The baccarat card squeeze ritual

Baccarat is the simplest of games. Once you’ve bet on Banker or Player (or Tie if you really want to throw your money away) the dealer does the rest and there is nothing more you can do to influence whether your bet will win or lose. But this isn’t how many Chinese gamblers see things.

When you play a game of live baccarat the deal doesn’t take long…nor should it. Two or three cards dealt to the Player, two or three cards dealt to the Banker, no decision required from any of the participants. Done.

But if you’ve ever watched a game in Macau, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a completely different game. It’s not.  Well not the rules anyway. But the way it all unfolds (literally) is very different.

Baccarat card squeeze

The big difference is how the cards are revealed. Playing live online (or in many traditional casinos around the world) invariably the Player and Banker hands are dealt face up.

On a typical baccarat table in Macau the cards are dealt face down and croupier will allow a chosen player to reveal the hand that he or she has bet on.  It’s not a quick reveal, but rather a deliberate process whereby the first card is bent up along one side, then rotated 90° and bent up along the adjoining side, each time revealing only the suite symbols on each edge.  The card’s actual number is always carefully concealed by a practiced thumb. This tells the player a little about the card, but not enough to know the value. 2 suit symbols across the top and three down the side, for example, could be either a 6 (suit symbol in the middle of card), 7 (1 suit symbol in the middle of card) or 8 (2 suit symbols in the middle of card).

Techniques vary from the no fuss quick bend-turn-bend-flip to a painstakingly slow rubbing/bending  motion that appears as if they’re using the card to roll a Bob Marley special, or squeeze something either into or out of it. Perhaps this is where the term ‘card squeeze’ as the process is referred to, comes from.  After the first card is squeezed attention turns to the second card and process is repeated.  If a third card is required it will be squeezed also.

So what’s the point I hear you ask? Aside from building an enormous amount of tension and commotion around the table, no amount of card bending or rubbing is going to change the value of the card right? Well this is a matter of belief and being a very superstitious lot when it comes to their baccarat, quite a few Chinese gamblers clearly believe that it can. Scott Milburn, who is the boss of table games at  Macau’s City of Dreams told CNN that, “sometimes, you almost believe that they can actually change the outcome of a card by the way they squeeze the card. So there’s a lot of superstition.”

Squeezing isn’t the only trick in the superstitious baccarat player’s arsenal. Let’s say the squeeze tells the player the card is a  6, 7, or 8 and they really need the card to be a 6. Blowing on it before the final reveal will apparently help blow away the existence of any suit symbols in the card’s center to ‘produce’ the required 6. In case the blowing didn’t help, stabbing the card with a ball point pen will add an extra dose of good luck.

And yes, the cards are well and truly destroyed and disposed of at the end of the round.

Does squeezing help?

Does it help fill baccarat tables with players? Having walked the gaming floors at the Venetian and Galaxy where 75% of the tables are devoted to baccarat, and most are full at any given time, I would have to answer an unqualified yes.

Does it help players actually win more money playing baccarat? Given baccarat accounts for about 85% of Macau casino’s total gaming revenues I’d hazard a guess that it does not. Then and again, perhaps the percentage would be higher without all that squeezing?

Squeezing cards playing live baccarat

Obviously you can’t reach into you PC and bend the cards during a game of live baccarat. Besides, if it were possible to reach into you PC squeeze anything in a typical dealer studio in Latvia, Manilla or Costa Rica, I wouldn’t be wasting my time on the cards!

For high rollers out there eager to inject at least a little bit of Macau-style card peeking action, there is a live baccarat game where cards are initially dealt face-down and the the highest staking player gets an option to peek before cards are revealed.  Not the same I know.  But I suspect this is as good as it’ll get when your table is a few thousand miles away!

There’s also a novelty game option for iPad and iPhone called VIP Baccarat – Squeeze that let’s you experience the ritual, albeit in virtual mode.  Here’s a short clip of me playing around with it.

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