Baccarat game of choice for rich

Oct 26, 2004 12:34 AM


Sports? Poker? Blackjack? Horses? Craps? Ever hear of bettors of the above come to town and blow $8 million in 20 minutes? No way! The preferred game of the ultra-rich is baccarat!

Over 15 years ago, I penned a couple of booklets on the not-to-well-known casino game. One was "Baccarat Decisions" (now out of print), and the other was GBC’s "The Facts of Baccarat." The latter was under the pseudonym of Walter I. Nolan (W.I.N., get it?), shared by John Tuckman on the earlier versions, and myself on the revised editions.

These had limited acceptance. The audience was limited. This was due to the intimidating nature, the higher stakes, and availability of the game in casinos. Chronically, the house percentage under random circumstances is only 1.17 percent on the banker side, and 1.36 percent for the player side. With the exception of blackjack (at times), and the illusive "Free Odds" feature on the Do and Don’t lines of craps, the baccarat game has the lowest house percentage.

The casino "Bank" game is an offshoot of the old, yet popular, European game of "Chemin De Fir." In that game, the so-called "bank" circulated among the players who booked the action while the house took a "rake," much like poker. In most of these "James Bond" affairs, it took pretty deep pockets to finance the bank shoe when you held it.

The breakthrough happened in the ”˜50s in Havana, Cuba, (before Castro) when mob-controlled casinos made a rule adaption saying the house held the bank’s position on all play. The bank advantage was diluted by charging a five percent commission on all winning bets on the bank side. This effectively brought the bank advantage down from 50.68 percent to 49.415 percent. The player side remained even (for even-money bets); it became a pretty good game.

Initially, the new "baccarat" house game did offer an 8-to-1 "tie" bet (which occurs about 9½ percent of the time), but the likes of Dr. Edward Thorp (of blackjack fame) et al, figured out how to beat the ties, and the option was withdrawn. Nowadays, ties are a "push" in the big game.

A "mini"-baccarat game developed for the little guy in a seven-seat, blackjack type layout. Many casinos offer this game, but its popularity is limited, probably because the average player doesn’t understand the game. Many a drunk staggers in for a hand or two believing it’s a "21" game. Mini is also a faster game as the house tries to make up for the hold in volume because of the smaller stakes (unfortunately).

The game itself is one of the simplest games played in the casino. Shoe passing is merely a non-involving ritual. The player can be one of two sides: banker or player. His only concern is selecting a side and money management. Most apply some type of a system here, and keep track of the action from an eight-deck shoe. If anyone has found some type of card-counting technique it must be a well-kept secret.

Years ago, I got wind of a method that tracked fives and sixes, but after a few million computer simulations, it proved non-effective in the long run, using several manipulation schemes. So, it’s back to the drawing board!

Nevertheless, it’s the big, 12-seat table ensconced in luxurious surroundings that attract the super high rollers. Most of the super bettors are foreign Orientals, Arabs, or Southern American "farmers." Among the Oriental players, the guys who bring attaché cases stuffed with millions nowadays seem to be Chinese. These are based in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. They have shaded out the Japanese, Koreans, and Arabs somewhat, although the latter still have a significant presence.

At least three of the biggest Strip resorts are in intense competition for the play of this elite group. Every amenity is comped. One Chinese family comes as an entourage and camps out for free in four penthouse suites going for $2,500 per copy, per night for those who would pay. Highly specialized Chinese gourmet cooks are available around the clock.

Even these posh accouterments are being upgraded as the competition intensifies for the trade of these 100-or-so elite players. Just a couple of big scores can have significant impact on the hotel’s bottom line at the end of the month.

Me? I’m an observer, but like a nut, I’m putting together another book on this most fascinating of all casino games.