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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 and citations by Nathan TiltonDan PronovostFrank Scoblete and others relating to his unique card counting tactics, including his consolidation betting often referred to as ‘Grifter's Gambit.'

Note: Parts 1 through 3 of Zengrifter's trip report appeared in February-April BJI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We arrived first at JohnnyZ's in Central City, and after getting his club card, Sandy made a bee-line for the...

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