From the word go Ian Fleming established James Bond as an expert card player when M sends him to Royale-les-Eaux in an attempt to bankrupt SMERSH operative Le Chiffre at the baccarat tables.
Judged to be the best card player in the service, we learn that he spent two months in Monte Carlo before the war uncovering a team of Romanian card cheats, the preparation for which included an intensive course on card-sharping.
In addition to the high stakes baccarat of Casino Royale, both Moonraker and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service also feature gripping card scenes. In Moonraker M privately asks Bond to investigate a prominent member of his club suspected of cheating at bridge. Prior to meeting M at Blades Bond picks up his copy of Scarne On Cards, essentially a guide on how to be a card cheat.
Bond spends thirty minutes with the book to refresh skills such as the Mechanic’s Grip, Palming and Nullifying the Cut. This is not to for his own benefit, but to warn off the card cheat, Sir Hugo Drax.
In addition to baccarat and bridge, James Bond sometimes spends time at the roulette wheel, in Casino Royale playing what Fleming describes as “complicated progression systems”. And prior to dining with M at Blades he loses £3 at piquet, the 2012 equivalent of around £70 according to figures from the Bank of England.
And in Diamonds Are Forever Bond is instructed to go to one of the blackjack tables of the Tiara in Las Vegas at a specific time for a pay off. Here he notices Las Vegas is designed in what Fleming refers to as the gilded mousetrap school of functional architecture, where the casino client is channelled into the gambling trap “whether he wanted the cheese or not”.
Bond then disobeys the clear instruction to leave once he has his $5,000 payoff, “won” by betting the maximum $1,000 stake four times (he’s already been paid the first $1,000) with a rigged card deck; instead he heads for the roulette table where he stakes his money on red; on black; and then, after sitting one spin of the wheel out, on red again, finally walking away with $20,000.
Fleming features another millionaire card cheat in Goldfinger when Bond re-encounters one of the other Casino Royale baccarat players by chance at Miami airport. Over stone crabs and champagne Mr Du Pont tells Bond that he suspects Auric Goldfinger of cheating him at canasta and asks his help in finding out how he is doing it. Bond accepts for a generous fee as he was “always interested in anything to do with cards” and had been contemplating the “soft life” anyway.
And in Thunderball he visits Nassau casino, where he quickly cleans Largo out of his entire night’s winnings at chemin de fer (the original variation of baccarat), afterwards treating Domino and himself to Beluga caviar and Cliquot rosé.
Fleming treats us to some exciting card play one final time when Bond returns to Royale-les-Eaux in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. When it appears she has no money to back up her losses at chemin de fer, Bond gallantly steps in to save the woman who will soon become Mrs Bond. But that is another story.