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Jerome, the Baccarat Prodigy

When I'm not writing books, my day job has me working at a casino. During my tenure, I've accumulated a bunch of stories that I love to share with my friends. I've got lots of favorites, but this one that happened a few years ago when I was still dealing cards still makes me laugh.

This is about the baffling game of Baccarat. To explain the complicated rules behind this game would take an entire separate article, and I don't want to bore you. Suffice it to say that there's a Player hand, and a Banker hand---each of which gets two cards. Face cards are counted as zero, and we only only count the last digit of the sum of the cards. So a total of 9 would be a "9", and a total of 19 would also be a "9." A total of 30 would be a "0." Everyone at the table is simply betting which hand will come closer to 9? Will it be player, or banker? If you're right, you win. If you're wrong, better luck next time.

It’s a very popular game with high rollers, and it’s very popular with the Asian community, but it attracts lots of people because of its deceptive simplicity. Most casinos keep a running digital display of the results of the last twenty hands, and it’s permissible to keep a scorecard at your table to track the hands yourself. Theoretically, if you’re a mathematical prodigy, you can extrapolate from the results what the most likely outcome is going to be on the next hand. In reality, I think you’d have the same luck if you made your decision based on a coin flip.

So I was dealing the game one day to a group of very serious and silent gamers. A young, brash guy named Jerome was walking by the table with one of his friends. I knew Jerome to be a strict Blackjack player, he didn’t touch anything else. His buddy paused at the Baccarat table, looking at the activity and hustle surrounding the table. It was a normal day of Baccarat at our casino, which meant there was probably about a dozen people jockeying for bets.

“Jerome, how do you play this game?” his buddy asked.

I had never seen Jerome play Baccarat before, but he immediately and without hesitation launched into this explosive, loud and wild speech.

“You gotta bet on what side is gonna have the highest score, Player or Banker! And you see that display up there on the table? The last five hands were Banker Wins! That means that 80% of the time, it’s gonna chop over to Player this hand. But the two of those hands were natural wins, so that tells most people it’s gonna be a Banker win after all. But you go back ten hands ago, there were two ties in a row. That resets everything, and means those natural wins don’t mean shit, so that’s why it’s gonna be a Banker win after all! So you gotta bet Banker, you got no choice. Banker! Bam! Banker Bet! Let’s see that shit, dealer!”

And to illustrate the point, he took ten dollars in chips out of his pocket and slammed it on a Banker Bet position. This was done in conjunction with the word bam for full dramatic emphasis. Then he stepped back, folded his arms, and waited.

I was speechless. Anyone who knows anything about the game could tell that everything Jerome had just said was a wildly insane and meaningless rant. But he sold that story like an expert. His friend believed him, and followed suit by placing a ten dollar bet of his own on Banker. Not only had he convinced his friend, but several of the other gamblers at the table, many of them notoriously superstitious by nature, followed suit. He had influenced the entire table. Jerome just stood back, folding his arms, and smiling at what he seemed convinced was an absolutely sure bet. Not sure enough to place more than $10, of course, but if he had any shred of doubt, it didn't show. Had a new Baccarat prodigy revealed itself? Every player waited breathlessly for the Banker bet to win.

I drew the cards.

He lost. The Player Hand won the bet. It wasn’t even close. Player 8, Banker 2. Everyone at the table lost. Everyone looked at Jerome for an explanation.

Jerome, cool as ice, just shrugged and before he walked away, he said, “What, man? I don’t know how the fuck this game works. I play blackjack.”

The hardest part of my job is to not laugh out loud when things like that happens. It would have been insensitive to all the people at the table who had just lost. But for Jerome, it was a win-win situation. If he was right, he would have come off like a genius. If he lost, he only lost $10 to troll his friend. So I didn't laugh out loud. But I did have an internal hemorrhage. Sometimes, my job is a blast....

John Yeo Jr. is the author of The King's Tournament, The Infinite League and Mama Sauveterre's Curiosity Shoppe. His next novel, The Barren Dagger, comes out in September. You can follow more of John's news or order some of his books at Yeoniverse.com

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