People do funny things in all gambling games, but baccarat players are particularly prone to going to great lengths in an attempt to improve their odds. The game has its own culture, and much of that culture involves tradition and superstition.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the behaviors listed below, by the way. They don’t work, but they also don’t hurt your odds. If you like to track patterns and adhere to a strict betting system, have it my friends. If you do use a betting system, just make sure you don’t the system force you to bet more money than you are comfortable betting.
1. Pattern Tracking
Head to the baccarat table at any major brick-and-mortar casino and the odds are good you’ll see at least one player with a sheet of paper keeping track of the outcome of each round. These players are attempting to spot patterns and place well-timed bets when a trend develops.
Pattern tracking is a pointless endeavor in baccarat. The game is completely random and past results are not an indicator of future results. Even if the banker has won the last 5 rounds in a row, the next round will still be perfectly random.
Some people swear by pattern tracking in baccarat, but this is just an example of gambler’s fallacy (see the betting system link above). It’s funny because sometimes two different players will see a string of banker wins and come to completely opposite conclusions. One player may think the banker is on a streak and will start placing big bets on the banker. The other player may think that the other outcome is “due” to hit and start placing big bets on the opposite side.
Some players, especially Asian gamblers, take pattern tracking very seriously. Casinos cater to these players by posting the results of previous rounds in up to five differently-styled scorecards. These “roadmaps” are named the Bead Road, Big Road, Big Eye Road, Small Road and Cockroach Road.
World Gaming Mag has a great explanation of these different roadmaps here.
2. Betting Systems
Baccarat players subscribe to a huge variety of betting systems. Some players keep it simple with the Martingale system while others use their own custom betting systems. As is the case with pattern tracking, betting systems have no outcome on the odds of the game.
For example, the Martingale betting system states that every time you lose, you should double your next bet. The thinking goes that if you double your bet every time you lose, you will eventually win and recoup all of your previous losses.
There are numerous problems with the Martingale system, but the simplest explanation is that no system of betting changes the rules or outcome of the game. The house advantage exists because of the rules of the game, not because of how much money you bet each hand.
Some betting systems can even get you into more trouble than if you would have just kept it simple. In the case of the Martingale system, a short run of bad luck will have you placing absurdly large wagers. A little bad luck while using the Martingale system will leave your bankroll in shambles.
3. The Card Squeeze
You won’t see this one online, but some players (specifically Chinese players) follow a painstaking ritual of slowly revealing the baccarat cards. When you play online, both hands are dealt face up in the middle of the table. But in Macau, the casino deals the cards face down and allows one player to reveal the cards.
The player who reveals the cards doesn’t just flip them over. He slowly and deliberately squeezes the card, bends one side of the card and then bends the other side of the card in order to reveal the suit symbols only and not the numbers. Sometimes, the players will even blow on the cards for good luck.
It’s all about showmanship, suspense and superstition. Asian gamblers are a superstitious lot and nowhere is this more apparent than at a baccarat table. In Macau games, a deck of cards can only be used once before the cards have been rendered useless.
CNN has an interesting piece on card squeezing here.
4. Other Rituals
If you sit at a typical baccarat table at a live casino, you’re bound to see an endless variety of rituals. Superstitious players attach rituals to how they track patterns, how they win, how they lose, how they bet, when they ask to pass the deck and much more.
Some players are happy to search for trends on the electronic scoreboard, others insist on keeping track with their own pen and paper. For whatever reason, baccarat is a ritual-oriented game.
5. What’s the point of all this?
It’s fun. Baccarat is a simple game when you play it online, but the ritual and ceremony that you see at live casinos makes it so much more complicated. People follow these rituals out of a sense of tradition and superstition.
You may also notice that the baccarat tables tend to have high limits at brick-and-mortar casinos. In many cases, baccarat tables are reserved for the special high rollers section at the casino. The game has a low house advantage and all those rituals take up valuable casino resources. So, it’s no surprise that $1 baccarat tables are hard to find in Vegas and Macau.
Surprisingly, baccarat still accounts for the majority of casino revenue in Macau. According to some sources, baccarat accounts for more than 90% of all gaming revenue in Macau. High rollers regularly fly into Macau and drop millions of dollars at the baccarat tables. Casinos are happy to accommodate all the funny things those people do at the tables.