No other game in the casino is more susceptible to attack from cheaters than Baccarat. The size and shape of the table, as well as the way the game is played, allow a number of different avenues for assaulting the casino’s bankroll. Following is a list of factors that contribute to Baccarat’s vulnerability:
• The shape and size of the Midi-Baccarat and larger Mini-Baccarat tables position the game for cheating tactics such as “pinching and pressing” (increasing or decreasing bets illegally), primarily around the far corner positions.
• The volume of wagers and high wager limits, and the lack of hand strategy options (players are limited to the third card rule), makes the game attractive to false shuffle scams.
• Because players can handle the cards in the big table and Midi versions, the game is open to “hand mucking” (card switching) and card marking.
Card marking in Baccarat is extremely attractive. Once specific cards are marked, the information can provide the cheater an extremely profitable and hard-to-detect scam. Because Baccarat lacks player hand strategy options, and because the players are allowed to bet on both sides of the wagering decision, first or “top card” information can be exploited, while detection in a timely manner is highly unlikely.
By marking the 9-, 8- and 7-value cards, the cheater can obtain vital top card information that will result in a theoretical edge of about 15 percent (see Table 1) when a marked card sits in the window of the Baccarat dealing shoe prior to the next hand. When the cheater spies a marked card, he or she will bet on the “player,” as the first card dealt from the shoe is always given to the “player’s” hand. With all the 9s, 8s and 7s marked, cheaters spy a marked top card about once out of every four to five hands (96 out of 416 cards, or 23 percent of the time in an eight-deck shoe). In situations where marking the cards takes deception to accomplish, cheats may mark only the 9s and 8s.
In Baccarat, cards are usually marked in one of two ways. The first method requires the cheater to place a slight diagonal or lengthwise “bend” on the card; this alters the light that reflects off the card when it is in the shoe window. The second method requires the use of a foreign substance known as “daub.” The daub is located on the cheater’s finger tip and is lightly applied across the center width of the card. When a daubed card is in the shoe window, it appears to have a slight smear or discoloration. When a daub is applied correctly, it is very difficult for the untrained eye to detect. Because only three card values need to be identified, cheaters use a “one way design” marking pattern. In many other card games, cheaters may have to use multiple marking patterns to gain the desired information.
In many situations, several members of a cheating team will occupy seats at the Baccarat game and wager with the cheater reading the markings. If a non-marked card rests in the shoe window, the cheaters may offset their betting (bet against each other) to help disguise their relationship. Even though cheaters will wager on the player hand when a marked card is visible, enough offsetting situations occur to camouflage the betting patterns and render the scam close to impossible to detect at first observation.
Because players can only touch Baccarat cards at big table or Midi games, it has generally been accepted that these games are the only form of Baccarat that can be marked by players at the table. In most casinos worldwide, Baccarat cards that are handled or squeezed are dealt through only once, with immediate deck replacement before the next shuffle. This procedure resulted from high limit players “mutilating” or severely bending cards while peeking at the hands, rendering the cards unusable. At one time, it was the shift manager’s discretion whether or not cards should be changed prior to the next shuffle. Today, procedure usually dictates that cards used in the previous shoe must be changed regardless of their visual condition and appearance, primarily for game protection reasons. Remember, touched cards can always be marked. When given the option to remove touched cards from play, it is always wise to do so, unless extremely cost-prohibited.
Even though players never touch the cards in Mini Baccarat, don’t rule out the possibility of marked cards. Mini Baccarat games have been attacked in the past by marking the card that lies on top of the discard holder. Information about the value of the top card of the discard holder is gained while the played hand is still exposed on the table. The furthest card on the dealer’s right — the last card delivered to the player hand — will be the first to be scooped up, and will end up on top when the cards are placed in the discard holder. A cheat will wait until a 7, 8 or 9 is exposed on the table as the last player card, and will mark that key card after the dealer places it in the discard holder.
This is done by positioning a cheating player at the last table position to the dealer’s right, adjacent to the discard holder. When the dealer’s attention is distracted by another cheating player sitting at the first or second table position, the cheater closest to the discard holder simply reaches in and daubs the top card with his finger. This is usually done under the cover of the Baccarat tracking card, which shields the overt move from direct observation by the casino’s surveillance cameras. Many casinos were attacked by this card marking scam in the 1990s; many have since purchased plastic covers for their Mini-Baccarat discard holders. This game protection device allows the dealer to insert used cards into the holder through a narrow slot at the top of the cover.
Pai Gow Poker
Poker-based games are different from Blackjack and Baccarat. For example, in Baccarat, the value of the hand depends on the sum of all card values and its relationship to the sum of values in the other competitive hand. Poker-based games deduce hand value from a previously-established ranking order, i.e., Ace, King, Queen, etc., in descending order. Pai Gow Poker (PGP) is one of these games.
PGP is like most other Poker-based games, where players’ hands are pitted against the house or bank hand. In PGP, the player receives seven cards and then is required to construct two hands from these cards without a draw; one two-card hand and a higher-ranked five-card hand. The player must then best both the house’s two- and five-card hands to win. If the player only bests one hand, the round is considered a tie; if the house bests him on both hands, he loses.
Marking cards in PGP can accomplish two different goals. The first goal is to gain card information to determine hand-setting strategy. Usually, Aces and the Joker (PGP uses a 52-card deck plus a Joker that is wild with straights and flushes or, by itself, considered an Ace) are marked with a slight corner crimp or an end-to-end bend. This allows the cheat to read the cards while either in a seven-card stack, or stacked in the two-card or five-card arrangement. Unfortunately, this information is virtually worthless using casino-style PGP procedures, as the house or bank sets its hand after all other players have set theirs.
The second option for using marked cards in PGP is done so the cheater who takes the bank can locate stacked seven-card hands waiting to be delivered with the largest number of Aces/Jokers. Again, there is a problem with using this technique under casino procedures. For the marked card information to be effective, the cheater first needs to locate a game which employs neither a shuffling machine that drops seven-card hands nor dice or randomly generated LED numbers to determine hand delivery order. The bottomline: Don’t worry too much about marked cards in casino-dealt PGP.
Caribbean Stud and Three Card Poker
Some Poker-based games utilize a dealer qualifier hand as an important factor in determining the outcome of the game. Caribbean Stud Poker (CSP) is a perfect example of this. Before players can match their hands against the dealer’s, the dealer must possess a five-card hand of Ace-King or better. If the dealer does not qualify, the house pays the player’s ante, regardless of what the player holds in his five-card hand. Of course, the decision strategy players use when playing CSP is, prior to the dealer’s hand being exposed, whether or not to toss in their hand and lose their ante, or place a call bet and stay in the game. Subsequently, any player armed with information assisting in this critical decision has some negative effect on CSP’s house advantage.
Unfortunately for the cheater, information on whether the dealer holds an Ace and King does very little. Because the dealer has five cards in his hand, there are many ways to qualify without an Ace or a King — pairs occur so frequently, more information would need to be obtained to gain an advantage. This is not practical for a cheater when marking cards on the table because of the need to use a multiple-way design pattern.
Marking qualifier cards in Three Card Poker (TCP) is more advantageous. Because the dealer receives only three cards, his chances of obtaining a pair or higher is greatly reduced. In this situation, marking all Aces, Kings and Queens is optimal, as the dealer needs a Queen-high hand or better to qualify. If the cheater possesses a three-card hand that normally wouldn’t typically be considered a keeper, he would reconsider giving up his ante if the dealer did not hold a marked Ace, King or Queen in his hand. By using this information and qualifier strategy, the cheater can gain an approximate 20 to 25 percent edge over the house. [Note: Correct playing strategy in TCP without any additional information is to stay in with hands of Queen-6-4 or higher.]
There is a problem when detecting marked card play in TCP. If the marked cards are not reasonably easy to see from the pit, it’s difficult to discover the scam based on visual strategy play alone. Because a dealer normally doesn’t expose players’ hand values when he doesn’t qualify — he simply pays the remaining ante wagers and picks up the cards face down — the hand strategy is unintentionally concealed from view. The floor supervisor and surveillance operator need to watch for players staying with hands of Jack-high or lower when the dealer needs pairs or higher to qualify. These unusual strategy plays may be an indication of either the use of marked cards, or an advantage player legally obtaining hole-card information from a sloppy dealer. [Note: Please ignore all hands that are played by the customer “in-the-blind.” Some players prefer to make both the ante and call wagers before cards are dealt, eliminating the need to make a strategy decision.]
Other Live Poker Games
Live casino games that are Poker-based are very difficult to defeat using basic methods of marking cards from the outside (while on the table). Because these games are based on a Poker ranking system without a need to qualify, more card information is needed before a cheater can gain a reasonable advantage. In most games, the highest hand is decided on ranking combinations that include pairs or more of like cards, runs of suited cards or runs of cards in a specific order.
In an attempt to gain as much information about the cards as possible, a cheater will be required to use a multiple-design marking system, not a simple marking method as described in the previous examples. Even though a four-way design marking technique could be applied from the table by a talented card bender or dauber, it would take some time to mark almost every card in the deck. Plus, the likelihood it would be discovered during the marking process is much higher than it would be if the cheater is employing a simple system.
Regardless of the seeming impossibility of marking cards in some of these games, beware — you should never totally rule out the use of marked cards on any game, especially if the marked cards can be used effectively on higher-limit tables. It’s also important to keep in mind that most cheaters who employ different marking techniques ply their trade in a manner where the marks are hard to detect. The best way to detect marked cards is to watch for variations in the playing or wagering strategy that can be correlated to top-card, hole-card or hand-value knowledge.