Baccarat is the game of choice for many Asians. China's Macau, the largest gambling center in the world, took in $38 billion in revenue from the game in 2012. As Macau gears up to add new resorts under the sponsorship of Wynn, MGM, and other big name gambling corporations (outside Macau too), profits from baccarat are sure to skyrocket in that country. In America, Las Vegas regularly depends on baccarat revenue from wealthy Asian visitors to boost their profits every year. In 2012, the state of Nevada reeled in over $1 billion in revenue from the game, a large portion of which was contributed by wealthy Asian visitors. An enticing, adrenaline-pumping card game, baccarat is a simple yet addictive pastime that carries with it an interesting history as well as several fascinating superstitions.
The History of Baccarat
Baccarat migrated from Europe to North America in the 1950s, but it had a strong following centuries before that in other parts of the world. Debate exists as to whether the pastime originated in Italy or France; no one knows for certain. The ancient French version of baccarat is known as “Chemin de fer.” When Tommy Renzoni, the “father” of Americanized baccarat, brought the game to the U.S., the version he introduced was probably a hybrid of Chemin de fer and other European variations, according to historians.
Renzoni initially fell in love with the game in Cuba, where players call it “Punto Banco," or "Player Banker." After observing Punto Banco in Havana casinos, Renzoni realized the mammoth profit the activity could potentially bring to the United States. He convinced the owner of the Sands Casino in Las Vegas to try adding a baccarat table to his facility; the game caught on quickly and its popularity grew from there. For several decades, baccarat was regarded as an elitist game reserved for high rollers in VIP casino rooms. It wasn't until the 1990s, when electronic baccarat became available online, that the game earned the interest and favor of middle class people as well.
Simple and Fun
Once regarded as a mysterious and intriguing activity understood only by sophisticated gamblers, baccarat is now hailed a simple and fun gambling option for all. The process is quite straightforward: a “player” is pitted against a “banker,” much like blackjack (read the tips for blackjack players). Each is dealt two cards. The goal of both the player and the banker is to acquire a combination of cards whose sum comes as close to nine as possible, but not more than nine. A third card is sometimes dealt. Other players make bets as to which person will win each hand, the player or the banker.
Tens and face cards do not count. Aces are worth one. Interestingly, if two number cards add up to more than 10, the second digit of that number becomes the hand's worth. For example, a hand with two sevens adds up to 14, making the hand worth four.
Eight decks of cards are commonly used, although gamblers can play with as little as one deck. Chips are wagered on either the player's hand or the banker's hand. In terms of final outcome, three possible scenarios exist: the player wins, the dealer wins, player and dealer tie.
A version of the game called “Big Table Baccarat” is typically reserved for high stakes gamblers. In this version, players take turns dealing cards. This usually takes place in VIP areas at casinos and may appear intimidating to middle class patrons who don't know much about it. “Mini Baccarat” follows the same rules, save the fact that there is only one dealer throughout the entire process; this version is usually played on the main casino floor. Middle class gamblers are more likely to gravitate toward Mini Baccarat. Click here to learn all the rules of Baccarat.
Fascinating Superstitions: The Squeezing, Bending, and Blowing of Cards
Several traditional Asian superstitions may be observed in action at a typical Macau baccarat table. Because each player at the table wants their hand to be fairly low, with a total sum no higher than nine, some will strategically “peek” at their face-down cards by squeezing them between their fingers and bending up the edges. The bending must occur in a precise way: the player must first fold up the short side of the card, then the longer side. Without seeing the number on the card, the player tries to deduce what values the cards contain based on the configuration of hearts, clubs, spades, or diamonds that he is able to see.
If the peek at the cards reveals what could be a total higher than nine, the superstitious player will then blow on his cards. This is meant to “blow” the value of the cards down to a winning level. Obviously, the value of the hand is already determined and cannot be changed by blowing. The superstition remains, however, and grown men and women can be seen blowing on their cards at baccarat tables in Macau and across the world.
Ripping and Tapping: Other Rituals to Boost Luck
Players sometimes rip and destroy their cards as a gesture to invite luck. This may seem overly dramatic, but tension runs high during a suspenseful baccarat game, especially if a lot of money is at stake, and the action is so commonplace in Macau it seems normal. Because of all the ripping and bending that takes place at the table, no deck of cards is used more than once. Once a deck has been used, it is either destroyed or recycled by the house.
A less destructive superstition followed by some enthusiasts is the tapping of ashtrays and drinking glasses with a pen. A player who hopes for a good hand will grab a nearby pen and clink it against the glassware around him for luck. Some online baccarat players even do this at home, when nobody else is watching. The superstitions surrounding this exhilarating game are that powerful.