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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He arrived right as the shuffle commenced and I already made an important discovery...

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