.  They were looking for people to call plays for a big player.   That began my training for calling plays.  I’ve probably called more plays than I have played myself.  I don’t think I called plays for Ken as a BP because he was already too hot.  Ken and Bill were running the team, but we had other BPs.
            The BPs were always people who looked like they should be betting a lot of money at the blackjack tables.  Trying to look like high rollers as young twenty-somethings was comical at best.  We tried to dress up, but we weren’t very good at it.  We’d buy an expensive pair of shoes, but there was always something a little off.  We wished we were older, or Chinese or something.  The BPs solved that problem.  I even turned out my mother as a BP later in my career.  What a relief it was not to have to bet the money myself, and Bill started calling me Chunk because of my proclivity to have the BPs “chunk” the money out there.
            The downside of this was that they sent me out on my first plays into incredibly steamy situations with BPs that were already very hot.  I was barred right away, and they knew I was part of the Ken Uston team.  Within weeks I was completely Griffinized for life.  My picture was in most casinos in the world before I’d turned 22.

RWM: Did you have any hard barrings?

Darryl: I had a wide variety of barrings.  There was a time in Monte Carlo—I took my friend Kim with me.  It was our first date.   She was afraid that we might be pulled up, but I told her, “Don’t worry.  They’ll just tell us we’re too strong for them, and ask us not to play.”  Sure enough, I sensed that something was coming down, and we tried to get out of the casino.  This guy came running up to us, and in a severe French accent said, “Excuse me sir, but we will ask you not to play blackjack here again. You are too strong for us.”  He’d used the exact words I had.  For the rest of that trip Kim was flexing her biceps and saying, “We’re too strong!”  They invited us to stay at the hotel—full comp.  Of course I didn’t tell her about the time at the Dunes that I’d been pulled into the back room by the same security guard who beat up Mark Estes at the Hilton.  He sat there with a pair of pliers, and we talked about Mark, and old times. 

RWM: Did he threaten you with the pliers?

Darryl: It was an implied threat.  He was sitting at his desk in an office.  There was no reason for him to have a pair of pliers.  He was trying to talk me out of some money.  Eventually I was arrested for disturbing the peace, but they dropped the charges.

RWM: Did you call your Mom?

Darryl:  No.  At that point it wasn’t fun anymore.  The difference between playing music and playing blackjack is that when you get good at music, they ask you to come back. When you get good at blackjack...  It’s very wearing psychically to constantly be treated as persona non grata.
            One time I was calling plays on the single-deck at Caesars.  I was betting quarters while the BP was betting thousands on the other side of the table.  At some point I heard the pit boss say, “Oh, there’s Purpose.  He must have lost his bankroll.  He’s down to betting quarters.”  They never caught on.  Caesars at that time had a no-barring policy.  They were the classy joint back then.

RWM: I’ve read that you were the fastest counter on the team.

Darryl: I got really good at counting down decks.  Part of it was smoke and mirrors, and didn’t translate into play on the table.  I got to a point where it was really about how quickly you could spread the cards.  Someone would say “go” with a stopwatch, and I’d spread the cards.  I’d be looking at many cards at a time.  I’d look at the last group of cards and say, “stop,” and fold the deck up in one big motion.  What they didn’t know was I was still counting because I had taken a mental picture of the last quarter of the deck.  I could regularly count a single-deck in 10 seconds.

RWM: Weren’t there races or contests with substantial money bet?

Darryl: There was one legendary contest between the West Coasters, and the East Coasters.  This was shortly after the Atlantic City no-barring period.  We were in Las Vegas.  One of the East Coast guys had brought in a ringer.  Although this guy never did that well in a casino, he could really count down a deck, especially six decks.  We had an all-night session, and we had bet a lot of money on this.  I was the reigning deck-counting champion, and Joe was the ringer newbie.

RWM: When you say you bet a lot of money, are we talking thousands?

Darryl: Yeah.  Of course our pride was more important than the money.  We’d been talking about it for weeks, and one morning about 4 a.m. we did it.  It was a best two out of three, counting down six decks.  We were counting Hi-Opt 1 with a side count of aces. We counted down the exact same shoe, and we didn’t reveal to the person going second how the first person had done.  I counted first, and I was slow.  I forget the exact time, but it was well over a minute.  I also counted 28 aces.  Yikes!  Craig had bet a lot of money on me, and as Joe was counting down his first shoe, I pulled Craig aside and said, “I got 28 aces.”  Craig figured he’s just pissed away a few thousand dollars.  Sure enough Joe beat me.

RWM: Didn’t you have to give a count?

Darryl: I gave a count, which was right, and I said there were no aces left.  I didn’t tell them what I actually counted.  I told them what I thought was left.

RWM: How many cards were they holding out?

Darryl: It was six decks so they would take out six cards.  The second round I count 26 aces, and again my time was really bad.  I went to Craig and said, “There are seven decks there.”  Joe was counting the same decks.  He was getting the wrong ace count, but he wasn’t admitting it to anyone.  Going into the third round I knew there were seven decks.  I knew why the times were slow, so I wasn’t trying to push it.   I won the last round because I had the correct count, and he was off by one because he was rushing so much.   We finished, and we were celebrating.  I turned to Joe and said, “Joe, how many decks are there?”  Joe said, “That’s it!  There are seven decks there!”  It was quite funny.  To this day they think we put that extra deck in there.

RWM: When you started with Ken, was he still using hidden computers?

Darryl: I came in right as the computer project using George ended.  [George was the first blackjack computer developed by Keith Taft.   Some of the details of his teaming with Ken Uston were discussed in my interview with Al Francesco]  When I first joined we had BPs, and we just called plays for them.  They had just come up with this idea where they would have the BP signal his hand to the play-caller by the way he held his cards.  Not only were we required to count the cards, tell the BP how much to bet, and bet and play our own hand, but we had to read the signal from the BP, then signal back to him how to play his hand. We were also sometimes reading a first-baser as well.  As it turned out, I was the only one on the team who was able to do this without major communication errors.  They tossed the idea fairly quickly.

RWM: Why not have the BP just show you his cards?

Darryl: There was some heat on that, so they thought signaling was a better idea.  Basically, all the counters started making a ton of mistakes.  We weren’t winning any money, and they stopped that idea and got rid of all the counters except for me.  One of the people fired from that team was Howard Grossman.

RWM: Howard now sells his services to the casinos as a counter catcher.

Darryl: He has for a long, long time.  I think he pulled me up in casinos for years.  He was bitter at Ken, and so he may have been bitter at me as well.  I haven’t had a conversation with him in about 25 years.

RWM: Why was he bitter?

Darryl: I think he disliked Ken, as a lot of blackjack players did.  Certainly anyone who wasn’t willing to overlook Ken’s gratuitous self-aggrandizement ended up clashing with Ken.

RWM: Why would that make him mad at you?

Darryl: I don’t know that he was mad at me, but I was an easy target.  I had a look that I couldn’t disguise well.  The fact that I was a member of the Uston team made me a good catch.  He could show off to the casinos by nailing me more so than some guy who didn’t have an association with Ken. 
Craig joined in August of ‘78, which was right after this mass firing.  Craig and I were partners for most of my blackjack career, and he is the guy I most valued working with.  They decided to do things differently, and it was basically a sham business model they came up with.  Ken got big players who were willing to put up money.  Ken, and his book, The Big Player, impressed them.  He had this team of expert counters.  We would call plays for these big players, and then split the money 50-50 at the end of every trip.  One of the BPs that won a lot of money rented a Rolls Royce.  He gave us the Rolls for the last week of the rental.   It was 1977; I was 21 years old and driving around Las Vegas in a Rolls Royce with thousands of dollars in my pocket.  Isn’t that why we came?

RWM: This is a pretty sweet deal for you guys.  You take no loss but get half the win?

Darryl: My excuse for all this was I was 21 years old.  What did I know?   This was how I split from Ken the first time.  There was one BP who lost money on a trip, and he talked Ken into carrying the loss over onto the next trip.  Bill was really running the team at that point.  Bill went for that for a couple trips, but we ended up stuck.  At that point Bill said, “That’s it.  We aren’t going to work with you anymore.”

RWM: Because he didn’t want to make up the loss?

Darryl: Right.  In fact, the deal was that it was per trip and Bill had gone much further than the original deal called for.  Of course the deal he had cut in the first place was completely bogus for the BP.  [See Beyond Counting, pages 59-60.]   At that point Craig and I said to the BP, “We’ll make your money back for you.  And we’ll make 50% after that.”  We got them even and that’s when we first started using a strategy of betting half of what we were up.  Many of our plays were first-basers, so you had an edge all the time.  We made some good scores that way.  [A first-baser is a dealer who reveals his hole card when checking under a ten or ace for blackjack.  Casinos stopped checking under tens in the mid ‘80s because of advantage players exploiting this weakness.]
Craig and I decided to buy a condo from a friend.  We had to come up with $20,000 as a down payment.  We needed the money on a Monday, and come Saturday night we had about $1,500 each.  We hadn’t really played on our own.  We had only worked with teams.  “Where can we get $20,000?”  It occurred to both of us, “Let’s go play a first-baser at Caesars.”  There was a problem because Craig had been calling plays there a lot, and one of us had to BP.  Craig went out and got a dark wig, and a pair of glasses.  He came over to a friend’s house where I was staying.  He knocked on the door, and our friend let him in.  I said, “Hi, I’m Darryl.”  I did not recognize him.  We went out and won the down payment.
Later Craig and I were running our own teams, and doing more sophisticated things than we’d been doing with Ken.  We realized that it was only a matter of time before one of us would break the record for the largest single session win by a professional blackjack player.  As far as we knew, the record belonged to Bill.  He was being called into shoes at the Dessert Inn on one of Ken’s old teams, and he won $67,000.  Although we considered ourselves all about getting the money, we weren’t above a goofy thing like wanting to set a new record.  Val had set up on a first-baser downtown at the Sundowner.  He called Craig into the game, and before he’d played five hands they pulled the dealer.  Craig decided he needed to lay down some cover, so it wasn’t obvious that he wanted to play only against the one dealer.  He ordered a scotch and soda, downed it, then ordered another.  He would bet two hands of $2,000 until he lost two hands in a row.  Six scotch and sodas later, with no first-baser, no count, and no edge, he walked away with $78,000, breaking the record for the largest win by any BJ player we knew.
            At one point we brought Art in to BP for us.  Art had gone back to school at this point.  When we were working with these BPs our policy was to bet $200 and half of what we were winning.  We wanted to do this now with our own money.  In the past it was the BP’s money.  So Craig, Pat, Art and I went to play first-basers for a weekend at the MGM in Reno.  Art was going to BP, and the other three of us were going to read.  Each play required two readers, because the dealer would work 20 minutes at one table, 20 minutes at a second table, and then take a 20-minute break.  We needed a reader camped at each table, and Art would jump back and forth following the dealer.  [The “reader” is the person who spots the hole card, and then relays that information to the BP.]  We each put in $2,500 so we had a $10,000 bank.  Until this point Art was very systematic, scientific, and conservative about the whole thing.  We had to remind him that we wanted to really bet it up.  Going into the very last play we were even.  I wasn’t going to be reading the last session, but I went by the game to see how it was going.  Art was betting five hands of the limit, which was $1,000.  He won $40,000 on that play.  I think this was the weekend where Art really found himself, because he later went on to set new standards for betting with both hands.

RWM: When did you get back together with Ken?

Darryl: Ken called and told me about the first no-barring period in Atlantic City.  I’m really drawn to colorful people, and Ken had a lot of charm.  He called and said, “Come to Atlantic City.  There’s a game here.”   I went and joined the team.  This was the team he wrote about in Two Books on Blackjack.
I was out there for two weeks.  I think we met in the Philadelphia airport.  I met Ron, my neighbor from the Enchanted Gardens, and Mark Estes.  Mark was a professional bowler, and was most notable in the blackjack world for being beaten up by a security guard at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1977.  That was a big deal because they hadn’t gotten physical with card counters (that we knew of) before that.  We were all college dropouts who were good at math.  We were not tough guys in any way. [Mark Estes successfully sued the Hilton.] 
We went to Atlantic City together from the airport.  We stayed in a crummy little $23 per night motel.  I was 22 years old and sharing a hotel room with Ken Uston and Ron Karr.  These guys were like the Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio of my life.  I was on a rollaway, and they had their own beds.  I was very much in awe of these guys. 
            Ken was trying to come up with $25,000 as a bankroll.   The world’s most famous blackjack player, and here he was trying to scrounge together a bankroll.

RWM: Why was there no bankroll?

Darryl: I didn’t have any money.  Mark and Ron didn’t have any money.  In the book Ken claims his money was all invested in this and that.  The fact was that I never put any of the talent that I had to squeeze every last hundredth of a percentage point out of a blackjack game, into my personal finances.  I made a lot of money, and pissed it away.   Craig and I once figured out that we were each spending $30,000 a year on eating in restaurants.   When I got into music I had less than nothing to lose.  Unfortunately I didn’t learn how to handle my personal finances until I was a folk singer.  Now I have a credit card and an IRA.

RWM: Was it just the four of you, or were there more on the team?

Darryl: There were others.  There was a guy in Philadelphia who had told Ken the no-barring policy was coming.  He had a full-time job in Philadelphia, and was a part-time counter.    Ken needed to believe that our team members were better than anyone else was.  A lot of the team still used the Revere Advanced Point Count.  It was a three-level count, and everyone believed that using this stronger count was a lot better than any one-level count could be.  There was an elite sense of what it took to win at card counting.  Over the years this was revealed to be false.  Now everybody uses the simplest count, the High-Low.  Anyway, this guy wasn’t testing that well, and someone had seen him make some mistakes.  We were having a meeting in the hotel room, and considering whether or not to let him play on the team.  Ken and Ron decided they needed to talk in private, so they went into the closet.  Then they called me in, and then Mark went in the closet.  At some point the entire team was in the closet, and he was in the room with the entire bankroll spread out on the bed in cash.  We all started laughing, and that was bad.  We’re discussing his fate and he hears us all laughing.  [In Two Books on Blackjack Uston relates this story of the closet on page 42.  He calls the player “Ty.”]

RWM: Did he end up staying, or being voted out?

Darryl: He was voted off that bank, but then we made a bankroll and he was allowed to play on the next one.  He had some restrictions on his earnings.  I forget exactly, but I think it was based on him winning.  Eventually he was brought back in, and did win some money.  All along he was allowed to invest in the bankroll. 

RWM: Sure, you guys needed the cash.

Darryl: Well, at some point Ken hooked up with Peter.  I may have been the one to introduce them.  I had met Peter in Las Vegas through the Czechs, and I had run into Peter in Europe in 1978.  Now there was a match made in hell.  Those guys had polar opposite ways of doing everything.  I was caught in the middle. [Cathy Hulbert talks about this bankroll in Atlantic City in the book Gambling Wizards.]
            By the way, I read what Cathy said about this bank in Gambling Wizards.  I think that while it’s true that Ken didn’t want her to play because she was a woman, it was probably more true that he was concerned about the power balance.  He needed to have control or he couldn’t be successful.  It was a bit of a shell game he was pulling on everybody in terms of being the best blackjack player, etc.  It was just not real.  We had some power structure on the team that was somewhat democracy, and some dictatorship, but it was a manipulated dictatorship.   I think if Cathy were a player, to the extent we were democratic, Cathy would have had a voice.  Then Peter and Cathy’s voices together, well … Peter’s voice alone really threatened Ken.  They had incredible clashes.

RWM: What were the arguments over?

Darryl: Anything.  Peter liked to do things by the book.  When you went to dinner with Peter he would break the bill down to the penny.  He thought nothing of getting change for that nickel.  He insisted on it.  That couldn’t have been farther from the way Ken did things.  They both wanted to be in control, but they couldn’t.  They both saw an advantage to working together to build a larger bankroll, and bet more money.  I wonder what was in it for Peter really?  For Ken it really was about not having any cash.

RWM: In Two Books on Blackjack there was a big rivalry with the Czech team.  Was there real competition there?

Darryl: Oh yeah.  It was a friendly rivalry for the most part.  In Two Books on Blackjack he talks about a four o’clock meeting that he called with the heads of all the teams.  That may be true, but there were a lot of other things going on that didn’t involve him in such a pivotal way.  He doesn’t mention any of those other things.  The thing I loved about the Czechs at that time was, whenever someone made some large bet, the dealers would call out, “Checks play.”  It was hilarious.
            It was on this bank that I won my first 15 sessions, which pretty much puts to rest all the argument of, who is the best blackjack player in the world.  [laughing]

RWM: You said this bank lasted two weeks.

Darryl: Yeah.

RWM: What was your payday?  Did you make a bunch of money?

Darryl: It says in the book I made $11,000.  I can’t argue with that since I don’t remember.

RWM: After Atlantic City did you and Ken play hole cards?

Darryl: I don’t think Ken ever got into hole cards.

RWM: He talks about it in his book.

Darryl: Bill had played some front loaders, but Ken didn’t really get into it.  He also didn’t believe in shuffle tracking. You start to believe that you’re something special, and you get closed to new ideas.  I think that’s what was going on with Ken.  I’ve been talking to a screenwriter in Hollywood who is interested in doing a screenplay, partly on blackjack, and partly on the story of my life.  It has made me reread Two Books on Blackjack, and I just read Million Dollar Blackjack for the first time.
One of the most amazing things I discovered in reading these books is that, the fact that I played with the Ken Uston team, and that I was a friend of his, has colored my entire blackjack existence.  The last time I placed a bet as a member of a Ken Uston team was December of 1979.  Yet it is a huge part of my blackjack identity. 
            Ken and I were friends, as much as someone could be a friend with Ken.  He was alternately inspirational or maddening, but always interesting to hang out with.  He was in a constant battle with chemical dependency.  When you dug beneath the hype, he was a likable, vulnerable, and terribly unhappy guy.  One of my most vivid memories is of seeing him in Reno the day after a security guard had sent him to the hospital with broken bones in his face.  Boy he looked bad.  Later he wondered whether having his face rearranged like that was going to be a problem when he got older.  But he died of a heroin overdose in Paris a few years later, so I guess he needn’t have worried.  I did care about him, but I also spent most of my life trying to live down the heat I got being on his team.  I wanted to prove that I could do better than Ken’s teams.  And in fact we did a lot of innovative and interesting things after I placed my last bet as a member of his team. Still, the reason you want to interview me is because I was part of the Ken Uston team. Ken Uston is still the world’s most famous blackjack player.
 What most people think is history is not what happened.  Reading these books it is so clear.  I had never read Million Dollar Blackjack, even though I knew I was in the book.  At the time I was trying to distance myself from Ken for a lot of reasons.  I started reading it, and he was saying that blackjack is the only game where you use your skill to change the odds.  Then he goes on to explain some other concepts in a way that is very clear, especially for a non-player.  I’m thinking, “Yeah, this is really solid.  I guess this is a good blackjack book.”  But the best lies have a large element of truth to them.  He starts talking about the history of blackjack, and he mentions the paper in 1956.  Then he starts talking about Revere, and the Advanced Point Count, and I was thinking, “Wow, this is really comprehensive.”  Then boom, he leaves out Stanford Wong, and the High-Low completely, and inserts Stanley Roberts into the history of blackjack counts, and how they developed.  I was amazed.   It was so well written it almost fooled me.  He left out the 1959 Dubner paper, and he left out Wong’s book.  As far as I know, most professional blackjack players consider themselves counters of the “Wong High-Low.”
Before that I was reading the story of what he calls Team Six.  This was the second no-barring period in Atlantic City in December 1979, and the few months leading up to it. At that time I was living with Ken in a small studio apartment on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.  This place was no bigger than most people’s kitchens.  It had two Murphy beds, and we ran a team out of this place, and lived there for months.  In the book he was talking about the Casino Commission, and all the work that he was doing to try to make everyone happy—as if it mattered.  Nobody was interested in a game where skilled players could play alongside bad players, and everyone including the casinos would be happy.  In the book he’s trying to create this, and it very much colors the whole story.  I read about the team, and I read about how we had these big wins in the beginning.  I remembered it so well.  With the early surrender we had a slight edge off the top.  We were betting half Kelly.  Our bankroll got so big that we were able to bet table max, $1,000, off the top.  Then he starts talking about how the casinos were over-reporting counters’ wins, and how all that played out.  Then he said that we thought about under-reporting our wins, but then decided against it.  He goes on to say that we lost most of our money, and people began to drift away even before the barrings were allowed again.  The game wasn’t that good anymore because they were dealing only half a shoe.  He says we ended up breaking even.  I was reading this thinking, “God, I thought we won a lot of money.”  Then I realized—he made all that up!  Of course we won a lot of money.  I think we won almost a million dollars.
            I think Ken learned some lessons from Two Books on Blackjack, because Million Dollar Blackjack is much better written.  The self-aggrandizement in Two Books on Blackjack is so on his sleeve.  It makes it a horribly written book, and I cringed when I read it.  At one point I thought I couldn’t finish it.  He’s certainly no Arnold Snyder.

RWM: After the first Atlantic City trip, did you go back to Vegas?

Darryl:  I went back to playing with Craig in Vegas.  I was only gone for two weeks.  I think we went to Aruba in April of that year.  They had early surrender, and it was another counter convention.  It’s the first time I really got into shuffle tracking.  I guess I got the concept from the failed computer team, but that’s the first time I remember putting it into action. 
We were holding out our chips because we didn’t want them to know how much we had won.  At some point they changed the chips, and announced that if you didn’t cash the old chips in the next 24 hours you wouldn’t be able to.  The heat was coming down.  Craig was the guinea pig to go cash out the chips.  He got the cash, and came back to the room.  I was in the bathtub.  He said, “Darryl, we have to go now.”  He just told me this story recently.  He said I got out of the bathtub, did not dry off, and threw on my clothes.  We grabbed my guitar and our suitcases, and took the elevator down to the basement.  We walked out to the beach, down the beach half a mile, and caught a taxi to the airport.  Two months later I ran into a guy who was there when that happened.  He said, “Where were you guys?  The security guards were looking all over the island for you.”

RWM: I remember hearing that Ken threw people off the team for attempting to shuffle track.

Darryl:  That was the second trip to Atlantic City.  We had a player named Q who had some radical ideas about tracking new decks.  In retrospect he may have been on to something.  Ken never really came around to shuffle tracking that I know of.  Art was a slow convert as well.  Even Bill would talk about cutting the big cards before the joker or the little cards to the top of the shoe, but was uncomfortable with cutting the big cards to the top and betting it. They just didn’t believe it was the same as counting down a deck, and knowing exactly what was left.
In Million Dollar Blackjack there was one style of play that was notable for its inclusion, and one notable for its absence.  Front loading was notable for its inclusion.  Nobody had really talked about it to the extent that Ken did in that book.  That made a lot of people unhappy.  The thing he left out was shuffle tracking, mainly because he completely missed the boat.  Although he tried to make friends later for that, saying, “I didn’t put shuffle tracking into the book.”  Like, “I can be trusted.”  Thanks, Ken.

RWM: How long before the phone call came to go back to Atlantic City?

Darryl: August ’79.  That was when I had the little apartment with him on the boardwalk.  We played some blackjack, trained some people, and ran the team out of there. 

RWM: How long were you there this time?

Darryl:  I would say from August to December.  It was during this time that I made a bet with Ken.  I was trying to lose weight, and he was trying to stop drinking.  I bet I could go longer without eating than he could without drinking alcohol.  The first one to break the fast would lose.  Given that you need food to live, you can see how difficult Ken’s problem was—that we would consider this to be an even proposition.

RWM: Who won?

Darryl:  I did.  I think he lasted four or five days.

RWM: Was this the same group of guys on this team, minus Peter?

Darryl:  No, it was a different set of guys.  We invited everyone out.  I invited my uncle. We trained a guy named Jack from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  He made enough money to go back and buy the pool hall he had been playing in his whole life.  I think Ron was there, but Mark wasn’t.  Craig and Matt came.  We remembered how we won like pigs in January.  We were going to be ready for December 1st.   When December 1st came we had a large group of experienced guys, and a good-sized bankroll.  It was at least $100,000, which was good sized for that time.  We won a ton of money.

RWM: Do you remember how much?

Darryl: I think almost a million, but Ken lied in the book so we may never know.  I think it lasted nine days.

RWM: I heard that although you won a ton of money, you somehow managed to lose three cars.

Darryl: You know, you work hard, you give up your early twenties to be one of the very best blackjack players in the world, and what do they remember you for?

RWM: Is it true?

Darryl:  Well, it was over a five-month period.

RWM: Oh, well if you are losing less than one car a month, that isn’t bad.  How exactly did that happen?

Darryl:  Remembering how that happened would require the same brain cells that would have prevented it from happening.  I do remember one situation.  There were two casinos open at the time.  Caesars had opened in addition to Resorts International.  These were the only casinos in the United States outside Nevada.  I had a safety deposit box at Resorts, but I wanted to play at Caesars.  I pulled up to the door because it didn’t look like there was any place to park.  It was really cold there, so I just left the car running with the heater on.  I went in to get my money, and I thought as I went in that I would go check the game.  I went around, and sure enough there was an empty table in the high limit pit.  The high limit pit generally had fewer decks and a better game.  I sat down to play, and ended up staying there for eight hours.  I went out and got a taxi back to the apartment, which was team headquarters.  At some point someone said, “Where is the car?”  I didn’t even think about it.  Then someone said, “Didn’t you take the car this morning, Darryl?”  “Oh, that’s right.”  It turned out the valet had it. 

RWM: Were all three of the cars recovered?  The three you lost?

Darryl:  I don’t think I lost any cars for good.  That would be irresponsible.  [laughing]

RWM: When the no-barring policy ended, they went to the three-step barring policy.  After the third step people were getting arrested for trespassing.  Did you suffer many of these arrests?

Darryl:  No.  I think I left before that.  At some point I came back to Caesars, and for one of the very few times in my life I gambled.  I decided to blow $500.  I went to the craps table, and bet $100 on the pass line and took odds.  I turned the $500 into $1,000 and went to the baccarat table.  I bet $500 per hand, and kept betting more as I won.  They all knew that I was Darryl Purpose, professional card counter.  They also knew that professional card counters don’t play baccarat or any other game unless they have an edge.  It drove them nuts.  I won 13 consecutive hands in baccarat.  My last hand I lost some large bet and said, “Thank you very much,” and walked with $20,000.

RWM: They are probably still studying those tapes trying to figure out what you were doing.

Darryl: They probably are.  But they had never barred me.  Some time later I was back in the club.  They asked me to leave, and I said, “No, you can’t ask me to leave.  The rules say you must first ask the person not to play blackjack.  If they play, then you can ask them to leave.”  We disagreed over this, and they carried me out.

RWM: You’re a big guy.  How many of them did it take to carry you out?

Darryl:  One on each limb.  It was a passive resistance on my part.

RWM: Sort of like lying down at the Nevada nuclear test site?

Darryl:  Exactly.  It was all training for my future anti-war activism. 

RWM: You lay down, and they picked you up and carried you through the casino.

Darryl:  I didn’t lie down.  I was standing.  Two guys grabbed my arms, and two guys picked up my feet.

RWM: Was anyone saying anything as they carried you through the casino?  Or was this just a normal day in Atlantic City? 

Darryl:  You know how oblivious people are in the casino.  It would take a lot more than that to get a gambler’s attention. 

RWM: What did they do once they got you out the door?

Darryl:  They dropped me on the sidewalk.

RWM: You were injured from this, right?

Darryl:  Yeah, I hurt my shoulder.  

RWM: You did sue, and win.  How much was the settlement, or are you barred from saying?

Darryl:  I did win, but I can’t say.

RWM: You’re a singer/songwriter now, and music was a big part of Ken’s life.  Did you play music together?

Darryl:  No.  It’s funny, before he wrote Two Books on Blackjack he asked me what he should say about what I was going to do with my life.  The book says something like, Darryl went back to living in Los Angeles, bought a small house there, and is doing shows in some small clubs around the L.A. area.   I read that and was thinking, “God, I started performing way back then.  I guess so, but I sure don’t remember that.”  Days later I remembered I had asked him to put that in there because if some casino people or Griffin agents figured out that Jack Baker in the book was Darryl Purpose, I didn’t want them to know I was still playing blackjack.  It’s funny how that foreshadowed what actually happened.  Some years later, in the early ’90s I did move to LA and start playing at small clubs.  Then about 1996 I recorded a CD and began to tour nationally. 
I remember telling Ken that I wasn’t a big fan of jazz, but appreciated the skill of some players.  In the book that became, “Darryl likes to hear Ken play, but admits that jazz is much more difficult to play than other music.”  We never did any music together.  I’m a rock-and-roll guy, and he was a jazz guy.

RWM: What kind of testing did you guys have for that team in Atlantic City?

Darryl: Oh, basic stuff.  We had them count down single decks, and six-deck shoes.  Single decks we wanted them to count in fifteen seconds.  Alan Woods said in Gambling Wizards that he thought some approximation of card counting was fine.  We were the opposite of that, sticklers for detail and precision—sometimes to a fault.  I understood that counting down a single deck didn’t necessarily translate into good table play.  I would deal to them and count along, and ask them questions about how they were playing.  I wanted to make sure they could have a comfortable, intelligent conversation about their play.  They would have to make bets according to a prescribed bet plan.  If I found it interesting to do so I would ask them how much they would bet if there was another deck in the discard tray, or what running count they would need to make a given play.  I knew that not only could they make the right play, but also that they could easily calculate whatever the right play was at any time.  They might make a play, and I would ask how close a call that was.  They would describe the way they thought about calculating the true count.

RWM: How was Ken regarded as a player?

Darryl: Ken was mostly a figurehead on the team, the guy who could inspire people to get together and make some money.  In the early months in Nevada, Bill was really running the team.  On the second trip to Atlantic City, I was the one training people.  Ken was a sharp guy, and a fine blackjack player.  But his skill was getting other people to figure out the nuts and bolts of things.  About a year after we played together he was involved in some bank, and I got a call from him asking me about betting levels and element of ruin.  I told him he should read his book.

RWM: Did Ken win money on the A.C. banks?  How was his personal winning record?

Darryl: Yeah, as he carefully points out in Two Books On Blackjack, he had the highest per-hour win on that trip, although I won the most money.  The second trip, I’m not sure what his record was.  I’d guess it was a small win, because if it were a big win, he would have talked about it a lot, and if it were a loss we would have talked about it.  Pretty good bet—small win.

RWM: I read a magazine article that called you the best blackjack player in the world.

Darryl: [laughs] Yeah, well, when we were playing we really scoffed at those labels.  What was important was getting the money.  Let Ken be the best blackjack player in the world; that was fine with us.  When I got into performing full-time my publicist and I were ruminating about what could be said about a guy who really had few accolades musically.  It occurred to me that there was a time in my mid-twenties, a time when we pretty much knew all of the professional blackjack players in the world.  It was a very small community, and at least a handful of them had told me they thought I was the best among them.  So we tried saying in press releases, “Once known among his peers as the best blackjack player in the world.”  It got me some gigs, and it was essentially true.  Unfortunately some editors changed the wording slightly to “ex-world champion blackjack player,” and “The best blackjack player in the world,” as if there were some kind of competition that I’d won.

RWM: You’ve been on big teams, and small ones.  How do you compensate people on teams?

Darryl:  It was very simple in the beginning.  Half the money went to the investors in proportion to the amount they invested, and half went to the players.  Some people thought the player’s share should be divided based on how many hours were played.  I liked figuring in a win portion.  [That is a portion going to the players who had actually won it.]  I may have been naive putting together deals.  Cathy Hulbert told me once that my reputation was that of a guy who set up some great money-making situations, and then made bad deals for myself in terms of cutting up the win.  If everybody were giving his best effort, you didn’t have to worry about those things.  Most of the bankrolls I’ve been involved in were like that.  The few that weren’t, where people tried to take advantage of each other, were huge disappointments and eye openers for me. 

RWM: If you were to go back to blackjack, do you prefer working with a few people or a big team?

Darryl: It’s been about four years since I’ve played a hand of blackjack, and I’d be fine if I never had to play another hand again.  But to answer your question, unquestionably a small group of people would be best.  It would need to be a small group of guys who had known each other for a long time.

RWM: How did you get involved with Thor?  [Thor was a shuffle-tracking computer invented by Keith Taft.]

Darryl:  Oh, one of the sleaziest guys I’ve ever known.  [laughing]  Do you know who I’m talking about?

RWM: Well, the name Rats Cohen has come up in a number of interviews.

Darryl:  That’s him.  We paid Cohen a lot of money for Thor.  We also bought technical support.  I learned first, and then Craig learned.
At that time I was living on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California.  We had a house on the beach.  Ken lived there for a short time, and he brought Harry Reasoner over.  He was doing a piece for “60 Minutes” about Ken.  It was a big bachelor pad with five bedrooms.

RWM: Tell me about learning to use Thor.

Darryl:  The computer used a binary code system.  We had two switches on each foot, one up, one down.  On the left foot the up switch represented one, and down was two.  On the right foot up was four, and down was eight.  Before we started we would tell the machine what the rules were for that particular game, what kind of shuffle they were doing, and how many decks.  Then we entered the exact value of the cards, and the order that they went into the discard rack.  When it was time to shuffle, the dealer would take the unplayed cards, and we had to tell the computer where they were placed.  If they were placed in the middle, we had to tell the computer where in the middle.  Then we would tell the computer that the dealer took, say, 51% of the cards and put them on the right.  Then the dealer would grab cards from each pile, and we would tell the computer the dealer grabbed 29 cards from the left side, and 34 cards from the right side.  Now he is grabbing 24 from the left, and 27 from the right.  Most of the shuffles were this way at that time—we called it the “Hilton shuffle.”  At the end you would have four segments of about one and a half decks.  The computer would have a good idea what cards were in each of those segments.  The computer would give you the option of cutting the best segment to the front of the shoe, or the worst segment to the back.  For cover you would cut the best section to the front so you could bet big off the top.  For the best overall game you cut the worst section to the back.  Then it would tell you how much to bet, and how to play each hand.  It would occasionally make some bizarre plays. 
There was another non-random shuffle computer out at that time which was far simpler.  It just used the High-Low, and in hindsight I would have used that if I had the option.  The people using this other machine played only basic strategy.  They never varied their play except for insurance.  You were betting big off the top all the time, and you didn’t have to spread that much to have a good edge. 

RWM: How long did it take you to learn to use Thor?

Darryl:  I’m not sure, but I was really focused and a quick learner.  Many hours were spent on practicing the estimation of the number of cards in each grab, and cutting the deck exactly where the computer was telling you. 
My first experiment with it was in Europe.  Cathy Hulbert was an investor in that bank, and I think she was the one who suggested that somebody should go along with me.  My friend Nick thought that sounded like a good job, and that was the first of many trips we took together.  We later went to Poland, the Caribbean, Korea, Cannes and some other places.  He’s one of my favorite people, and probably the sharpest guy I know still out there playing.

RWM: What happened when you got to Europe?

Darryl:  A lot of things happened there.  I practiced, and got better at using the machine.  We started out in Germany and Belgium, but really couldn’t play there because the machine couldn’t handle those shuffles.  Then we went to England.  In England the casinos are private clubs.  You had to join, and then wait 48 hours before you could enter.  We joined a bunch of clubs in London, and while we were waiting our 48 hours, we decided to go north of London to a town called Leicester.  We signed up for the two casinos in Leicester, but then still had to wait 48 hours.  There was a tiny town near Leicester called Enderby.  We read in the local paper that they were having a folk festival, so I grabbed my guitar, and off we went.  I played at the festival, which was held in a large garage.  My UK debut.  [laughing]  Now I’ve got a bit of a following in England, but I don’t think any of them remember that Enderby performance. 
It was the middle of February, and snowing.  This wasn’t your typical tourist destination.  There was a sock factory in Leicester, so we decided if we got pulled up we would tell them we were business men, and there to go to the sock factory.  That was pretty silly, but we did some silly things in those days.  We bought a book on walks around central England, and I think we may have taken a walk.  We went to a play at the Haymarket Theater in Leicester.  It was rare that we got time off like this on blackjack trips.  For some reason we decided to kill the two days in Leicester rather than London.  What was that about?  Can I have those two days back?
            When you sign up for these casinos, some of them require you to show a passport, and some don’t.  Our policy was, if they didn’t ask for the passport we would give a fake name.  In the first casino we went to in Leicester they didn’t ask for a passport, so we gave a fake name.  At the second casino, named Annabelle’s, they did ask for passports, so we used our real names.
            Finally we started playing at Annabelle’s.  The shuffle was very simple, and Nick was sequencing aces while I operated Thor.  Everyone in the place was betting two pounds, and I was betting three hands of the maximum.  We won about 10,000 pounds.   Unbeknownst to us, the owner of Annabelle’s called the other casino and asked if two Americans named X and Y had been in there.  The owner of the other casino told him that two Americans had signed up but under different names.  Anyway, after we were up 10,000 pounds they changed the shuffle, and we quit.  They told us they didn’t have enough money to cash the chips.  That was a first.  They wanted to give us a check.  “A check?”   We were from Vegas.  We had never heard of such a thing.  They told us they would go to the bank the next day, and we could come back and get cash in the morning. 
            The next morning we had a big discussion about what to do with the computer.  Should we hide it, or should I wear it in and see if we could play?  We decided I should strap up, and consider playing depending on how I was received at the casino.   We got to the casino, and I went to cash the chips while Nick went to check if the game was good.   The game wasn’t good anymore, and when Nick came to the cashier to find me, I was gone.  They directed him up some stairs to a bar that was closed.  When he came up, he found me talking to Scotland Yard.
            Now, we had talked about the possibility of being pulled up.  Our plan was, if this happened we would ask for a lawyer and not say anything.  They separated us, to question us, and somehow we both knew that we should break that agreement, and talk to them.   They kept saying, “You’re a professional gambler.”  I kept telling them I was in real estate.  He asked for my business phone number.  I gave him a fake business card, and he actually picked up the phone and started dialing this number I gave him.  Then he hung up.  Several times they were so close to nailing us, although I don’t know what nailing us would have meant for us.  They wanted us to admit we were professional gamblers, which we never did.  They knew we were professional gamblers—so what?  Nick kept saying, “Are you accusing us of doing something wrong?”   The police would say, “No, we just want to know you are who you say you are.”  They knew we had given different names at the other casino.  We gave them our passports. 
Eventually they said they wanted to look at our hotel room.  So here we are, being escorted to our hotel by Scotland Yard’s finest.  They started looking through everything.  They looked under the towels, and took the mattress off the bed.  They looked in my guitar case.  The only thing we were worried about was a briefcase sitting on the end of the bed.  In the briefcase were extra toe switches, a soldering iron, lithium batteries, membership cards in dozens of names for casinos in London, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany.  We were trying not to look at the briefcase, and we also were trying not to not look at the briefcase.  This whole time we had been talking to them, and we were winning them over.  They knew this was a roust.   We thought they were going to pass up the briefcase entirely.  The last thing, he lifted the lid of the briefcase and said, “Well, I guess that’s it then.”  He didn’t look down into the briefcase.  He opened it, and didn’t look.  In the end, my ankles were the only things that weren’t searched.  They searched the car, the hotel room, my guitar case, but never searched us.  Then they drove us back to the casino, and the casino cashed our chips.  We got the cash, packed our bags, and headed for the next ferry out of Dover. 

RWM: Did you go back to Vegas?

Darryl: Yes.  When I got back I went to great lengths to change the way I looked.  I lost weight; I dyed and curled my hair.  I got some brown contact lenses.  I was too young to grow facial hair, so I had a little goatee I put on with spirit gum.  I bought it from a makeup guy in Hollywood.  I started wearing three-piece suits, which I had never done before.  I used makeup, and I got clear glasses.  I had a mole removed, and had veneers put on my teeth.  Then I legally changed my name.  I was remaking myself, and Darryl Purpose was history.
            Thor didn’t have any discretion.  If it felt you could gain half a percent by hitting a hard 18, or doubling on hard 13 it would tell you to do it.  There were some really interesting plays.  In practice sessions, when it told us to hit a hard 17 we spread the deck, and there would be a bunch of threes and fours. 
            Here’s a great story.  With Thor we built our own shoes.  We’d buy shoes with a thick rubber sole, and cut a hole in the padding in the front of the shoe.  We became craftsmen—we had our tools, our glue, and Exacto knives.  Craig was working on his shoes in Las Vegas.  He had an Exacto knife, and was cutting into the shoe.  He was straining to cut through the thick rubber sole when suddenly there was a loud thwack, and the knife was sticking right into the center of his chest.  It had hit his sternum.
The funny thing was that Val and Pat didn’t want to drive him to the hospital, because they were about to go out on a hole-card play.  They didn’t want to miss getting the seat.  He said, “I can’t drive.  I have to hold something over my chest so I don’t bleed to death.”   They were miffed, but they did drop him off at the emergency room.

RWM: Did you play in the islands with the computer?

Darryl: Yes.  I went to St. Martin with a buxom blonde named Sabrina.  It was just a free vacation for her, and good cover for me.  I looked more like a tourist.  We stayed in one room, and Craig was in the room next door.  Every evening, I would excuse myself to go talk about strategy in Craig’s room.  What I was really doing was suiting up with Thor.  Craig kept Thor and all the equipment so if they searched my room, they wouldn’t find anything. 
We would play every night from eight o’clock until two or three in the morning.  Craig would sit at the next table, ready to run to authorities or do something, I’m not sure what, if I were to be pulled up.
            My story was that I was a songwriter, and that I wrote commercials.  I would bring my guitar down to the casino.  There was a bar adjacent to the casino, and the waves would lap up on the sand.  There was no wall.  The bar was right on the beach.  I have pictures of Sabrina and me, and the casino owner and his wife at that bar.  I was playing guitar for them.  None of them had any idea I was wired with this blackjack computer. 
I lost and lost on that trip.  I had gone down there with $40,000, and it was gone.  The owner said, “I’ll loan you $5,000.”  Craig and I called back home and said, “These guys also own a casino in Sicily.  Check it out and see if you can find out if they have any reputation for anything bad.”  The word came back that they did have a bad reputation, and there were rumors that they were involved with the Sicilian Mafia.  I’m not sure about the chronology, or the reasoning, but for some reason we decided to take the $5,000, and try to get our money back. 
It was the last day of play.  I was flying out at five the next morning, and I started to win.  Then I started winning more.  As it got later there weren’t many other people in the casino, so they closed it down.  This meant that Craig, my bodyguard who was always at the next table, was no longer there.  There was no one else in the casino.  There was the dealer, the pit boss, and the owner of the casino had taken a seat at the table on my left.  The casino manager was sitting at the table also, and he’s on my right.  Sabrina and I were sitting in the middle of the table between them, and I couldn’t lose a hand.  I really wanted to quit, but I thought, if I quit they were really going to be pissed.  I was afraid to quit.  This was odd, because I had been through a lot of things without being scared, but this scared me.   I ended up getting all my money back plus about $20,000.  They knew about my morning flight, and at some point in the wee hours I just stopped and said, “Gentlemen, I have to go.”  They were very deliberate. They slowly put my chips in racks, walked them and me to the cage, and counted out my money.  We were on our way.  I went back the next year, but the game wasn’t good anymore.  Sabrina was still there.  She’d never left the island, and she never knew about Thor. 
I then flew to Aruba.  I was going through customs, and they singled me out.  They took all my stuff over to a table.  Now, Thor was put away pretty well.  It was stuffed in the shoes, and socks were on top of that.  The shoes were inside a shoe bag.  They came across some spare batteries in my suitcase.  They were lithium batteries, and they kind of looked homemade.  They would never fly in 2003.  Even at that time they looked funny.  The customs officer asked what they were.  I told them they were batteries.   “What are you going to use these for?”  “You know, batteries.  You can use them for anything, like a radio … or a computer.”  As things unfolded they were looking really closely at everything in my suitcase.  More and more employees came over to watch this.  As each new person came, I got more concerned until there were ten or twelve people there.
            While they were searching my bags, I realized I had two roaches in my pocket.  As they got closer to the computer, and more people came over, at some point they said, “Do you have any money?”  “Oh yeah.”  “How much?”  “Well, forty thousand.”  All I was worried about were these two roaches.  Now, why I would even consider flying from island to island with marijuana in my pocket … what was I thinking?  In my pocket was my passport, keys, and money from different islands.  As all this was going on I fish around in my pocket, and find one of the roaches between my fingers.  I slowly pull my hand out of my pocket, and pop the roach in my mouth, and eat it.  Right in front of them.  I put my hand right back in my pocket, and go searching for the other roach.  As they are getting more excited over finding the computer, and interrogating me more, I find and eat the second roach. I relaxed after that.  The worst that could happen now was that I would lose my $40,000, right?
They took me to a back room.  They spread the money over the table and counted it.  It was like the worst movie interrogation room you can imagine.  They found the computer, and I was just telling them, “It’s a computer.  You can operate it in your shoes.”   I was explaining it all without mentioning blackjack.  At some point the police said, “We found one of these before.  Someone was using it to play blackjack.”  I said, “Well, yeah, you could play blackjack with it.”  I was thinking that I would be really happy if I could get out of this for $5,000.  Finally they said, “Go to your hotel.  We’re going to take the machine, and decide whether we’re going to press charges.”  But they gave me all the money. 
I waited a couple of days.  I couldn’t play any blackjack of course.  I rented a little motorcycle, and drove around the island for a couple of days.  Finally they called me and said, “We’re not going to press charges, and we’re not going to give you your machine back.  But we’ll go with you to the post office, and let you mail it home.”  That’s what they did.
That reminds me of the time when Pat and I went to pick up Craig at the Reno airport.  They used to let you go meet the arriving passengers at the gate.  We had just come from a practice play, and were suited up.  I went through security first, and I removed my batteries and put them on the conveyer belt.  I thought I could get through with the computer and the battery holder strapped to my leg, but the alarm went off as I went through.  The security guy and I looked at each other.  I raised my pant leg, pointed to the empty battery holder and said, “It’s a battery holder,” as if, doesn’t everyone have one of these?  He waved me through.  Pat saw all this, and took of his entire unit and put it on the conveyer belt.  As he passed by, the security guy said, “Oh, you must be with that other guy.”

RWM: Did you use disguises?

Darryl: Yeah, but not always successfully.  I shaved my head once.  That was 1980 when it was really odd to shave your head.  I hadn’t been in Las Vegas for eight months.  I walked into the Holiday Inn, bought in for $20, and bet $1.  I was going to call plays, and before the BP got to the table I got the tap on the shoulder.  “Darryl, we don’t want you playing here.”

RWM: Didn’t you have a disguise where you became black?

Darryl: I wanted to look foreign.  I was using skin tint, and a lot of people thought I was Mulatto.  I went to Atlantic City to the Claridge.  I had a black three-piece suit, a man’s full-length mink, and my Mulatto look.  I had a beautiful young woman on my arm, and I had a black doctor’s bag with $100,000 in cash in it.  I went in and dumped the cash out on the table and said, “I came to play.”   I won $150,000 in one session.  At that time it was the largest session win of any of the professional blackjack players we knew.  They gave me a limo stocked with Dom Perignon to take us to New York.  We went to a Broadway show, and had dinner, all paid for by the casino.  Makes for a fun story, but it was stuff I really didn’t care much about.

RWM: That was your biggest win ever?

Darryl:  Yeah.

RWM: Do you remember your biggest loss?

Darryl:  $80,000 at the MGM in Las Vegas, also with Thor.  It was graveyard.  Graveyard was always kind of surreal.  Walking out of the MGM busted as the sun was rising—It didn’t feel good.  There was a very short shift boss named Vic Wakeman.  He gave us a lot of heat, and I hated losing on his shift.  We used to call him the “eye in the rug.”

RWM: How did Thor end?

Darryl: At some point the combined effect of the two teams put heat on the move.  I don’t know if any other teams were using Thor, but there was another non-random shuffle computer.  The casinos were looking for players with their feet flat on the floor.  It was time to move on.  I talked to Craig recently, and he said we won a million dollars with Thor.  I thought it was more like a half million, but he thinks it was a million. 
Then the Great Peace March happened.

RWM: What was that?

Darryl: I wasn’t a particularly political guy at that time, but I did read the paper, and I heard about this plan for 5,000 people to walk from Los Angeles to Washington, DC to speak out against the nuclear arms race.  Madonna was doing commercials for the group, and Sting was going to do the going away celebration at the Rose Bowl.  There were portable shower trucks, and laundry trucks.  Club Med for peace.  That’s what I signed up for.  It wasn’t what it was advertised to be.  Instead of Sting at the Rose Bowl, it was Mister Mister at City Hall.  We could not procure the site insurance the organizers thought they needed to go through with the walk.  We walked anyway—fifteen miles the first day through east LA, where my mother had told me never to go.  We got to our first campground, which was a parking lot at Cal State LA.  There were 1,200 people at that point.  That night one of the volunteers from the organizers came to me and said, “Stay vigilant.  You guys are pretty much on your own.”  That was a little scary, but we continued to walk.
We got to within 25 miles of Barstow, and the organizer flew in on a helicopter, and told us to all go home.  There was no more money.  We looked at the helicopter, and knew where the money had gone.  People drifted away, but there were a few hundred left who decided to walk anyway, without the support of the organization.  People did what they could to make it work.  People who could cook did that.  People who knew how to remove distributor caps on major support vehicles so they wouldn’t be repossessed—they did that. The musicians formed a band, and started writing songs about why we were walking.  It was the first time other than playing for friends and family that I’d ever performed.  We played at rallies, clubs, benefits, schools, and raised money for the march.  Early on the march went right through Las Vegas—I walked down the Las Vegas Strip, a peace marcher with my guitar around my neck, looking at all those casinos I had been thrown out of months earlier.  For many of us, we made the march into something much bigger than the original organizers had planned.  We walked into Washington, DC, on schedule, eight months later.

RWM: Did you go back to blackjack after the march?

Darryl: No, not right away.  Although we got a lot of support from people as we walked, some folks said, “You can’t do that in Russia.”  So the next year we did it in Russia—from Leningrad to Moscow.  Allan Afeldt, who organized the walk, wanted to have a musical event to celebrate the completion of the walk.  The only problem was, there had never been an outdoor stadium rock concert in the Soviet Union before.  Rock-and-Roll was still illegal there.  But Gorbachev was talking about Glasnost, and things there were changing.  Allan called the cable channel Showtime and asked, “If I get Bill Graham to produce it, will you put up $500,000?”  He also called Bill Graham and said, “If I get Showtime to put up a $500,000, will you produce this concert?”  They both said yes, so our band got to play with Santana, Bonnie Rait, & James Taylor in the first outdoor rock concert in the history of the Soviet Union.  I did make three blackjack trips to Korea that year [1987] to support the band.

RWM: Did you play blackjack while you were in Russia?

Darryl: There was no blackjack in Russia at that time.  I did go back to Russia to play blackjack later.  On the peace march I met a Lithuanian cameraman.  I trained him to count cards, and he went to Russia with me.  It was the Wild West there.  This was maybe 1993.  My friend was at a bar in the casino, and the guy next to him turned and said, “You’re going to give me all your money.”  He said, “What do you mean?  There are pit bosses right over there.” The guy said, “The pit bosses are with me.  You’re going to give me all your money.”  My friend paused, the guy turned his back, and my friend took off running.  He hit the door and kept going.  My hero.  The amazing thing about this is that we did not stop our trip at that point.  We kept playing.  It took a little morning chase through the streets of Moscow by the Russian Mafia to actually convince us to leave.

RWM: How did that happen?

Darryl: I had finished my play at a casino late one night.  I dropped my Russian friend off at her apartment.  I came back to the taxi, and the taxi driver said, “Who are those guys?”  I said, “What guys?”  He said, “They came and asked me about you.  They’re following us.”  It was about five in the morning, and I looked back and I couldn’t see them.  I said, “Lose them.”  He drove on and he said, “I can’t lose them.  They’re good drivers.”  I said, “Who are they?”  He said, “The Russian Mafia.”  I said, “Well, drive faster.  Go to the embassy, or the police station.”  He said, “You don’t understand.”  He was going faster, and faster, and they were going faster.  I put my money under the seat.  At some point my driver stopped, and they pulled up along side us, about ten feet away.  They started to talk in Russian.  At some point I heard my driver say, “Please, I don’t want any trouble with my family.”  They talked some more and my driver turned to me and said, “They just want to talk to you.”  It was a small sedan with four big, burly guys.  One of them got out, and started over to my car.  Just as he was reaching for the handle of my taxi I screamed at the driver, “GO!”  Somehow the driver found it in himself to put his foot on the gas, and we were off again. 
The scariest thing about this was the driving itself.  We were going 60 miles an hour through Moscow in a car that was held together by wire and glue.  At one point we reached a big intersection, and another car was coming at us head on.  There were screeching tires, and everyone came to a stop in the middle of this big intersection.  It was me in a taxi, the Russian Mafia, and a police car.  We’re all at a stop sort of facing each other.  I thought, “Whew, we made it.”  I just blinked, and the police car was gone.  They just took off.  We were back on the road, and back to this 60 mile an hour chase.  At some point I said, “Go back to the casino.”  He drove to the casino, and either they didn’t want to do their dirty work near the casino, or maybe by then it was getting light, and there were too many people out.  I don’t know, but when we got to the casino they had disappeared.  That was the last time I played in Russia.

RWM: In retrospect, do you think you did a lot of dangerous things in your blackjack career?

Darryl:  At the time I was very focused, and I wanted to be good at what I did.  I was good.  I did my job, and I didn’t really consider that it was dangerous.  Looking back I see that I was doing ridiculously dangerous things.  At the time it was just about doing my job.  Or maybe, it was that this would make a good story.

RWM: Or this would make you some money?

Darryl:  There was some of that I suppose, but not as much as you’d think.  It was more of a workman-like attitude of getting the job done. 

RWM: Have you ever been cheated?

Darryl: In Istanbul I played against a short shoe. The count was plus twenty-something when the cut card came out after the first shoe.  It was a trackable shuffle, so I cut the little cards to the back.  The count came out twenty-something again.  I backed my bet down to the minimum and watched this for a couple more shoes, then left.  Oddly, I’d won about 20 top bets in those first two shoes before I realized the deck was short.

RWM: What about in the US?

Darryl: Very early in my career I was playing $50 to $200 on a single deck in Lake Tahoe.  I found a dealer named Pat at the South Tahoe Nugget who dealt a particularly great game.  I played against him for forty minutes, and went through about $2,000.  Later, I was talking to him at the bar.  I told him my name was Scott Jackson, and I was a musician.  He told me that his girlfriend was a singer, and invited me to his house for dinner.  I took him up on it.  His girlfriend cooked dinner, and the three of us hung out.  At some point I didn’t feel like pretending to be someone I wasn’t, and I told him my real name was Darryl, and that I was a card counter.  He went into his bedroom, and came out with a piece of paper.  I recognized it as Lance Humble’s Hi-Opt 1.  He started quizzing me about my numbers.  I not only knew the numbers on the paper he had, but the revisions put out by Julian Braun later.  So he got that I was real card counter.  I ended up spending the night, and the next morning, after breakfast, he came to me with a deck of cards in his hand.  He said, “You were honest with me, and I’m going to be honest with you.”  He placed a ten and a six face up on the table.  He had me turn them over, and tuck them under some chips.  He reached over with his deck-hand, and when he turned them over it was a blackjack.  He repeated this a few times.  We became friends, and played blackjack together for some years.  He is the same “Pat” I’ve been mentioning throughout the interview.  I just sang at his wedding last year.  To this day he says that he didn’t cheat me that day at the Nugget.  I believe him.

RWM: One of your songs is called “Dangerous Game.”  It’s about an experience in Sri Lanka.  What made you go there?

Darryl: At that point I was pretty steamy in Nevada, and I was hard to disguise, so I ended up playing in a lot of obscure places.  We had heard that Sri Lanka had a significant advantage off the top.  I forget the exact rules, but it probably involved early surrender, and 21 pushes versus blackjack.  It had all the standard rules, plus a few things that were pretty weird.  It had maybe a ½ to 1% advantage off the top.  I went with Art, and it is such an odd place, even for a globetrotting blackjack player. 
On the way to Colombo in the plane I opened a tourist book about Sri Lanka.  I used to like to learn at least a little bit about the people, and the country where we were going.  It said in the book that one of the odd things about the people in Colombo is that when they want to say, “yes,” they shake their head from side to side, the way we say “no.”  I thought that was the strangest thing, so I turned to the guy next to me on the plane.  He was from Colombo, and I said, “It says in here that when you want to say yes you shake your head from side to side.  Is that true?”  He shook his head from side to side, and I thought, “Of course not.  That’s ridiculous.”  It took me a couple days to catch on.  I’d go up to a taxi and say, “Can you take me to the casino?”  He would shake his head from side to side, and I’d go look for another taxi. 
            When we first got there it was Buddha’s birthday, so all the casinos were closed for two days.  We decided to have a little vacation in Kandy, which is one of the spiritual centers for Buddhists.  It was a beautiful country, but at that time there were two civil wars going on.  The Tamil Tigers, who invented suicide bombings, were battling from the north.  It was fierce, and ugly, and bodies were turning up every day.  At the Colombo Hilton where we were staying, they had about 15% occupancy.  There is a picture of me at the Colombo Hilton pool, and I am the only person there.  I’m reading a newspaper, and the headline says, “Parties to Replace Slain Candidates.”  We would read the paper every morning just to check if the place we ate lunch was still open—that it hadn’t been bombed. 

RWM: Were there many people in the casino?

Darryl:  The casinos were very small, maybe three or four tables at the most.  There were other players, but not many.
After a few days at one casino I got the tap on the shoulder.  The casino owner invited me to the back room.  The owner was part Dutch, and part Indian.  He spoke English very well.  He accused me of being a professional blackjack player.  In his mind that was the equivalent of cheating.  He kept repeating, “It’s a very dangerous game you’re playing.”  At the time I felt like I was just doing my job.  I wasn’t particularly afraid.  My job was to play until they didn’t allow me to, and take the money home.  He was basically telling me to leave without my chips.  I had between $5,000 and $10,000.  My attitude was, “No way.  I’m not leaving without the chips.”  Then he wanted me to give up half the chips.  Again, I was, “No way.”  We had this 45-minute conversation, and I ended up giving him $200, and keeping the rest.  I declined his offer of a ride back to the hotel.  I got on the phone, and called Art.  I let him know the situation I was in, and asked him to come get me.  He asked me, “Do you think they might kill you?”  I answered, “Yes, that’s a possibility.”   He sent a taxi to pick me up.  We got on the next plane out of there, and never went back.

RWM: Did you play in Korea?

Darryl: On the way to Sri Lanka we were in Korea.  Somehow we ended up playing blackjack at the Disabled American Veterans Club.  There were no disabled people, no Americans, and no veterans.  As I understand it, this place was a front for a Yakuza-run casino, and meeting place.  Art and I went in there and lost, and lost, and lost.  It was a $300 limit, and we got stuck $20,000.  We had a video camera with us.  It’s the only time I’ve ever had video inside a casino, and Art and I were the only players.  I was on one table, and he was on another.  We lost all this money, and then went to Sri Lanka.  After Sri Lanka we came back to Korea to win our money back.  One day we just could not lose a hand.  We started cashing out a few thousand at a time.  That worked for a while, but then all of a sudden they didn’t have any more money.  They owed us $14,000.  Art and I left being owed this money.

RWM: Did you take the chips, or a check?  Or was it, “We’ll pay you the next time we see you.”

Darryl:  It was exactly that—we’ll pay you next time.  What were we going to do?  We insisted on the money; they insisted they didn’t have it.  Art and I had a reverse auction to decide who would stay and collect the money from the Yakuza.  It started off with Art saying he would stay for $1,000 per day plus expenses.  This would be paid by our bankroll.  I said I would stay for $500 per day plus expenses.  I think it was bid down to me staying for $300 a day plus expenses.

RWM: It sounds like this was more about the inconvenience of staying in Korea for three days, than fear of the Yakuza. 

Darryl:  That is a really good point, and absolutely true.  I went back on Monday, and they gave some story about their bank, and said I should come back on Wednesday.  I went back on Wednesday, and this time it was, “Call us tomorrow.”  I called on Thursday, and they still didn’t have it.  I made a couple of trips down there.  One of them ended with the casino manager grabbing me, and ripping the buttons off my shirt.  I was just trying to be a bully as best I knew how, which is not very well.  My job was to collect the money they owed us.  Fair is square, right? 
I came back the next day, and was asking for their superiors.  They wanted to deal with me in the front room, and have me go away.  I wasn’t going to let that happen.  I started opening doors.  I ended up bursting into some Yakuza meeting.  There were all these Japanese guys sitting around a conference table, and I started talking in English about how I wanted my money.   I did leave there alive that day. 
A couple of days passed, and they called me and said, “We’ve got your money.  Come on down.”  Right, like I’m going to go down there, and they’re just going to give me the money.  Before I went I called another blackjack player named Jake.  He was the only guy I knew in Seoul at the time.  I told him what was going on, and that I was a little worried.  I said, “If you don’t hear from me in an hour, do whatever you can.  Call the embassy, or the police, or whatever.”
            I went out and got in a taxi.  I got into one of those remarkable Seoul traffic jams.  They have billions of these tiny little cars.  They have wide streets with no lanes, and everyone is trying to go their own way.  Everybody uses their horns.  We’re sitting for 10, 15, 20 minutes in this sea of cars.  It occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to call Jake within the hour.  In the distance I saw this chain-link fence with barbed wire on the top.  It was an American Army base.  I told the driver, “I’ll be right back.”  I got out of the cab, and maneuvered through all the other stopped cars, and I found a little hole in the chain-link fence where the guard was standing.  I said, “I’m an American citizen, and this is an emergency.  I need to make a phone call.”  He said, “Right this way, sir.”  I remember that was one of the first times in my life where—I had always been the young person dealing with adults, but here was this 19-year-old soldier treating me like the American businessman.  I got to the phone and called Jake.  I said, “Give me another hour.”  He said, “Okay, I was starting to wonder.”  The end of the story was, I got there and they gave me all the money.

RWM: One of the people I interviewed said, “How did we ever play blackjack before there were cell phones?”

Darryl:  Right.  How did we live before cell phones?  A lot of people got lost going from one play to another.  There are some interesting stories about that.  There was a guy who didn’t know about the Sahara in Vegas, but did know about the Sahara in Lake Tahoe.  He got the signal to go to the backup club, which was the Sahara, and he went to the airport and hopped a plane for Tahoe.
           
RWM: You’ve told me now about being chased by the Russian mob, sitting in St. Martin with the Sicilian Mafia, and collecting money from the Japanese Yakuza.  At some point did you ever stop and say, “This is dangerous, and I don’t want to do this anymore.”  Are you still ready to hop a plane, and play in Iraq?

Darryl: I was ready to hop a plane to play in Iraq until … I started playing music full-time in 1996.  Sometime in maybe 1999 I got a call from Art who wanted me to go to what I considered the most dangerous place I could play blackjack.  He offered me quite a lot of money, and I said no.  I thought it was too dangerous. 
For me the game was to accomplish something, and to get really good at something.  I’d already done it.  I got to the top of the blackjack world.  It just wasn’t interesting to me anymore.  It wasn’t about the money.  It was about picking an endeavor, and trying to be the best.  Even though at that time I was driving hundreds of miles to play guitar and sing, sometimes just for tips.  That was more interesting to me than going to a dangerous place, and being paid a lot of money to gamble. 

RWM:  That was definitely true of many of the people in Gambling Wizards.  It wasn’t about the money.
            You mentioned that you were Griffinized in your first weeks of playing.  Have they been a problem for you?

Darryl:  A few years ago I had a connection who had access to Griffin fliers.  Sure enough, there were fliers that said I was playing in Reno, and St. Louis, and none of it was true.

RWM: Let’s talk about your music.  You’ve won some song-writing competitions?

Darryl: I’d always wanted to play music, but it just seemed too much of a risk.  I mean, what were the chances that I would be able to make a living as a recording artist?  To be able to go around the country playing songs I’d written for people at concerts?  Then, about seven years ago I was on a losing bankroll.  One of the guys who lost money asked me to do a favor for him.  He wanted me to buy a large cashier’s check using a fake ID.  I got into some trouble, and that is what pushed me into doing music full-time.  For one thing, my probation officer wouldn’t allow me to travel to gamble.  So, I decided I was a national touring singer/songwriter.  Some of those earlier music tours were booked with blackjack in mind.  I would want to go to New Mexico to play blackjack, so I booked a tour and told my probation officer I was going to play a concert. That was true, but I was also going to play blackjack.
When I first started thinking about how to get started with a music career, taking these songs I had written around the country, I thought I would enter my songs in some of the song-writing contests associated with the major folk festivals.  For the couple of years I did that I won first place in every contest I was accepted in.  It gave me a sense that maybe I did have something worthwhile to offer, something that was going to connect with people.  It gave me a little notoriety in the acoustic music world. 
Now my life is concerts.  I do 150 concerts a year all over the country.  I’m enjoying it a lot.  The music has gotten better every year, and I’m making a living at it.

RWM: Wow.  You’re traveling all over the United States to do these concerts.  You can scout casinos everywhere.  Where are the secret games?

Darryl:  [laughing] I’m not saying.  

1 comment:

Oeconomicus said...

Very enjoyable read. Thanks Richard and Darryl.