‘Baccarat’ or sometimes called ‘Baccara’ is a hugely popular card game available at every casino worth its salt. It’s an ancient game that players have enjoyed for generations and centuries alike in every corner of this earth. Historically, Baccarat was perceived as a game full of elegance and exclusive to the wealthiest class of society.
But the times, they were definitely a-changin’. And so, here we are now when you can basically play it in every traditional casino and on many online platforms too. There are even virtual casinos now, where you can play all you want with a live dealer with all the bells and whistles of a real casino without ever stepping a foot outside your home.
The game has been through many countries and cultures and has taken a different shape in form of variations of the original game. Some of them make Baccarat even more challenging and alluring.
Baccarat has been one of the most successful and in-demand games in casinos throughout its existence, partly because of the different experiences it has managed to provide with distinct variations of the same game.
Baccarat’s origin story is up for dispute. According to some game historians, the game first came into French contact (where this game has blossomed) in the late 15th century when French soldiers under Charles VIII came back home after fighting the Italian wars with tales to tell and this magical game to play. But some other sources place its starting point in the 19th century.
Its popularity first came from the nobles of France. First coming into prominence in the Napoleonic era, French people usually enjoyed the game in some private gambling houses. Then in 1907, gambling was legalised, and a new wave of unprecedented attention came.
The earliest version of Baccarat can be found in Charles Van-Tenac’s ‘Album des jeux’. It was called ‘Baccarat Banque’, a game designed for three players.
Later variations include ‘Chemin de Fer’, a zero-sum version played by two and ‘Punto Banco’, a variation where the bets are placed on which hand will win: the banker or the player.
But the most popular form of modern Baccarat was introduced in Havana first in the 1940s as a game that’s banked by the house (the casino).
Once only revered by the high-rollers, today, it can be enjoyed by any punter willing to shore up the courage. Baccarat is one of the most popular choices for a casino but one of the terrifying ones too.
By its nature, the game holds unlimited potential, and through the course of its illustrious and sinful history, some players have made entire casinos kneel into submission. Perhaps that’s the reason, the game of Baccarat is full of legends, fortunes, elation and heartbreak. One salacious story even includes Donald Trump. Now, tell me, you aren’t interested!
Well, you must be. So, these are some of the most legendary Baccarat runs calculated by some of the best in this business:
Biggest Baccarat Runs Ever
Akio Kashiwagi, better known as “The Warrior” in the world of Baccarat, made a fortune in the real estate market of Tokyo city. As per some reports, he possessed assets worth 1 billion USD and churned out 100 million of profits every year. Akio Kashiwagi is a legend among Baccarat players, and Sin City hasn’t had too many like him.
Playing Baccarat for fun is pretty normal, but only as long as your bets remain under control. There are not too many who’ll be willing to put millions of dollars every swing to have fun. But Akio Kashiwagi, perhaps that’s how he felt alive. In the 1990s, he was a proper business tycoon with no shortage of wealth.
But even then, most wealthy people don’t risk millions and millions of dollars on a game of chance. But that’s where Kashiwagi was different. This insane level of gambling was a pure form of entertainment for him. He was, in some ways, Baccarat’s own Moby Dick.
There are innumerable stories related to Kashiwagi, but the most famous one is about ‘almost’ destroying ‘Taj Mahal’, a casino owned by none other than Donald Trump. Before that, his greatest run was worth 15 million dollars, which he earned in the Diamond Beach Casino of Darwin, Australia.
His most satisfying win, though was just 8 million dollars, pretty modest as per Kashiagi’s standards. But the source of his satisfaction wasn’t the prize money; it was someone he wanted to prove his superiority to, Donald Trump. But even that is not the best story of his life. You’ll see why.
According to a Politico article, Kashiwagi and Trump made a deal in 1990 that allowed Kashiwagi to play Baccarat until he won or lost 12 million dollars. Not only that, Trump provided him with all the luxury he could ever want. This deal started to take shape when the ultimate risk-taker billionaire stopped by Atlantic City after trotting the globe and set his eyes on Trump’s all three casinos: Trump Plaza, Trump Marina and Taj Mahal.
He employed a bodyguard too just to carry his towels so that he can cool off and remove the sweat in his crazy long sessions. Trump even provided him with suites worth 14000 USD/night, plus anything and everything he’d want.
He finally visited the Taj Mahal, and that’s where the story starts. When he started the game there, he straightaway placed bets for 185000 dollars every hand. And it was always the same amount, 185000 USD. He even had the advantage of having 10 million against the casino at one point of time. And at that very same point, Trump started to get nervous and did everything he could to unsettle his rhythm.
Trump also introduced an all-new panel of all-female dealers, replacing the team of male croupiers to distract Kashiagi even more. And sure as hell, he started losing. Trump even wanted this successful superstition to continue and demanded that only women would do the dealing with the Kashiwagi, a ‘whale’ if there ever was one.
The story ends pretty timidly, though. Trump called off the entire game when he was ahead by 10 million dollars. He was happy with his 10 and didn’t want to risk a chance of a comeback from Kashiwagi. At this point, Kashiwagi lost control and started yelling and screaming at Trump, who broke his promise. The game should have continued as the deal finalised 12 million as the bar.
Kashiwagi was fearless, some would call reckless even, but you can’t but respect his supreme belief in his extreme method of madness. He earned like a king, so he gambled like one as well. All the casino folklores of Las Vegas and Atlantic City have his name written in big, bold and golden letters. He is considered among the biggest whales in the history of gambling today.
His runs are still awe-inspiring. Dennis Gomes, a former president of the Taj Mahal casino (defunct now) once revealed another stupendous fact about Kashiwagi that he had seen Kashiwagi playing the game for 80 hours non-stop one time.
And to make matters seem even more improbable, by his admission, Kashiwagi was betting 100000 dollars on every hand. Gomes confessed to New York Times about Kashiwagi: “he’d play two days straight without sleeping, go to bed, get up and gamble some more.”
But even that wasn’t the limit for Kashiwagi because he wagered even 200000 dollars whenever he got the chance. That machismo and devil-may-care attitude were with him even when he played that final game in December of 1991. He had promised before the start of the game, “I’ll play until I lose all of that money or double it.”
His outrageously high stakes meant that he wouldn’t find stability, and he didn’t mind. His Baccarat runs were always contrasted by astonishing highs and lows, perfectly complementing his gambling style filled with reckless abandon. He would win millions one night and, on the very next, toss away all the profits.
But for all of his gifts, his life ended in barbaric violence. On 3rd January 1992, Kashiwagi was found dead in his home in Mount Fuji. He was murdered by a samurai sword with 150 wounds all over his body. The case is unsolved even till this today. According to some reports, he had alleged connections with the Yakuza (the Japanese crime syndicates), which became the reason behind his demise. Ironically, the master gambler died while he owed 4 million dollars each to the Taj Mahal and Las Vegas Hilton casinos.
Kerry Packer, a proper media mogul, the man who revolutionised cricket forever, and the richest man of Australia when he died (2005), was also an avid fan of Baccarat. At the time of his death, Packer’s net worth was over 6.5 billion dollars. And with that kind of money and the right amount of bravado, Packer made a few of the biggest stakes of gambling history.
Though his wealth had no end in sight, nobody hated winning millions in a casino. But his biggest run doesn’t end at just any paltry-looking single-digit figure. He famously won 13 million pounds in one run at the MGM Grand. His biggest one also included a few visits to the MGM Grand in the 1990s. On one of his tours to Las Vegas, he entered the casino and started playing Blackjack and Baccarat. The Raging Aussie put six figures per hand in Baccarat, and when his run ended, it’s said that he gathered somewhere around 40 million dollars.
Though his humongous win didn’t please the higher management at all, what ensued tells a lot about the man actually. The incident is perfectly portrayed in ‘Whale Hunt in the Desert’, a book written by another legend in his own field, Steve Cyr. He tells us what happened after that massive run. An MGM executive was sent to the polo ranch of Packer located in the beautiful British countryside to inform the Australian that he was banned from all MGM properties. Packer’s disbelief turned into anger when he said, “I’m gonna make you walk back to London.”
But someone like Packer, if one door closes, a hundred others open up. Many casinos around the world would’ve loved him as a player, as a patron, and didn’t mind that he played with some stratospherically high bets in Baccarat.
The reason behind his success in Baccarat doesn’t solely rely on his wealth or his luck. He has quite a photographic memory, a blessing that enabled him to calculate odds with lightning speed. Naturally, his uncanny ability made his job easier with those ridiculously high stakes.
But there’s even more to Packer as a man. He had a great sporting spirit mixed with bravery and quiet generosity. But above all that, his temperament in terms of gambling was supported by his wealth.
Once, inside a casino, he observed a Texas oilman constantly bragging about his 100 million dollars net worth. This irritated Packer so much that he sort of challenged him saying ‘I’ll toss you for it’. That oilman learnt his lesson right away and instantly backed down, as risking his whole fortune on one flip of a coin would take a lot of courage or stupidity.
But then there was his other side, benevolent and generous. He once gave George Hamilton 125000 pounds as a loan, and after winning, George offered to pay with some interest. But Packer insisted on only the original amount.
When Packer wanted to play big, he REALLY went big. And there was not much that could stop him anyway. In one such incident, he entered a top casino in Las Vegas with his pockets full, and time to kill. The only problem turned out to be the locked state of the case for chips and other accoutrements.
But Packer was in no mood to let go, and seeing his enthusiasm; the casino boss did something unique and quite resourceful. He took an ashtray and smashed open the damn case. Pretty soon, he was having the time of his life at the Baccarat table. But he didn’t forget the favour, and once he got a head-start of a few million, he showed his appreciation for the casino’s effort by making a 10000 dollars bet on the crew’s behalf.
Just like this incident above, Packer wasn’t only famous for his runs but for his mammoth tips as well. And all the dealers had first-hand experience of that. According to a former casino executive, ‘when Packer was in town, you could count on splitting 1 million dollars 20 ways’.
But just like his winning runs and everything else in his life, his losses were huge too. It was never a big problem, though, as he had so much left in the tank. In 2000, Packer lost over 18.6 million dollars in a prolonged session that went on for three days in Vegas. It was the biggest loss ever in that short period of time in the history of Vegas, according to The Telegraph.
Reports suggested that this session created an even bigger losing streak over time, as Packer lost somewhere around 27.4 million dollars in a 10 month period. It included a loss of 11 million pounds in the Crockfords, which at that time was a record losing amount in any British casino.
Cheung Yin (Kelly) Sun
Cheng Yin (Kelly) Sun started out as a punk, but ended up being a legend. She gave the casinos a proper lesson with an ingenious way of looting them, whose authority once threw her out.
Kelly, the daughter of a pretty wealthy Chinese industrialist, was born with the silver spoon and developed a passion for Baccarat at a very young age. She played around in casinos all over the world, lost millions, and didn’t care about those pesky little losses.
She was treated to all that’s best: free flights, lavish suites and all the champagne in the world. But soon, the fun turned into terror. She was thrown to jail, in Las Vegas, for an alleged 100000 dollar unpaid marker. When she got out, she decided to take revenge.
She used a special technique that has the legal advantage, ‘edge sorting’, to identify which side she should bet on: banker or player. This trick did it. She started earning in millions, but every casino started to take notice of her quite sharp reversal of fate.
She found a partner with Phil Ivey, a legend of poker. He acted as the bait as his incomparable reputation gave access to a wide berth, and Kelly slyly operated as the mastermind behind this facade. The process was simple: she looked at the cards, calculated the advantages and conveyed to Ivey what to bet on.
They travelled the world in private planes and lived a high life with over 30 million dollars that they plundered from all sorts of casinos. It was crooked, but their run was the stuff of legends too. In this wild wild adventure, Kelly used to play so frequently that her own team gave her the nickname of ‘The Baccarat Machine’.
But, unfortunately, every great thing also must end. Both of them were caught by the Crockfords, a London casino. The casino had their own suspicions, and they denied payment of over 10 million dollars. A long court case revealed all the details of Kelly Sun’s plan, and quite naturally, she hasn’t been allowed that much in casinos ever since.
John W. Gates
John Warne Gates (1855-1911) was a millionaire from Chicago, quite famous in the Gilded Industrial age. Gates made his fortune through barbed wire and absolutely loved card games and casinos. And because Baccarat offered much more than other games in those days, it became his favourite. He also loved poker and horse racing very much, which further establishes him as a passionate gambler.
But his life wasn’t so easy and plentiful right from the start. He started out by selling firewood to households, laymen and railroad companies. He was introduced to cards by some railroad workers, who became friends.
And soon, he became a skilled punter, looking for better opportunities to earn and learn. He used to travel to New York a lot, in two capacities: player and banker in Baccarat. Gambling was a hobby that he retained throughout his life. But it all started with hosting games with huge stakes in his Chicago home regularly and on long rail journeys from Windy City to New York.
It was around this time when he stepped into gambling history with his greatest run. Being the Baccarat banker in one of his usual trips, he suddenly took a decision to bet 1 million dollars in one single round against an unknown player which meant an identical wager from his opponent. That money is about 27 million dollars in today’s currency which is mind-boggling, to put it mildly.
He and his opponent, whose name can’t be found in history, were playing by Cheval rules. According to that, players get dealt three cards. And while the first one chooses one card, the second one can opt for one or both the hands.
If the player selects two hands, there’ll be only three results possible. If someone wins two out of two hands, they win. One win and a loss mean a tie, and two losses mean the bet is gone. The game ended in a tie, with one winning hand for each player. That’s why there was no transaction of money necessary.
Though he didn’t earn any actual profit from that humongous bet, he practically reserved his seat in the hall-of-fame of Baccarat and gambling in general. And, he earned the much appropriate moniker ‘Mr. Bet-A-Million’ for his sheer audacity of placing a million-dollar bet at the drop of a hat and his mindset of risking it all.
The Greek Syndicate
Most of the gamblers throughout history, including the majority of this list, needed a copious amount of luck to win. But that’s where The Greek Syndicate is a unique case. They used skill and a little bit of deceit for good measure to win exponential amounts of money. Though the word ‘syndicate’ instantly brings up negative connotations, they were no mafia or a gang of card-wielding cheaters. Rather they can be easily called the best unison of some of the greatest Baccarat players of all time.
The Greek Syndicates consisted of five players: Francois Andre, Zaret Couyoumdjian, Anthanase Vagliano, Eli Eliopulo and last but not least, Nicolas Zographos.
The chain of events were initiated when Zographos and Eliopulo left their homeland Greece for Paris, where they could further fine-tune their Baccarat skills. There, they first met Couyoumdjian, who had already constructed a successful career as a professional gambler. Three of them were joined by Vagliano later. He made quite a fortune with his shipping business, and he had no shortage of money to boost the team’s bankroll at all times. The final piece of the jigsaw was Andre, who became the fifth member of this group, and the syndicate was ready to roll.
They roamed across from Paris to Cannes to Monte Carlo all through the 1920s and 30s and scored huge wins in high-stakes games of Baccarat.
At the centre of their strategy was Zographos. He had almost superhuman mathematical skills and an insane level of memorisation. He memorised every hand dealt out of the shoe, and this gave him a much clearer idea about what cards could come at the fag end of the games. Zographos notified others whether the odds favoured the banker or the player. All of them used this invaluable information to plan their bets appropriately and thus always remained ahead of the casinos.
They continued to make huge profits up until the mid-1940s when the whole world started to change and World War II erupted. Many countries completely banned gambling to focus on the ongoing war.
Phil Ivey is a legend of Poker and forever will be. One of the most fan-favoured people of poker, he has ten gold bracelets from ‘World Series of Poker’ and has won 26.2 million dollars from all the live tournaments he’s played. In the 2000s, he was widely considered the best player of poker in the world. He won a whopping amount of over 20 million dollars from online gameplay and cash profits in just 5 years, from 2007 to 2011.
Though called the ‘Tiger Woods’ of poker, Lavey was not just a one-trick pony. He was the master of all trades going on in a casino, including baccarat.
He showed its glimpse to the world with a partner cut from the same cloth, Kelly Sun. The deadly duo put on a show in high-stakes games of Punto Banco at various casinos in London and Atlantic City. They used a special advantage technique called ‘edge sorting’ to plunder 20.6 million dollars in total from two casinos: Crockfords and Borgata.
This technique is an ingenious way to identify card decks that have a consistent flaw in their production regarding non-symmetrical patterns. Their mistake becomes imprinted on the cards’ backs. And edge sorting is all about identifying these flaws in a particular card manufacturer, learning them expertly, and then using that knowledge to predict in live games. Spotting irregularities in a deck would allow them to make educated guesses about upcoming cards. Simply put, it’s kind of cheating. This is not legally supported, and no casino allows this card-reading system. A good example is Gemaco’s purple deck. Particular numbers of diamonds were cut off slightly.
Sun had great expertise in edge sorting, and she became a partner-in-crime of Ivey for blatant exploitation of the casinos to the fullest. But there was one limitation to this technique that it wouldn’t work from a distance, as spotting those imperfections from afar is a hard task. And for that, they came up with another plan: making requests. And the casinos obliged because Ivey was such a legend and had so much authority.
Moreover, Ivey used to deposit 1 million dollars right at the beginning, and that sort of money did the rest. The casinos played along, thinking that those were certain superstitions, but they wouldn’t have guessed what was brewing in Ivey and Sun’s minds.
Their first request was for a Chinese-speaking dealer. Mandarin-Chinese was Sun’s native tongue, so she could make extra-special requests that would go below the radar and above the understanding of the casino employees.
The second one was asking the dealers to rotate the cards back and forth at 180 degrees. That way, Sun could get a much better look at the flaws on the back of the cards’ long side.
The third and final one was to use Gemaco purple decks exclusively. Sun had the best understanding of that particular deck, so they wanted to make the best out of it.
They used this system to make millions upon millions from these casinos, but in the end, all of it was for nothing. Crockfords withheld their winnings of about 11 million dollars and cited that there’s a delay because of the bank holidays. But they didn’t transfer the money after they reviewed surveillance camera footage. Ivey had to press a lawsuit against them to get those 11 million dollars back in 2012. Borgata paid them 9.6 million dollars at first, but in time came to know about their manipulations.
Both of them sued Ivey and Sun again, and this time the hand of law caught those two. Both the judges in London and New Jersey gave a verdict against Ivey. Though the allegation of deliberate cheating wasn’t proved at the courts of law, both judges agreed that making those requests crossed the natural limit of advantage-play.
Ivey and Sun lost the case, lost the money, and lost quite a bit of respect too. But they went on to become a part of history as two of the best chancers, and their magical yet deceitful run in 2012 have since earned a permanent seat in Baccarat’s crème de la crème.
Archie Karas is the man who had ‘The Run’ of all runs, often considered to be the best and the greatest run in the history of gambling. He was born in Greece and made in Vegas.
The story of ‘The Run’ begins in the cold December of 1992 when he just casually drove to Las Vegas from L.A. with only 50 dollars with him. He borrowed 10000 dollars from a friend, a poker buddy. And then dived right into the casino and earned 17 million dollars playing poker and pool in combination.
After stunning and shaking up the world of gambling, no poker or pool player was ready to go against Karas and his hot streak. Not even legends like Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar and Chip Reese wanted anything to do with him.
When he was left stranded and marooned in pool and poker, he turned his attention to craps. But the miracles continued to flourish, and his run remained unobstructed. He won a further 23 million dollars in craps at the casino called ‘Binion’s Horseshoe’.
In 1995, he accumulated 40 million dollars in total from ‘The Run’, and keep in mind, it all started happening with just a meagre 10k bankroll. After creating a fortune, he, his brother and some security guards transported money into and out of casinos.
But then, baccarat came into the scene. And his relationship with baccarat is quite the contrast from all the others on this list. Baccarat became the reason for his downfall. Karas had no previous experience with the game but thought about trying his luck and the newfound wealth in the biggest stakes of a casino, in baccarat tables. But his luck finally ran out.
And just like ‘The Run’ of his life had carried him to the peak, another run now started to take effect and pulled him to depths below than he ever imagined.
His start in baccarat was a disaster, to call it politely. He lost 11 million right away. So, he returned to old trusty pal poker, but even there found only disappointment. He lost 2 million dollars to Reese. Desperate to find the golden touch, he again ventured into baccarat, and lost again. This time, it was even bigger, capping at 17 million. So, he lost 28 million in baccarat in this hellish run, but this was a run too, nonetheless.
He went on losing all he earned from ‘The Run’ through craps, baccarat and poker. But credit to the man, he never stopped believing. Since then, he has achieved quite a few gambling runs worth millions of dollars, though never quite touching the fever dream of ‘The Run’.
Tommy Renzoni is one of those people, whose achievements and life can’t be measured from their net worth, but rather the revolution they bring forth. And he brought a revolution in American gaMbling alright.
Though the Europeans were enjoying the game of baccarat for quite a few centuries, it had no particular commercial appeal at the other side of the pond, especially in the U.S. But all this changed when Frances (Tommy) Renzoni set foot in the USA in the 1950s.
Baccarat found its first audience among the two Americas in the Southern part. Argentina, to be precise. Their variation was called ‘Punto y banco’, simplified as ‘Punto Banco’ for other parts of the world that started playing this variation of baccarat.
From Argentina, it spread to Renzoni’s country, Cuba. At that time, he was working in the Capri Hotel of Havana as a junior manager. But he correctly predicted that Punto Banco has the potential to spread like wildfire inside the casinos of Las Vegas.
Holding that train of thought, he decided to take the leap of faith and moved to the USA. There he proposed this game to Sands Casino. They agreed and introduced Punto Banco as a proper high-roller entertainment with special touches of glitz and glamour that’d draw attention to the game like a dress code, a restricted gaming area for only baccarat etc.
The rest has been history. The game went on to become and still is a huge hit in American casinos. Surprisingly, baccarat’s popularity and reputation have only gone up, partly because of the mini version with low stakes that has attracted more common people to the game.
So, his run in baccarat hasn’t ended yet; it is still going from strength to strength. His life and the growth of the game he loved and spread is his run. And the game still grows even after he’s no more. Long it may continue, all the gamblers would agree and pray.
Renzoni capitalised on his stature as the ‘Father of American Baccarat’ by following that up with a pretty good writing career. He published ‘Renzoni on Baccarat’ in 1973 and ‘Baccarat: Everything You Want To Know About Playing and Winning’ in 1977. Surprisingly enough, the man who transformed gambling in the USA was pretty conventional and simple-minded in the advice he gave away in his books.
He endorsed trend betting, which means to go with the flow. It advises betting for/against the side that has a winning streak going on. “If, for example, the cards favour the player for three consecutive decisions, then your next bet should either be player or you shouldn’t bet at all! If you lose, you lose only one wager.”
But the odds in baccarat haven’t ever changed based on a trend. So, when Renzoni hints at a better success rate if you just follow a trend, it sounds a bit out-of-date.
But he won’t be remembered for his overly simple advice. Rather he’ll forever be known as the man who brought a revolution in the history of Baccarat.
Some of the legends of Baccarat won and lost more money than the total earnings of an average person’s lifetime. Their stories have inspired and attracted generation upon generation to the baccarat table.
Some of them are known for their exuberance and total showmanship, some are known for their tragic death, some are known for their pompousness, and some are as much famous for their losses as their winning runs. There have been skills; there has been deceit; there’s been blind luck and meticulous strategies. And when it all fades away, there are some who have shaped the future of baccarat in more ways than one.
So, as you can see, there’s no sure-shot way to become a baccarat legend or get on an astonishing baccarat run. It’s each to their own. But what you must have are courage, passion and a bit of flair.