A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. I have a baccarat story and question.

I hadn't played very much, and when I had it was at mini-baccarat. The $10 mini tables are more in my price range than the big bets in the high limit rooms, and really, I like making my own hit/stand decisions. Blackjack is much more appealing to me than playing according to set draw rules, no matter how good the odds.

I have a friend who had played at the big tables, and he told me it was something I had to experience. He said he'd seen some $20 tables, and they even had $20 chips that were used only at baccarat. Besides, he said, the risk was lower at big baccarat because the game moves so slow.

I decided to give it a try, but when we went in there weren't any $20 tables. The lowest were $50. That was pretty rich for me. I'm used to buying in for $100 or $200 at $10 games. This was going to cost $1,000 for 20 bets. Still, my buddy was with me, I'd been doing OK on the trip, and I gritted my teeth and gave it a go.

Luckily, the cards were OK. I won some and lost some, but came out $150 ahead. What amazed me were the players. The ones with the big bets would get the cards, and they would take FOREVER in holding them, practically praying over them, slowly inching them apart before you could see both cards, then turning them over so the dealer knew whether a draw was called for.

One big bettor, when he didn't like the cards, he'd tear them up and throw them on the floor. I never saw anything like it.

Is this normal? Do casinos just put up with that? I've been trying to imagine doing that at a blackjack table, and I keep seeing myself getting thrown out the door.

A. You happened upon an old-school baccarat table. There has been some effort by casinos to speed up a game that has traditionally been played at a snail's pace, but they will cater to the whims of high rollers. At baccarat, those whims have long included slowly squeezing the cards apart, and torn cards, crumpled cards and fresh decks for every shoe are part of the game for some old-time big bettors.

I've not played big baccarat in quite a while, but I'm told many casinos no longer permit such things as they strive for more hands per hour.

Under those conditions as you describe, your hourly risk betting $50 a hand at a big table may not be much more than betting $10 a hand at mini-bac. In mini-bac, as many as 200 hands per hour are possible. Big baccarat is said to move at 70 hands per hour nowadays, but when big bettors are allowed to put the squeeze on the pace, it can drop below 50 hands per hour.

Q. What would be the effect on blackjack if Aces counted only as 1 and not as 1 or 11?

A. You'd have a completely different game and new strategy calculations would be necessary.

There is a game with similarities to blackjack called 7 1/2. It's popular in Italy and had a short run in Las Vegas casinos in the early 1990s. It counts Aces as 1 and faces as 1/2, with face values on 2 through 7 and no 8, 9 or 10. Instead of busting at over 21, you bust at over 7 1/2.

So a game similar to blackjack with Aces as 1 is workable. But it's not really blackjack, it's a different game.

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