I was working on a story about whales – mega high-rollers, not sea creatures – when I first saw someone playing baccarat with purpose at the Palms in Las Vegas. I was following a corporate executive from Boston, and he was a big fan of baccarat and kept track of all the dealt cards on the scratch paper provided by the casino. Baccarat Strategy
I inquired about the significance of the notations. I initially assumed he was card-counting, which, as I later discovered, is useless in this game unless you are doing a specific type of counting. He wasn’t, and I’ll save the specific card-counting details for another time.
“Baccarat is a streaky game,” he says. “I’m keeping track of the streaks that are taking place.”
That is not a legitimate advantage play. However, some gamblers have had financially rewarding streaks in the game. Here are a few of our favourite baccarat runs.
The Trump Buster
Many people enjoy playing baccarat for entertainment; however, few people can afford to consider multi-million dollar swings enjoyable. In the 1990s, Akio “The Warrior” Kashiwagi, a Japanese real estate tycoon, was known as the “Moby Dick” of baccarat whales and claimed that the game was his idea of pure entertainment.
The risk-taking billionaire swung around the world when he landed in Atlantic City and challenged Donald Trump’s three casinos: Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Trump Marina. He was trailed by a towel-wielding bodyguard who wiped down the Warrior as he sweated through card turns and bet $185,000 per hand (apparently, it was always $185,000).
Though he won $15 million at the Diamond Beach Casino in Darwin, Australia, his most satisfying win was most likely in AC. He made a relatively modest $8 million there. Still, he was satisfied doing so in front of a pre-presidential Trump, who provided Kashiwagi with $14,000-per-night suites and whatever else he desired.
The global gambler irritated Trump, wearing a wrinkled suit and slippers and could only say angrily, “I don’t know where the hell he comes from.”
We know that he returned to Trump’s Taj Mahal for a $12 million freeze-out with Trump, but Trump called it after only winning $10 million. Kashiwagi yelled and screamed, accusing Trump of breaking his promises.
The Warrior may have had the last laugh. Soon after witnessing Trump’s deception, he was discovered murdered, killed with a Samurai sword and still owed Trump $4 million. The imaginary police never solved the crime, and Trump appears to have never received his four large. Baccarat Tips
When Australian media mogul Kerry Packer wanted to play baccarat, he wanted to play baccarat – and nothing was going to stop him. In one case, he went to a Las Vegas casino with full pockets and plenty of time on his hands. But there was one problem: the case containing the game’s chips and accessories was locked.
Packer expressed a strong desire to be involved, and a savvy casino owner took him seriously. The boss took up a crystal ashtray and smashed open the baccarat table. In no time, Packer was a betting banker or player and having a great time. He appreciated the effort. Packer bet $100,000 on behalf of the crew once he was ahead by a couple of million dollars.
Of course, even a rich guy like Packer would not turn down a couple of million dollars, but that is not his most successful run at the tables. That all started in the mid-1990s with a trip to Las Vegas, where he ended up at MGM Grand, where he played blackjack and baccarat.
The Australian kingpin wagered six figures per hand on baccarat. He is said to have won up to $40 million during that run, which reportedly spanned several visits to the casino.
As previously stated, he always tipped handsomely, and that streak was undoubtedly profitable for his dealers. “When Packer was in town, you could count on splitting $1 million 20 ways,” a former casino executive said of Packer-infused payouts for casino employees who typically chop gratuities.
His generosity, however, did not appear to reach higher-ups in the MGM organization. In his book “Whale Hunt in the Desert,” legendary casino host Steve Cyr describes the aftermath of the big win when MGM sent an outgoing executive to Packer’s polo ranch in the British countryside.
The executive flew to London, where Packer dispatched a helicopter to pick him up and fly him to the ranch. After his massive win, the executive arrived with bad news: MGM barred the Australian billionaire from their properties.
Packer exploded, and the executive left quickly. When told MGM barred him for life, Packer responded, “I’m going to make you walk back to London.” Fortunately for Packer, the world is full of casinos, and the majority of them welcomed him and his massive desire to gamble high at baccarat.
The Baccarat Machine
Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun started as a sucker and eventually sucked millions from casinos that tried to crush her.
Kelly, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, was born in China and caught the gambling bug at a young age, losing millions to casinos worldwide. They showered her with free flights, luxurious suites, and unlimited champagne for her and her friends. However, due to a misunderstanding over an unpaid $100,000 marker, she was thrown into a downtown Las Vegas jail and, upon her release, sought vengeance.
Kelly used a tricky but legal advantage playing technique known as “edge sorting” to determine whether to bet on the banker or the player. It quickly earned her millions of dollars, but it also drew criticism from casino employees disturbed by the former fish’s winning ways.
As a result, she teamed up with poker legend Phil Ivey. He was the big player (Ivey’s reputation was such that casinos avoided him), and Kelly was the operation’s brain. She examined the cards, identified advantages, and advised Ivey on which side to bet.
They travelled the world, flew private, and lived high, stealing more than $30 million from casino vaults in less than a year. It was a fantastic run and a wild adventure, with Kelly playing so frequently and intensely that she earned the nickname “Baccarat Machine” from her teammates.
Unfortunately, things ended when Crockford’s bosses in London became aware of Kelly Sun and Phil Ivey’s antics. The casino suspected advantage play and bet on a more than $10 million win. A court case ensued, and the world learned about Kelly Sun’s ingenuity, and she was no longer welcome in casinos.
But perhaps Kelly has the last laugh. Based on an article I wrote about Kelly, a film about her life is in the works, and “The Baccarat Machine” is an excellent working title.