Although it is one of the simplest card games that you can play on any given casino floor, baccarat has built up a reputation for itself as a high-roller’s game. Much of this is down to the origins of the game itself, which first became popularised in the drawing rooms of the European aristocracy in the early modern period. With such lofty origins, baccarat has quietly earned itself a reputation as being the preferred card game of millionaires, mostly because you need a decently high bankroll to play.
Although it doesn’t get the same level of attention as poker or blackjack, baccarat has an equally mysterious lore behind it. And the stories of the biggest winners over the years are every bit as interesting as their poker-playing counterparts. With that said, here are some of the biggest and most well-known high-rolling baccarat players ever to have graced the card table.
Having built a fortune in the Tokyo real estate market, Japanese billionaire Akio Kashiwagi – who also went by the nickname “The Warrior” – is one of the most famous baccarat high rollers. One of his favourite ways to spend his vast property market fortunes was in the world of high-stakes gambling in the casinos of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. With a massive fortune behind him, and one that he didn’t seem to mind spending, Kashiwagi quickly built up a reputation as a high-rolling baccarat player wherever he went to play.
According to Atlantic City lore, the former manager of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino said that he once witnessed Kashiwagi play baccarat for 80 hours straight, betting as high as $100,000 per hand. This was nothing to Kashiwagi, however, as he would frequently win millions in a multiple-day-long gambling binge, only to lose it all weeks later.
On one particular occasion, he was said to be $10m up against the Trump Casino. Once he hit this, the floor manager became worried about covering any further wins and called the game quits – citing an invented rule that games topped out at $12m.
Kashiwagi had a rather tragic downfall later in life and was found dead in mysterious circumstances in 1992 – a murder that has never been solved.
One of the most famous baccarat players ever, and the figure who arguably popularised the American version of baccarat in the 1950s, was Frances “Tommy” Renzoni. Renzoni was a renowned gambler, known for both his skill in a number of card games, as well as the high stakes that he liked to play for. He got his start in the casinos in the resorts of Havana during the 1940s and 1950s, quickly building up a name for himself among the locals and tourists alike.
Although he didn’t necessarily have any wins that reached the heights of the all-time biggest pots, Renzoni was a pivotal figure in popularising the game of baccarat, having introduced it to the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, where it quickly established itself as a high-roller’s game. He used his skills and knowledge of the game to launch a successful publishing career in which he wrote playing guides and recounted the strategies behind his all-time great wins. For all his work in popularising the game and, in particular, reinventing it as a classy, high-roller’s card game, the modern game of baccarat owes a huge debt of gratitude to Renzoni.
Archie Karas is a world-renowned gambler and skilful card player known for his role in “The Run”, which is popularly remembered as the greatest run in gambling history. The story behind this event has gained mythological status within the casino world and is deeply embedded in its lore.
His epic run began in December 1992 when he arrived in Las Vegas with just $50 in his pocket. After some coaxing and cajoling, he managed to borrow a further $10,000 from a friend. Through an incredible run of luck, Karas managed to turn a humble $10,000 into an eye watering $17m through a combination of poker and pool wins.
Eventually, poker players present in the casino refused to play with him at their tables, fearing that they would lose more of their bankroll. As such, he turned to the craps tables, where he continued this incredible streak of luck by turning his bankroll into $23m. Within three years, in 1995, his total fortune had reached $40m. After suffering a number of massive losses on both pool and poker, he returned to baccarat, where he managed to lose $17m, going on to squander much of his remaining fortune in craps and poker. Karas has since gone on to experience another series of massive ups and downs and remains a committed player to this day.
Although poker is the game that most people think of when it comes to the most prolific gamblers in history, as we can tell from the above, this is a misguided perception. From its origins as the chosen game of Europe’s vastly wealthy aristocracy in the 1700s, baccarat has gone on to become one of the most quietly lucrative games around. Baccarat doesn’t scream its high-stakes status at you like poker does, and instead is happy to remain in the backrooms of casinos, quietly bearing witness to some of the most incredible gambling wins in history. Whether it’s the epic $40m run of Archie Karas – and his equally epic downfall – or the mystery surrounding the death of “The Warrior” Kashiwagi, baccarat has seen it all! If you fancy trying your hand at the most historical of games, why not head on over to Bitcasino and see if you can replicate or match one of these epic gambling runs with a risk-free, no-cost demo account?
Words: Sean McNulty