The Romance with Baccarat

Sep 2, 2021

Baccarat across the globe has exploded over the past 20 years. What is it about a fairly simple game that has catapulted to a top game in the casino industry?

  • Is it because of cultural and macro economic factors?
  • Is it the low house edge of the game compared to most other games a casino offers?
  • Perhaps when players squeeze the cards, they feel like they have the ability to influence the outcome?

In this post, we explore the romance that players have with Baccarat. 

Romance #1: Touching/Squeezing the Cards

In February of 2010, Pai Yao wrote a great article on what the players are looking for when they squeeze the cards. It’s a must-read for any executive who manages a Baccarat business. Understanding the player experience is key to offering the right product for your guests.

Why let the players squeeze the cards? The outcome doesn’t change. In fact, if you do not let players squeeze the cards, the game will move faster. Table game operators for many years executed that strategy which rarely attracted the high valued players. Why is that? 

In Yao’s article, he explains all the nuances of what the players are experiencing when squeezing the cards. He does a great job explaining all these nuances that I learned from watching and playing the game. I wish I knew this article existed when I was an operator, I would have saved some money instead of trying to play the game and trying to find out for myself!

The art of the squeeze perhaps can’t change the outcome, but it's what the players believe. We are all superstitious in some ways. Why do some sports teams wear the same dirty socks when they go on a winning streak? It doesn’t change the outcome of the game but many professional athletes still have their own superstitions.

I was responsible for a large table games operation in my previous life at Parx Casino. Even though squeezing cards made little sense to me, I took it upon myself to learn what the players were experiencing and what motivated them to play this game. I soon understood the romance with squeezing the cards; the thrill is actually controlling the suspense of the outcome which players could definitely control! 

Baccarat Cards

This begs the question: Do you have the right cards for your squeeze games? If you are using jumbo index cards that you use for your blackjack and carnival games for your squeeze games, I’ll be the bearer of bad news here - you are ruining the player experience of squeezing cards. Jumbo index cards leave no room for suspense - I challenge you to try it for yourself.

Along the same lines, is there something unique about the design of your cards that annoys the guest? Does your Ace of Spades have that really big spade vs the suits? That also diminishes the guest experience for squeeze games and I have learned the hard way that guests may just go somewhere else if they can’t find the ideal experience.

Romance #2: Trend Boards

We have touched on this topic on webinars and panel discussions in the past, but it’s worth bringing up in this context. Trying to predict the next outcome of the game is just as important, if not more important, than squeezing the cards for the players.

Baccarat trend boards help the guests track the previous outcomes so that they can try and predict the next outcome. Of course, as operators we know that mathematically, this is not possible. As a result, we may discount the idea of having a trend board all together.

But, this is part of the experience of the game itself and without the board, we are eroding the experience of the game itself. It’s the same reason we have trend boards for Roulette - there is no downside. 

Now that we have an understanding of trend boards, this begs the next question. Do you have any procedures that erode the experience of the trend board itself? 

1. Start of a New Shoe

Why do the majority of empty Baccarat tables have empty trend boards? Baccarat players don’t want to be the first one to dance. They walk the floor searching for trends (funny story about that soon).

At most of the properties in the Asia Pacific region, a simple procedure is implemented. When a new shoe begins, if there are no players seated, the dealer deals three to five hands to start a new trend. It's simple, and effective in starting the ‘action’ on the game. Players love it. 

2. Free Hands

Free hands are also important to the guest experience. I almost lost my job while I was an operator for allowing free hands. The problem is the word “free”. Some executives believe you are giving something away and the players are taking an advantage. 

Players want control, or the perception of control, of the trend. Consider a $50 squeeze game where some properties enforce the rule that a player has bet on both sides so they can see a “free” hand. 

As an operator, the question I asked myself was whether it was worth upsetting some of my most valuable players for a potential 5% commission and the chance of losing them. In my humble opinion, the upside in player experience far outweighs any downside. 

3. Continuous Dealing

Many operators often see the “feast or famine” distribution on the Baccarat tables, where some tables with no trend are empty, while others with a “hot” trend are crowded. As an operator, I didn’t know what I could do to control this. 

Empty games usually sit dead until a player decides to play or if the Pit Manager “breaks” the shoe. I learned from visiting many jurisdictions around the world, where a continuous dealing procedure is common - on a dead table, deal a free hand every minute or so to create new trends. It dawned on me that as operators, that is what we want to offer - as many trends as possible for players to wager on, to create the ultimate Baccarat experience.

Conclusion of Trends

After extensive analysis of the game, we learned that players behave differently when operators allow trends through some of these operating procedures. There will be fewer empty games and guests will appreciate more “attractive” trends to chase.

Back to my story - I was in the middle of the Baccarat with one of our property leaders and he explained to me that he didn't think we should have trend boards. A little perplexed, I dared to ask why. He explained to me that players can predict the outcome using the trend board. 

This was a Baccarat business that grew every year and that year was our best year yet. So I naturally asked the question, “I guess I don’t understand, you are saying players can predict the outcome but we are having our best year yet?” 

The reality is that many leaders are worried about guests trying to get an edge over the house, however irrational it may sound.

My question to the operators is simple: are you offering the best possible experience to your most valued guests?

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Ari Mizrachi

As SVP and Head of North America Business, Ari brings over 15 years of operations experience across multiple jurisdictions in North America including Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Ari oversees Tangam’s global client base and helps operators adopt yield management best practices.

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