Wealth, glamor and sophistication are all things that people typically associate with the game of baccarat. This has less to do with the game itself (it’s really easy to learn) than some of the people who are renowned for playing it. Probably the most famous of these is a person who never existed: James Bond, also known as Agent 007, who plays baccarat in films such as Dr. No, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and GoldenEye. But the true legends of baccarat are living, breathing individuals who stake vast sums of money on a few hands of cards. That’s because they can afford it, of course. Not many people can hope to emulate such larger-than-life gamblers, but their examples can add to our enjoyment of online casino games (always remembering that responsible gambling means never betting more than you can afford to lose.) With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most famous baccarat players of all time!
The warrior: Akio Kashiwagi
A strong contender for the greatest baccarat legend of all time is Akio “The Warrior” Kashiwagi. The Tokyo real-estate tycoon reportedly earned annual profits of $100 million and owned more than $1 billion in assets, so he had a fortune to spend on casino table games, among other things. Kashiwagi played for the highest stakes possible in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, New Jersey. He thought nothing of staking $100,000 on a single hand and would even bet $200,000 if the house permitted it. Once he played for 80 hours straight. Naturally, the Japanese legend went through incredible swings, sometimes winning millions in a night, other times losing all his profits and more.
Kashiwagi’s final baccarat game took place in Atlantic City in December 1991. His initial budget was $12 million, and he vowed: “I’ll play until I lose all of that money or double it.” Kashiwagi’s fortunes yo-yoed up and down – one moment he was up $10 million – until the house stopped the game. At that point, Kashiwagi was down $10 million, and he was furious at being denied the chance to make good on his promise. A month later, the baccarat warrior was found dead in his Mount Fuji home, stabbed 150 times with a samurai sword. The murder remains unsolved.
Master of many games: Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey is a household name among poker fans. He’s earned 10 World Series of Poker gold bracelets and more than $26.2 million in winnings from live poker tournaments to date. But the “Tiger Woods of poker” is also a master of many other types of casino games, including baccarat. His legendary run in 2012 was enough to win him a permanent place in the baccarat hall of fame. That year, he and his assistant “Kelly” Sun made a fortune playing baccarat casino games in London and Atlantic City. Sun in particular is an expert at edge sorting, an advantage gambling technique based on finding decks with non-symmetrical patterns on their backs resulting from manufacturing errors. Players who know the flaws of a particular deck can exploit them. This is something that casinos don’t allow.
Ivey and Sun’s method was to pay a $1 million deposit for a private baccarat table and then make some special requests to make things easier for them. The first was for the dealer only to speak Mandarin Chinese, so Sun could ask for favors without casino management cottoning on. The second request was for the dealer to rotate the cards 180 degrees, the better for Sun to spot flaws on the long backs of the cards. Third, they asked only to play with a purple Gemaco deck, which has specific imperfections that Sun had memorized. This technique served Ivey and Sun very well, and eventually, they made $20.6 million. Unfortunately for them, the casinos took them to court when they found out how they’d won. Ivey and Sun lost, so they didn’t get to keep any of their winnings, but they did get to go down in history as serious chancers!
The media mogul: Kerry Packer
Kerry Packer was Australia’s richest man at the time of his death, with a net worth of $6.5 billion. The media mogul’s vast wealth enabled him to play casino games for stratospherically high stakes, and his game of choice was baccarat. In 1995, he had an epic run at a top Las Vegas casino, playing for as much as $500,000 per hand and winning $26 million in just a few hours. The casino banned him for life! But the Australian was capable of losing big as well. After all, he could afford it. In 2000, Packer lost more than $18.6 million during a three-day baccarat session in Vegas! It was the biggest short-term loss in the city’s history at the time. He also lost a record of £11 million at a top London casino (the same one Ivey played at).
Packer had a photographic memory and was able to instantly work out baccarat odds, which stood him in good stead at high-stakes tables. But there’s more to this legend than his uncanny baccarat skills. Packer had the kind of gambling temperament that only an extremely large fortune can support. Once he was in a casino where a Texas oilman bragged that he was worth $100 million. This annoyed Packer, who said, “I’ll toss you for it.” The oilman didn’t want to risk his fortune on a single coin flip, so he backed down. Another side to Packer was his generosity. Once, he loaned actor George Hamilton £125,000 so that he could split two aces. When Hamilton won, he offered to pay back the media mogul with a bit extra, but Packer only asked for the original amount.
Mr Bet-A-Million: John Warne Gates
Chicago millionaire John Warne Gates (1855-1911) earned a fortune from selling barbed wire and ended his life as a very rich man, but he started out selling firewood to homes and local railroads. Some railroad workers he befriended taught him how to play casino card games, and Gates never looked back. Gambling became his lifelong hobby, and once he’d had made his fortune, Gates hosted many high-stakes baccarat games at home in Chicago, and on long train journeys between the Windy City and New York.
On one such occasion, Gates was doing duty as the baccarat banker – and he decided to bet $1 million in just one round! That was worth $27 million in today’s money, and his opponent had to wager the same amount to play. They were playing with the “cheval” rule, where the banker deals three hands. The first hand was for Gates, while the player got to choose if they wanted to play one or both of the remaining two hands (aka the “cheval” rule.) In the end, Gates and his opponent won a hand each and tied on the third, so no money changed hands. But the sheer audacity of his bet earned Gates the nickname, “Mr. Bet-A-Million.”
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