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by Ralph "Silver Fox" Stricker

Ralph Stricker has been a successful professional blackjack player for many years. He is the developer of the Silver Fox Card Counting system and author of "Silver Fox Blackjack SystemóYou Can Count On It." Note: This is the system that BJI contributing writer Barfarkel uses and mentions in his BJI trip reports, and in his book, "Youíve Got Heat." In his articles for the BJI, Stricker describes his blackjack career, specifically how and where he started playing, teaching, and managing blackjack teams, as well some personal experiences that affected him along the way. He is one of the blackjack legends described in the book, "Legends of Blackjack."

Editorís Note: This is a continuation of a story about M.R., one of Ralph Strickerís Big Players (BP). The period was mid-1990.


After the fiasco in Connecticut, we decided to make a play in Las Vegas. I was also scheduled to teach two new students during this time in Las Vegas. The students were from the West Coast and were delighted that they didnít have to travel to my home in New Jersey to take the lesson. I arranged to teach them during the breaks from playing with M.R. On this playing trip, I also made different arrangements to my commission schedule. I would take no commission on monies earned but would still receive my per diem and expenses. I felt this was fair since the new students were paying me for teaching.

M.R. and I spent four uneventful days playing at casinos we hadnít frequented before. We covered expenses, and M.R. left to return home with the understanding that we would make our next play in Connecticut. I had finished teaching the two new students, and a friend from back home, who was in the jewelry business, happen to be attending a trade show in Las Vegas. I hadnít seen him in the past year (he lived in Denver, Colorado) so we spent a couple days just "hanging out" in Sin City.

My friend had to return home and I was going to leave the next day. I took him to the airport and on the way back to the motel, I started to feel sick. I decided that I would have an early supper and go straight to bed.

The next morning I awoke and felt very bad, I couldnít even make an effort to get out of bed. The maids at the place where I consistently stayed in Vegas always came and did my room by 9 am. They knocked on my door and I told them to come back later. They returned at 10 am and I told them again to come back later. At about 11 am, the desk person called me and asked if I needed anything. I told them I was sick and they said they were going to send a doctor to check on me.

A doctor immediately came, checked me out, and ordered an ambulance to take me to the hospital. After being in the hospital for a few hours, I was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and advanced emphysema (COPD). I spent five days in the hospital and then was transferred to "Healthcare South," a rehabilitation hospital.

I had to go through extensive rehabilitation because I couldnít walk or breathe without oxygen. I had to get around with a wheelchair, which had oxygen attached so as to be able to breathe.

 The rehab started slowly with leg exercises and hand and arm therapy. I was very depressed because I never had been through anything like this. Being 3,000 miles away from my family also didnít help my state of mind. After six or seven days, I started to get up from the wheel chair and practice sitting and standing. I also did some coordination exercises with my hands, fingers etc. The staff was very patient and worked very hard to make my stay comfortable.

 Surprisingly, the food in this rehab facility was marvelous. A woman who did the cooking came each morning to my room and asked what I would like to have for each meal. She and her staff cooked everything "home-style." It was just like my motherís cooking ... thatís how good it was.

I was in a semi-private room and had a nurse and valet 24 hours a day. Since I was a musician, I asked if there was a piano in the facility. They said there was one in the recreation and television room (a grand piano). They gave me the key so I could unlock the door and play the piano. The first time, I tried hard to play. If you ever want to see a grown man cry, it was me because I couldnít move my fingers to push the keys down. I was determined to eventually play again. After about five days of 15-minute sessions, I was able to at least play a few songs.

The staff put me in a large swimming pool with a long oxygen hose so I was able to swim. I was always a very good swimmer and the buoyancy of the water made it easy for me to swim. I enjoyed this therapy very much because I could relax. I was also making progress walking and was now able to walk and climb small steps.

I was in this rehab facility for 21 days and was informed that I had to wean myself off of oxygen because I was being released in another week. They explained to me that the airlines wouldnít be responsible for me if I had to use oxygen during the entire flight. This was the hardest part because I had become physically and mentally dependent on oxygen. I finally was able to be off the oxygen for extended hours at a time. It was now time to leave and fly home. I would like to give kudos to the Rehab-hospital "Heartland South." It was one of the finest facilities I have ever been in. I always said that if my Doctor told me I had to go back, I would go there in a heartbeat.

I arrived at Newark and my daughter picked me up and took me home. It was now time to get a little more strength and get back to business. I called M.R and told him I would be ready to make a play in Connecticut. We made plans to meet in two weeks and play. I drove to Connecticut just to get some exercise and see if I could handle the long drive. I enjoyed being able to drive and didnít get worn out until I reached the casino. It was there that I got my first inclination of how my lack of oxygen would affect me. I had trouble walking into the casino from valet parking and getting on the elevator. M.R. was there to help me and took me to my room.

In my next article, Iíll explain about another sign of distress, concerning M.R.ís problems.

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