Darryl Purpose

(b. Los Angeles)

Today Darryl Purpose is a touring singer/songwriter with 6 albums out. In 1986 he became an anti-war activist and peace marcher. But before this he was one of the top blackjack players in the game and the fastest card counter in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Beginning with a Book

At the age of 16 Darryl Purpose was already an avid card player, and so his mother gave him a copy of Edward Thorp‘s Beat the Dealer as a Christmas present. When he was 19 he dropped out of college. He was a classical guitar major at Cal State Northridge, but a disease in his joints (now cured) first put one hand in a splint, then the other. Unable to play anymore, Purpose packed his guitar, some shirts and $50 and headed for Las Vegas.


Here he quickly ran out of money and took a job selling ball-point pens. Having read Thorp’s book, Purpose took his paycheck to a casino. That first night he left the casino with ten times as much money in his pocket, but subsequently his beginner’s luck and his bankroll frequently ran out. One night he noticed another young man at the same table who was also counting cards with a side count of aces. When the man left, Purpose followed him. The man, named Art, initially thought Purpose was casino staff, but when Purpose explained that he was also a card counter they soon became friends. Art referred him to a card counter who was part of a professional team, Ron Karr. Purpose lost no time seeking him out to discuss card counting, and on a second visit Karr invited Purpose to work for the team.

Playing for a Team

Purpose invited Art, and they both began working for the team as spotters. However, the team was only card counting on the side to make some money to fund their larger project: developing a shuffle-tracking computer, of which Purpose and Art were unaware. When invited to participate on the shuffle tracking project Art stayed with the team, but Purpose wished to move on, and another team member referred him to Ken Uston‘s team.

“Griffinized for life”

Purpose was intrigued by Uston’s fame and mystique. He was first tested by Bill Erb and joined the team as a spotter, calling the big player when the count was favourable. As a young and green counter Purpose was sent into the most heated scenes with high-profile players, which soon drew attention from casinos and got him, as he puts it in an interview with Richard Munchkin, “completely Griffinized for life.” However, when Purpose was playing quarters to count for a Big Player, some casinos would not catch on, he recalls in the same interview. “Look, it’s Darryl Purpose,” they would say, “He must have lost his bankroll. He’s down to betting quarters!”

Fastest Card Counter

One time, Uston’s team squared off with another team to see who had the fastest card counter. Purpose could count down a deck in under ten seconds, so the team bet a large amount of money on him. However, during the competition nobody told the counters how many decks were in play and both assumed it was six and that they were slow because it was late and they had been drinking. Purpose won the first round out of three, but lost the second. Yet after both rounds hailed a far too high side count of aces, Purpose figured out the trick that was being played and won the third round in which his rushed opponent was off by one. Afterwards, Purpose asked him how many decks where in the game, and the other counter threw up his arms and roared “That’s it! There were seven decks!”

Becoming a Performer

Purpose worked on and off for Ken Uston’s team and teams of his own. In one disguise, using skin tint, a three piece suit and a full-length mink coat, he once won 150.000 dollars in a single session, the largest one session blackjack win at the time. After joining the 1986 peace march and forming a band with other anti-war activists to fund the march, Purpose became more and more involved with activism and performing as a musician. He still played blackjack in casinos around the world, and got into numerous dangerous situations involving the Russian mafia, Caribbean casino owners with mafia connections, and the Japanese Yakuza in Korea. “I did my job,” he explains, “and I didn’t really consider that it was dangerous.” Purpose reasons that if it was all about the money he would not have “pissed it away” so easily. “This will make a good story” is as good a reason as any. Today Purpose is happy to be a musician, even though it pays less. He sings songs with strong narratives about his travels and yes – also about playing blackjack.

Darryl Purpose was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in January 2010.