Unfortunately, the reverse is also true in that some players have become famous for massive losses and heartbreaking stories.
One man was even killed with a samurai sword after losing an enormous amount of money. But this same high stakes gambler almost crippled President Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino during one session.
Another gambler won $20 million through baccarat at two casinos — only to lose all of the money through high-profile lawsuits.
Other baccarat players have truly conquered the game and won millions while doing so. This includes a group of gamblers who crushed European casinos.
Keep reading as I cover more on baccarat legends, including the winners, losers, skilled, and plain lucky.
1 – Akio Kashiwagi
Akio Kashiwagi, a.k.a. “The Warrior,” built a fortune in the Tokyo real estate market. He reportedly earned $100 million in profits per year and had over $1 billion in assets.
These massive earnings allowed Kashiwagi to gamble for extremely high stakes in Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos.
He developed a reputation as one of the biggest whales in gambling history. One Las Vegas gaming executive described him as a “premier player, certainly in the top 10.”
Dennis Gomes, former president of the now-defunct Trump Taj Mahal Casino, said that he once saw Kashiwagi play baccarat for 80 straight hours and bet $100,000 per hand. “He’d play two days straight without sleeping, go to bed, get up and gamble some more,” Gomes told the New York Times.
$100k wasn’t even the top betting range for the Kashiwagi, because he’d wager up to $200,000 per hand if allowed.
These massive betting stakes saw the legendary Japanese baccarat player go through incredible swings. Sometimes he’d win millions of dollars in a single night, while other times he’d gamble away all of his profits and then some.
He was up as much as $10 million against the Taj Mahal before he started losing. Trump began getting nervous about the losses and used different measures to throw off Kashiwagi.
At one point, a team of all-male dealers was switched with a team of all-female dealers. Trump saw that Kashiwagi began losing and, out of superstitious, said he wanted the women dealing to the whale from then on.
Donald eventually called the game after being up $10 million, at which point Kashiwagi became angry. The Tokyo real estate mogul cited that the game was supposed to run until he was up or down $12 million.
Perhaps Trump was satisfied with the $10 million in winnings and didn’t want to take a chance that Kashiwagi would make a comeback. Whatever the case may be, he didn’t get a chance to collect on the debt.
Kashiwagi was murdered less than a month later on January 3, 1992. He was found dead in his Mount Fuji home with 150 wounds from a samurai sword.
Kashiwagi died owing the Taj Mahal and Las Vegas Hilton $4 million apiece.
Police have never solved the murder to this day. He had alleged ties to the Yakuza, which may have played a role in his death.
2 – John W. Gates
John Warne Gates, who lived from 1855-1911, was a famed millionaire from the Gilded Industrial Age. But the Chicago native didn’t start out with a silver spoon.
Instead, he sold firewood to homes and local railroads. He eventually befriended some of the railroad workers and began playing cards with them.
Gates, who’d go on to make a fortune through selling barbed wire, instantly fell in love with card games and carried this gambling affinity throughout his entire adult life.
Gates frequently hosted high stakes baccarat and poker games at his Chicago home. He and his travel companions also played cards for countless hours on train trips from Chicago to New York.
During one particular trip, Gates was acting as the baccarat banker and decided to bet $1 million (approx. $27m at the time) in a single round. This meant that the other player had to risk the same amount.
Gates and his unnamed opponent also included a special rule, whereby the banker deals three hands on the table. One of the hands was for Gates, while the player got to choose if they want to play one or both of the remaining two hands (a.k.a. the “cheval” rule).
Here are the three possible outcomes if the gambler chooses to play both hands:
- They win the bet by winning both hands.
- They tie with one win and loss.
- They lose their money with two losses.
The opponent tied Gates after winning one hand and losing the other.
Even though no money was exchanged, Gates earned the nickname “Mr. Bet-a-Million” for his willingness to risk so much in a single round.
This story only represents one of the many times that Gates was willing to gamble big money. Mr. Bet-a-Million also made huge wagers on poker and horse racing.
His wife, Dellora, wasn’t thrilled about these marathon poker sessions. But John kept diamonds in his vest pocket and gave them to Dellora to calm her down and keep his poker games going.
Gates once wagered $70,000 on a horse race in England and won $600,000 dollars. The story was exaggerated to claim that he won $1 million, which only furthered his reputation as Mr. Bet-a-Million.
Yet another famous Gates gambling story is when he bet on which raindrops would fall the fastest on a window. He and an associate made wagers worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars on the falling raindrops.
3 – The Greek Syndicate
Most gamblers on this list are exactly that — they were merely gambled and relied on luck to win. The Greek Syndicate is different, though, because they used skill to win large sums of money.
The name itself makes the Greek Syndicate seem like a gang of cheaters or even some type of mafia. In reality, this is perhaps the greatest collection of baccarat players in history.
The Greek Syndicate Featured five members, including Francois Andre, Zaret Couyoumdjian, Eli Eliopulo, Anthanase Vagliano, and Nicolas Zographos.
Their story began when Eliopulo and Zographos left Greece for Paris in order to take advantage of their gambling skills. They began playing at Parisian casinos, where they met Couyoumdjian, an already established professional gambler.
This trio would later meet Vagliano, who had made a fortune through shipping and used this money to bankroll the team. The syndicate was completed when they added Andre, who made for the team’s fifth and final member.
They traveled to casinos in Paris, Cannes, in Monte Carlo throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Greek Syndicate made most of their money through high stakes baccarat games.
Was Zographos, who had incredible mathematical and memorization skills. He could memorize every single hand that had been dealt from a shoe, which allowed him to correctly guess what cards would come out towards the end.
Zographos alerted the team when the odds were either favoring the banker or player. The syndicate used this knowledge to bet accordingly and gain a sizable advantage over casinos.
The Greek syndicate continued to make large profits up until the start of World War II, when many countries banned gambling in order to concentrate on their war efforts.
4 – Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey’s gambling legend began in poker, where he quickly established himself as one of the world’s best players. To date, Ivey has earned 10 WSOP gold bracelets and $26.2 million in live tournaments.
Throughout most of the 2000s, he was also widely regarded as the world’s best all-around poker player. Case in point, he won over $20 million in online cash game profits from 2007-2011.
But Ivey isn’t just a poker player. He’s also skilled in many other forms of gambling, including baccarat.
He, along with an accomplice named “Kelly” Sun, put these skills on display in high stakes punto banco games in Atlantic City and London. The duo used an advantage gambling technique known as edge sorting to make a combined $20.6 million from the Borgata (Atlantic City) and Crockfords (London) casinos.
Edge sorting begins with finding flawed decks that have non-symmetrical patterns. Some card manufacturers make mistakes when creating decks, which leads to these flawed card backs.
Gemaco made a purple deck that cut off the diamond patterns on certain card values. If one spots these irregularities, they can determine which card values are coming before they’re revealed.
Sun is an expert at finding these imperfections. She teamed up with Ivey to exploit casinos with her edge sorting abilities.
The one catch to Ivey’s and Sun’s strategy is that it’s very difficult to spot flawed card backs from a distance. Therefore, they made special requests to make the process easier.
Considering that Ivey made a $1 million deposit to play, both Crockfords and the Borgata accommodated his seemingly superstitious requests. Little did they know, though, that these requests gave Ivey a bigger advantage.
For one, they asked that the dealer only speak Mandarin Chinese (Sun’s native language). This allowed Sun to make special requests without casino management understanding what she was saying.
The second big favor involved asking the dealer to rotate cards 180 degrees. Doing so makes it easier to spot imperfections on the long side of card backs.
Thirdly, they asked that both casinos only use a purple Gemaco deck. Sun had learned through observation that this Gemaco deck had certain flaws.
They used all of these factors to win tens of millions of dollars from the casinos. Unfortunately for them, though, they walked away with nothing in the end.
Crockfords withheld the pair’s $11 million in winnings, citing that they’d wire the funds after the bank holiday was over.
The London casino and never sent the money, instead choosing to keep the winnings after reviewing surveillance footage. Ivey would launch a lawsuit against Crockfords in 2012 to recover the $11 million.
Borgata actually paid $9.6 million in winnings to Ivey and Sun. But the casino later sued for the money after learning how the team beat them.
Judges in New Jersey and London sided with the casinos. While neither thought that Ivey and Sun knowingly cheated, the judges noted that making the type of requests they did went beyond normal advantage-play.
5 – Kerry Packer
Kerry Packer (1937-2005) was a media mogul who rose to become Australia’s richest man. Packer had a $6.5 billion net worth at the time of his death.
Considering his vast wealth, Packer had no problem gambling some of the highest stakes ever seen at casinos. It wasn’t uncommon for him to experience multimillion-dollar swings during a single weekend.
In one instance, he lost over £13.6 million during a three-day baccarat session in Vegas. The Telegraph noted at the time (2000) that this was the largest short-term loss ever in Vegas history.
The news outlet also reports that this session drove Packer’s losses up to £27.4 million in a 10-month span. He also reportedly lost £11 million at Crockfords, which was a record amount for a British casino.
Of course, Packer’s gambling career wasn’t all marked by extravagant losses. He also won plenty of amount of money as well.
During one trip to the MGM Grand, he earned a £13 million profit through baccarat. While this didn’t completely eliminate his losses from the previous stories, it shows that Packer could sometimes go on heaters.
If friends’ accounts are true, Packer possibly used skill to win in baccarat. He had a photographic memory and keen ability to instantly calculate baccarat odds (like Zographos in the previous story).
Aside from his high stakes play and uncanny skills, Packer also became a legend for the unforgettable stories that he created.
He once loaned the actor George Hamilton £125,000 so that he could split two aces. Hamilton won and wanted to give Packer extra money, but the media mogul only wanted the original loan back.
In another story, Packer noticed a Texas oil rig owner getting lots of attention from the casino staff. He asked the oil tycoon why he was receiving so much attention, to which the man bragged that he was worth $100 million.
Packer told the man, “I’ll toss you for it.” The oilman left after refusing to risk his entire wealth on a single coin flip.
6 – Archie Karas
Archie Karas is known for “The Run,” which is generally regarded as the greatest gambling run in history. The Greek-born gambler took a $10,000 loan from a poker buddy and turned it into $40 million.
Karas’ story began in December 1992, when he drove from L.A. to Las Vegas with just $50 in his pocket. He then borrowed the aforementioned $10k from a friend and turned it into $17 million through a combination of pool and poker.
Eventually, no pool or poker players wanted a piece of the streaking Karas. This included poker legends like Stu Ungar, Chip Reese, and Doyle Brunson.
With the poker and pool action all dried up, he turned to playing craps. Karas continued his miraculous run by winning another $23 million from the Binion’s Horseshoe craps tables.
By the end of 1995, he’d amassed a $40 million fortune and needed help from his brother and security guards to transport money to and from casinos.
The result included losing $11 million at the baccarat tables. This convinced him to switch back to poker, where he lost another $2 million to Reese.
Karas then returned to baccarat, where he lost $17 million. He’d lose the remainder of his money through craps, poker, and baccarat.
Karas has since gone on other multimillion-dollar gambling runs. But none of them have ever matched The Run.
7 – Tommy Renzoni
People have been playing baccarat in Europe for hundreds of years. But it wasn’t until Frances “Tommy” Renzoni came to the United States in the 1950s that baccarat finally hit American casinos.
Argentina was the first country in the Americas to feature baccarat. The Argentine version is called Punto Y Banco, or simply punto banco as it’s known in most countries.
Eventually, the game traveled to Renzoni’s native country of Cuba. Tommy, a junior manager at Havana’s Capril Hotel, wisely predicted that punto banco would become popular in Las Vegas casinos.
He moved to the US and approached the Sands casino about trying the game. Sands responded by turning punto banco into a high-roller affair, complete with a roped-off area and dress code.
The game has since gone on to be a widespread hit among American casinos. Baccarat is even more popular now, thanks to the low-stakes “mini” version.
As for Renzoni, he turned his billing as the father of American baccarat into a successful writing career. He penned Renzoni on Baccarat (1973) Baccarat: Everything You Want to Know About Playing and Winning (1977).
Tommy didn’t really bring any revolutionary advice for beating the game. In fact, he frequently discusses trend betting, which involves either betting for or against the side that continues winning.
Here’s an example of his advice:
“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.
“If you bet against the trend, you can be suckered into betting and betting and betting. I have seen more fortunes lost by people who became emotionally committed to one position that went against the trend than through any other folly in gaming!”
As you may know, baccarat odds don’t change regardless of if there’s a trend afoot or not. But Renzoni writes as if betting with a trend will help you win more often.
Regardless of this outdated advice, Renzoni is easily one of the most-influential people in baccarat history. He brought the game to the US, where it’s become a big commercial success.
Some of the baccarat legends on this list have won and lost more money than the average person will make in their lifetime. Akio Kashiwagi, John W. Gates, and Kerry Packer all became well known for their extravagant baccarat betting.
Kashiwagi’s story ended in tragedy when he was killed by a samurai-wielding assassin. It’s unclear if his gambling debts were the reasoning, but it’s possible given that he’d just lost $10 million at the Trump Taj Mahal beforehand.
Gates became known as Mr. Bet-a-Million for a bold $1 million baccarat wager. This is all the more incredible when considering that his bet would be worth around $27 million today when adjusted for inflation.
Packer is notorious for some of the biggest losses in Vegas history. But he also had some big winning sessions too, including a £13 win at the MGM Grand.
The Greek Syndicate and Phil Ivey both won millions through skill-based play. But only the Greek Syndicate got to keep their money, while Ivey lost two edge sorting related cases.
Archie Karas lays claim to the greatest run in gambling history. Unfortunately, baccarat caused Karas to lose most of the $40 million fortune that he’d earned.
Tommy Renzoni is the only person on this list who became a legend for his contributions to baccarat, rather than playing. He’s widely regarded as the father of American baccarat.
As you can see, there’s no one path to becoming a baccarat legend. But betting huge amounts of money is the easiest way to path to doing so.