If you’ve ever heard the name Darryl Purpose, chances are you’re either a hard core blackjack player or a folk-loving ‘peacenik’. Truth is, Darryl is a whole lot of both. He’s considered by many to be the best damn blackjack player that ever lived, worthy of a 2009 Blackjack Hall of Fame induction, yet his singer/songwriter career has been equally phenomenal, if not more so.
Let’s Give Him a ‘Purpose’
As a young boy growing up in Southern California, Darryl showed great aptitude for just about anything to do with numbers. He was anything but average, and despite the enormous spark that could be seen in him, he clearly lacked one important facet of life. Darryl had no direction; no purpose to guide him into what should be a very bright future.
His mother had a solution, and it appeared in his Christmas stocking at the age of 16. She gave Darryl a book called Beat The Dealer, written by Edward Thorp, a professor of mathematics, phenomenal blackjack player and co-developer of the first “wearable” computer (designed for beating blackjack, of course).
Obviously Darryl had gotten his intelligence from his mother, because her decision to give him that book eventually led to an amazing life as what many have called the best blackjack player the world has ever known. But the path before him was not a straight one by any means.
After finishing high school, Purpose still had no real goals to pursue, although he did love playing the guitar. He enrolled in college at California State University, Northridge, where he majored in classical guitar. He had every intention of going on to become a musician, but that dream began to fade when, inexplicably, his left hand started to hurt.
The doctors put a splint on it, but it wasn’t enough to stop Darryl. By teaching himself to finger-pick, he was able to continue playing. But then, also without warning or any known cause, his right hand suffered the same fate. Now donning splints on both hands, he was forced to put down the guitar and dropped out of college.
With nothing but a 62’ Chevy, a few changes of clothing and $50 in his pocket, Darryl drove to Las Vegas with a new purpose – to become a professional blackjack player. He was 19 years old at the time, and having studied Beat The Dealer cover to cover, was certain he could hit it big at the casino tables.
“The Kind of Counter that Made Las Vegas”
The first lesson Sin City taught him is that he was not nearly so good a blackjack player as he thought he was. In no time flat, he lost everything.
Purpose was sleeping in his car and dreaming of a way out. Knowing you need money to make money, he was able to secure a job selling ballpoint pens in bulk to business offices around the country. It wasn’t exactly a swank job. The phone room was located in a boiler room, but one of his co-workers offered to let him stay at his place, and that was much better than sleeping in a car.
Darryl was working on commission, pulling just $20 in his first week, but he got better as he went, increasing his pay to $50 the following week and $200 the next. That was enough to land him back at the blackjack tables, where he dropped $50 at the Stardust and quickly turned it into $500.
Unfortunately, it was dumb luck. His ability to count was mediocre. “I was the kind of counter that made Las Vegas”, Darryl told Richard Munchkin, another future Blackjack Hall of Famer, in a 2005 interview for Blackjack Forum Online. For the next year and a half, he continued selling pens and losing his paycheck to the casinos.
Darryl Becomes a Team Player
Somewhere around 1976, Darryl met a fellow card counter named Art. He was playing blackjack and noticed this other guy was also keeping track with an ace side count. In hopes of learning from him, Purpose followed him out of the casino. Art assumed Darryl was casino security and tried to lose him in a coffee shop, but Darryl’s persistence paid off. Once they began to talk, they became good friends and even started up a 2-man team with a $2k bankroll.
Art was the better player by far. They were betting $20 hands on single-deck blackjack, and while Art was winning, Darryl was losing far more. Then one day, Art told him that Darryl’s neighbor was a member of the enigmatic Ken Uston blackjack team. He went straight to his door, knocked and introduced himself.
The man’s name was Ron Karr, and he wasn’t actually playing with Ken anymore, but Darryl’s upfront nature and desire for knowledge led to a spot on Karr’s team as a counter who called down to the “Big Player” (BP). A faithful friend, he brought Art onto the team as well.
The team worked its way up to a $10,000 bank, raising their bets to $100-$200 and earning $60,000. At that point, they were faced with a decision. Join a new team that was testing shuffle-tracking computer programs or apply for a spot on Ken Uston’s team. Art chose computers, while Darryl, who was still looking forward to his 21st birthday, went with Uston, the most famous blackjack player of that time.
By that then, Purpose’s skills had improved dramatically and he had no trouble passing the test to join the team. He admitted later that it was a life of debauchery and high cash flow, betting thousands at a time and enjoying Uston’s infamous lifestyle of drugs and women.
However, Darryl’s professional blackjack career would soon come to a halt, not because he wasn’t good enough, but because he was too good. The heat from casinos was infernal, and he was getting banned from one casino after another.
In 1979, now 22 years old, he got a call from Ken telling him to come out to Atlantic City where the casinos were far more affable. He spent two weeks in AC, staying with Uston and his old buddy Ron Karr. As later told in Uston’s 1979 publication of Two Books on Blackjack, they started with a $25k bankroll, and Darryl Purpose led the team to 15 winning sessions in a row. He took his cut, $11,000, bought a Honda 750 motorcycle and rode back to Los Angeles.
Darryl spent the next few years playing blackjack with his old team, avoiding heat as best he could and blowing his money as it came in. Along the way, his team began using a shuffle tracking computer program known as “Thor”. They eventually took Thor to Europe due to the intense heat in Las Vegas. According to one team member known as Bob W., who was sober enough to remember, the team took in at least a million dollars with the new technology.
Darryl’s College Dream Comes True
In the mid-1980’s, something extraordinary happened. Darryl fell in love. Hanging out with a whole new crowd of pacifists and peaceniks, he stopped playing blackjack, moved to Venice Beach and blew through every last penny he had earned.
Then the Great Peace March of 1986 happened. Purpose dropped everything he had left (which wasn’t much) to join the march. With only his guitar on his back, he and 1,200 others began the long walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. Along the way, he and other musically inclined marchers formed a band to raise money for their trip, playing at benefits and rallies.
It took 8 months to reach Washington D.C. Although Purpose would still play blackjack from time to time, that march changed the direction of his life forever. He spent the next decade traveling and playing music with peaceniks, then in 1996 went solo as a folk singer and songwriter.
Purpose composed 6 albums over the next 9 year and has become widely regard as one of the most prolific folk-singing story tellers of all time. In 2005, he went on a 7 year on sabbatical, during which time he helped start the Second Strings Project, wherein he collected used guitar strings from musicians in the United States and distrusted them to needy musicians all over the world.
In 2009, he was inducted to the Blackjack Hall of Fame, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he finally returned to making music. His latest album, Next Time Around (2013), received no formal promotion, yet spent 5 weeks at #1 on the Roots Music Report folk chart.