Not to be confused with ‘Little Joe’ Cartwright, the character made famous by the late Michael Landon in the television series ‘Bonanza’ from the late Fifties onwards, ‘Little Joe’ is a traditional – in fact, almost obsolete – term used in casino craps games. The term ‘Little Joe’ was first recorded in the late nineteenth century and is often used, loosely, and erroneously, according to some sources, to describe any roll of four – that is, 1-3, 3-1, or 2-2 – or a point of four in a craps. The term ‘Little Joe from Kokomo’, on the other hand, was a later development and refers specifically to a ‘hard’ four or, in other words, 2-2 alone. For the record, the probability of rolling any four is 3/36, or 1/12, or 8.33%, while the probability of rolling a hard four is 1/36, or 2.77%.
In the case of the latter term, the ‘Little Joe’ in question is believed to be ‘Little Joe’ Fohn, who was one of the top tournament bowlers in Kokomo, Indiana in the Twenties. Interestingly, the first Japanese American jockey in the United States, Yoshio Kobuki – who, his father once joked, was small enough to fit in his jacket pocket – was also nicknamed ‘Kokomo Joe’. However, Kobuki Jnr. was not born until 1918 and did not rise to prominence until the early Forties, by which time the ‘Little Joe from Kokomo’ term was probably already in common usage. It is also interesting to note that U.S. Route 31 and U.S. Route 22 pass through Kokomo, Indiana north-south and west-east, respectively.
In the gambling industry, extremely wealthy patrons, who consistently gamble far more than the average man in the street are known as ‘high rollers’ or ‘whales’, depending on the level of their bankroll. In Las Vegas, casino hosts offer generous complimentary services to these high-stakes gamblers, safe in the knowledge that they are not immune to the unswayable laws of mathematical probability and may, periodically, come a cropper and suffer eye-wateringly heavy losses.
The man who has the dubious distinction of achieving what is believed to be the biggest losing streak in the history of Las Vegas is Japanese-American Terrance Watanabe, former owner of the Oriental Trading Company, founded by his father, Harry Watanabe, in 1932. In 2000, Watanabe sold his stake in the family business, for an undisclosed fortune, and became a philanthropist and self-confessed gambling addict.
In 2007, while staying in what was later described as the ‘most elegant suite’ in Caesars Palace, Watanabe claims that he bet over $825 on a variety of casino games at Caesars Palace and The Rio, losing a total of $127 million. Unlike most high-stakes gamblers, his choices included games, such as keno, roulette and slots, which carry a large house edge. Even in games carrying a much smaller house edge, such as blackjack – which Watanabe would reputedly play, three $50,000 hands at a time, for hours on end – he repeatedly made awful decisions and could lose up to $5 million a day.
Nowadays, baccarat is the most popular gambling game in the world, accounting for the majority of casino revenue in Macau and Singapore and, even on the Las Vegas Strip, playing second fiddle only to the ubiquitous slot machines in terms of profitability.
Like many ancient card games, the origin of baccarat is disputed. The name ‘baccarat’ is derived from the French word ‘baccara’, which dates from the mid-nineteenth century, but the origin of which is unknown. One suggestion, by independent game historian Thierry Depaulis, that the name is derived from the Provençal expression ‘fa bacarrat’, which translates into English as ‘go bankrupt’, seems at least as plausible, if not more so, than unsubstantiated rumours of an Italian heritage. In his ‘Dictionary of Conversation and Reading’, published in 1867, William Duckett claims that baccarat was originally an Italian game, imported into the south of France in the late fifteenth century, but provides no supporting evidence.
Whatever the origin of the game, the first printed records of baccarat being played in the United States appeared in ‘The New York Times’ in the late nineteenth century. Baccarat was not played in Nevada casinos until 1958 but, the following year, a new version of the game, known as ‘punto banco’ was imported to Las Vegas from Cuba by Tommy Rezoni. The original version featured a side bet on ‘naturals’, which has since been replaced by the ‘tie’ bet but, otherwise, punto banco was virtually indistinguishable from modern baccarat.
In Texas hold’em poker, ‘floating the flop’ is an intermediate, or advanced, bluffing technique used to defend against the continuation bet, or ‘c-bet’, which can, itself, be a bluffing technique. Aggressive players frequently follow a pre-flop raise with a bet on the flop – that is, a continuation bet – regardless of whether or not they hit the flop, but floating the flop allows player to turn a continuation bet on a weak, non-made hand against his opponent.
Floating the float is best done when in position – that is, when you are the last player to act in a hand – in a heads-up pot, against a tight-aggressive opponent, who frequently raises pre-flop and continuation bets. The idea is that you lead your opponent to believe that you have a legitimate hand, by calling pre-flop and calling his or her continuation bet on the flop, with a view to forcing him or her to check on the turn card.
If your opponent shows any sign of weakness, by checking to you, you are in perfect position to take the pot by betting heavily on the turn, at three-quarters of the pot size, to make it too expensive for him or her to continue. Otherwise, if your opponent bets heavily on the turn, you can fold safe in the knowledge that you probably have an inferior hand in any case or, if he or she bets weakly on the turn, perhaps re-raise, although this is a dangerous tactic, especially against an unfamiliar opponent.