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By Barfarkel & Zengrifter

Barfarkel is a serious recreational player who started with basic strategy in 1996 and learned the Silver Fox count by the end of 1998. He has been counting since early 1999, starting with a $2K bankroll and slowly trying to build it to $10K. Barfarkel’s books, You’ve Got Heat Vol. 1 and Turning up the Heat: Vol. 2, contains the details of his playing trips to Las Vegas over a six year period. He also wrote the article "Graduating From Red to Green" that appeared in the 2003/2004 winter edition of Blackjack Forum. For more information on both you’ve Got Heat e-books including excerpts, click here. You can also listen to a taped radio interview of Barfarkel done on the American Radio Network by going to

One of blackjack’s most controversial and irreverent practitioners, known as ‘The Grifter’ or ‘Zengrifter,’ is a self-professed inveterate card-counter since graduating high school in Las Vegas in 1971. In the mid-1980s, he pioneered the probabilistic-based speculative strategies that culminated in over $600 million in randomly awarded cellular telephone licenses by FCC lottery, and made a few million dollars for himself in the process.  In the mid-90s he and his wife developed an advanced ‘game-theoretic’ approach to winning PCS licenses in FCC airwave auctions that resulted in her company being among only 18 PCS license winners in the biggest cash auction in world history ($8 billion) and culminated in their meeting President Clinton and Vice-President Gore.  In the late ‘90s his victories would sour amidst federal allegations of fraud and racketeering, involving the sale of more than $270 million in so-called "unregistered securities," leading to a RICO-conspiracy plea and conviction. Forbes magazine wrote two separate and uncomplimentary articles about him, dubbing him "The Grifter" in the process, and he humorously adopted the handle.  ‘ZG,’ as his blackjack friends call him, gave a classic interview to Barfarkel, which was first released via BJ Insider in early 2003.  The complete 30-page Zengrifter Interview by Barfarkel may be found at the world’s most trafficked blackjack knowledge website –  - where ZG participates and also moderates a unique non-BJ discussion board called The Zen Zone.



In the 1957 book, Playing Blackjack to Win, U.S. Army mathematicians Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott published the first accurate blackjack basic strategy and a rudimentary card counting system, devised solely with the aid of crude mechanical calculators — what used to be called "adding machines". The authors devoted three years of their off-duty time to cracking the game.

UCLA mathematician Dr. Edward O. Thorp is considered the father of card counting. His 1962 book Beat the Dealer outlined various betting and playing strategies for optimal blackjack play. Although mathematically sound, some of the techniques described no longer apply, as casinos took counter-measures, such as no longer dealing down to the last card, adding more decks, etc. Also, the counting system described the ten-count, is hard to use and less profitable than the plus-minus point-count systems that have been developed since.

From the early days of card-counting, some players have been hugely successful, including Lawrence Revere, the inventor of blackjack team play, his protégé, Al Francesco the man who taught Ken Uston how to count cards, and Tommy Hyland, manager of the longest-running blackjack team in history.

Card Counting in Blackjack

The fundamental principle behind counting cards in blackjack is that a deck of cards with a higher proportion of high cards (10s and aces) to low cards is good for the player, while a higher proportion of low cards left to be dealt favors the house. A deck rich in 10s and aces improves the player's odds because blackjacks (which offer a higher payout than other winning hands) become more common, the dealer is more likely to bust a stiff hand, and double-downs and splits are more successful.

Because they know when the odds support them, card counters raise their bets when the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck(s) is skewed in their favor. They also make strategy adjustments based on the ratio of high cards to low cards. These two adjustments can give players a small but real mathematical advantage over the house.

Contrary to the popular myth, card counters do not need savant qualities in order to count cards, because they are not tracking and memorizing specific cards. For example, one doesn’t have to know that six aces are out and seven 5s have been played. Instead, card counters assign a point score to each card they see and then track only the total score. (This score is called the "running count").

The Plus-Minus Count

Basic card counting assigns a positive, negative, or null value to each card deuce through ace. As each card is dealt, the running count is adjusted by each card's assigned value. In a simple count, one only needs to add one or subtract one as each card is revealed. There are multiple card counting systems in use, but a plus-minus count such as the Hi-Lo system proposed by Harvey Dubner in 1963 and later refined by Thorp, Julian Braun and Stanford Wong, is one of the more basic and illustrative systems.

In the Hi-Lo system the cards 2 through 6 are assigned a value of plus-one. Tens (meaning all face cards and ten value cards) and aces are assigned a value of minus-one. Cards 7, 8 and 9 have a value of zero, so they can be ignored.

The Hi-Lo system is an example of a balanced card counting system, in that there are an equal number of plus-one and minus-one cards in the deck, so a count of all 52 cards would result in an end count of zero.

The Silver Fox Count

A variant of the Hi-Lo is Ralph Stricker’s Silver Fox count system...


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