by Steve Bourie
When you think of Baccarat you probably think of a game that’s played by the casino’s wealthiest players who sit at a private table and can afford to bet tens of thousands of dollars on the flip of a card and you know what? You’re right! The game of Baccarat has always had a reputation as being for the richest gamblers and that usually scared off the average player, but nowadays more and more people are discovering that Baccarat is really a good game for the small stakes player because 1.-it has a relatively small advantage for the casino and 2.-it’s very simple to play.
The mini-Baccarat table is the kind of Baccarat table you’re most likely to find in the standard American casino and the game is played pretty much the same as regular Baccarat except that in the mini version all of the hands are dealt out by the dealer and the players never touch the cards. Other than that, the rules are virtually the same. Oh yes, one other difference you’ll find is that the betting minimums will always be lower on mini-Baccarat and it’s usually pretty easy to find a table with a $5 minimum.
Now, as I said before the game of Baccarat is very simple to play and that’s because the only decision you have to make is what bet you want to make from the three that are available: player, banker or tie. After the players make their bets the game begins and two 2-card hands are dealt from a shoe that contains 8 decks of cards. One hand is dealt for the banker and another hand is dealt for the player. The values of the two cards in each hand are added together and the object of the game is to have a total as close to 9 as possible. After the values of the first two cards in each hand are totaled, a third card can be drawn by either the player, the banker or both. But, the decision as to whether or not a third card should be drawn is not decided by the dealer or the players – it is only decided by the rules of the game.
Actually the name Baccarat comes from the Italian word for zero and as you’ll see there are lots of zeros in this game because when you add the cards together all of the 10’s and all of the face cards are counted as zeros, while all of the other cards from ace though 9 are counted at their face value. So, a hand of Jack, 6 has a total of 6; 10,4 has a total of 4; king, 7 has a total of 7; and ace, queen which would be a great hand in blackjack, only has a total of 1. The other thing about adding the cards together is that no total can be higher than 9. So, if a total is 10 or higher you have to subtract 10 to determine its value. For example, 8,8 totals 16 but you subtract 10 and your total is 6; 9,5 has a total of 4; 8,3 has a total of 1; and 5,5 has a total of 0.
Once again, the object of the game of Baccarat is to have a total as close to 9 as possible, so after the first two cards are dealt if either the player or banker hand has a total of 9 then that’s called a “natural” and that hand is the winner. If neither hand has a total of 9 then the next best possible hand is a total of 8 (which is also called a “natural”) and that hand would be the winner. If both the player and the banker end up with the same total then it’s a tie and neither hand wins.
Now, if neither hand has an 8 or a 9 then the rules of the game have to be consulted to decide whether or not a third card is drawn. Once that’s done, the values of the cards are added together again and whichever hand is closest to a total of 9 is the winner. If both hands end up with the same total then it’s a tie and neither hand wins.
If you want to bet on the player hand just put your money in the area marked “player” and if you win you’ll be paid off at even-money, or $1 for every $1 you bet. The casino advantage on the player bet is 1.36%. If you want to bet on the banker hand you would place your bet in the area marked “banker” and if you win, you’ll also be paid off at even-money, but you’ll have to pay a 5% commission on the amount you win. So, if you won $10 on your bet, you would owe a 50¢ commission to the house. The 5% commission is only required if you win and not if you lose. The dealer will keep track of the amount you owe by putting an equal amount in a small area on the table that corresponds to your seat number at the table. So, if you’re sitting at seat #3 and won $10 on the bank hand the dealer would pay you $10 and then put 50¢ in the #3 box. This lets him know how much you owe the casino in commissions and when you get up to leave the table you’ll have to pay the dealer whatever amount is in that box. After adjusting for that 5% commission the casino advantage on the banker bet is 1.17%
Finally, if you want to bet on a tie you would place your bet in the area marked “tie” and if you win you’ll be paid off at 8-to-1, or $8 for every $1 you bet. The big payoff sounds nice but actually this is a terrible bet because the casino advantage is a very high 14.1% and this bet should never be made.
As you’ve seen, the casino advantage in Baccarat is very low (except for the tie bet) and the rules are set in advance so no decisions are made by either the players or the dealer about how to play the cards. This means that, unlike blackjack where you have to decide whether or not you want another card, you have no decisions to make and no skill is involved. This also means that Baccarat is purely a guessing game, so even if you’ve never played the game before you can sit at a table and play just as well as anyone who’s played the game for 20 years! This is the only game in the casino where this can happen and that’s why I tell people that Baccarat is an especially good game for the beginning player because you need no special knowledge to take advantage of those low casino edge bets.
The only part of Baccarat that gets a little confusing is trying to understand the rules concerning the draw of a third card, but remember, the rules are always the same at every table and they’ll usually have a printed copy of the rules at the table and will give you a copy if you ask for it. After playing the game for awhile you’ll start to remember the rules on your own, but until then here’s a rundown on how it works:
As noted before, if the first two cards in either hand total 8 or 9, then the game is over and the highest total wins. If the totals are both 8 or both 9 then it’s a tie and neither hand wins. For any other total the rules have to be consulted and
it’s always the player hand that goes first. If the player hand has a total of 6 or 7, it must stand. The only other totals it can possibly have are 0,1,2,3,4 or 5 and for all of those totals it must draw a card.
PLAYER HAND RULES
There, that wasn’t too hard to understand was it? If the player hand has a total of 6 or 7 it stands and for anything else it has to draw a card. Well, that was the easy part because now it gets a little complicated.
After the player hand is finished the banker hand must take its turn and if its first 2 cards total 0,1 or 2 it must draw a card. If its two cards total 7 it must stand and if the total is 6 it will stand, but only if the player hand did not take a card.
BANK HAND RULES
STANDS (If player took no card)
The only other possible totals the bank can have are 3,4,5 or 6 and the decision as to whether or not a 3rd card is drawn depends on the 3rd card that was drawn by the player hand.
When the banker hand has a total of 3 it must stand if the player’s 3rd card was an 8 and it must draw if the player’s 3rd card was any other card.
IF BANK HAS 3 and
Player’s third card is 8 – BANK STANDS
Player’s third card is 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10 – BANK DRAWS
When the banker hand has a total of 4 it must stand if the player’s 3rd card was a 1,8,9, or 10 and it must draw if the player’s 3rd card was any other card.
IF BANK HAS 4 and
Player’s third card is 1,8,9,10 – BANK STANDS
Player’s third card is 2,3,4,5,6,7 – BANK DRAWS
When the banker hand has a total of 5 it must stand if the player’s 3rd card was a 4,5,6 or 7 and it must draw if the player’s 3rd card was any other card.
IF BANK HAS 5 and
Player’s third card is 4,5,6,7 – BANK STANDS
Player’s third card is 1,2,3,8,9,10 – BANK DRAWS
When the banker hand has a total of 6 it must stand if the player’s 3rd card was a 6 or 7 and it must draw if the player’s 3rd card was any other card.
IF BANK HAS 6 and
Player’s third card is 6 or 7 – BANK STANDS
Player’s third card is 1,2,3,4,5,8,9,10 – BANK DRAWS
There you have it – those are the rules of Baccarat concerning the draw of a third card. As you saw they were a little complicated, but remember that you don’t have to memorize the rules yourself because the dealer will know them and play each hand by those rules, but you can always ask for a copy of the rules at the table to follow along.
Now let’s try some sample hands: The player hand has queen,9 for a total of 9 and the banker hand has 4,4 for a total of 8. Which hand wins? Both hands are naturals, but the player hand total of 9 is higher than the banker hand total of 8, so the player hand is the winner.
If the player hand has 4,2 for a total of 6 and the banker hand has ace, jack which totals 1, what happens? The player hand must stand on its 6 and the banker hand must always draw when it has a total of 0,1 or 2. Let’s say the bank draws a 7 and wins 8 to 6.
What happens when the player hand has king, 5 and the bank hand has 2,4? The player hand must draw and let’s say it gets a 7 for a total of 2. The banker hand has a total of 6 and if it could stand on that total it would win because its 6 is higher than the 2 held by the player. Of course, if you were betting on banker that’s exactly what you would want to happen but, unfortunately for you, the rules require the bank hand to draw another card whenever its first two cards total 6 and the third card drawn by the player is a 7. So now, instead of having a winning hand you have to hope that the card you draw isn’t a 5, which would give you a total of 1 making you a loser. You also wouldn’t want to draw a 6 because that would give you a total of 2 which would give you a tie. In this case let’s say that the bank hand goes on to draw an 8 which gives it a total of 3 and it wins 4 to 2.
If the player hand has 3,ace for a total of 4 and the banker hand has 8,7 for a total of 5, what happens? The player hand must draw and say it gets a 9 for a total of 3. Once again, the banker hand would like to stand on its total because it would win, but the rules have to be consulted first and in this case when the banker’s first 2 cards total 5 and the player’s third card drawn is a 9 the banker hand must stand, so the banker hand wins 5 to 3.
Finally, let’s say the player hand has 4,3 for a total of 7 and the banker hand has 6,10 for a total of 6. The player hand must always stand on totals of 6 or 7 and the banker hand must also stand on its total of 6 because the player hand didn’t take a third card. The player hand wins this one 7 to 6.
All right, now that you know how to play Baccarat we come to the important question which is – how do you win? Well, as I said before, if you bet on player you’ll only be giving the casino a 1.36% edge and if you bet on banker you’ll be giving the casino an even more modest edge of just 1.17%. While both of these are pretty low edges to give the casino you’re still stuck with the fact that the casino will always have an edge over you and in the long run the game of Baccarat is unbeatable. So, if that’s the case then how do you win? Well, the answer to that is very simple – You have to get lucky! And that’s the ONLY way you can win at Baccarat. Of course, this is easier said than done, but fortunately, in the game of Baccarat, you have the option of making two bets that require no skill and both offer the casino a very low edge especially when you compare them to roulette where the house has a 5.26% advantage on a double-zero wheel and slot machines where the edge is about 8% to 10% I always stress the point that when you gamble in a casino you have to play the games that have the lowest casino edge in order to have the best chance of winning and with that in mind you can see that Baccarat is not that bad a game to play for the recreational gambler.
Now let’s take a quick look at one of the most common systems for betting on Baccarat. One thing that many Baccarat players seem to have in common is a belief in streaks and the casinos accommodate these players by providing scorecards at the table that can be used to track the results of each hand. Many players like to bet on whatever won the last hand in the belief that it will continue to come in and they hope for a long streak.
The thinking for these players is that since Baccarat is purely a guessing game it’s just like guessing the outcome of a coin toss and chances are that a coin won’t alternately come up heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails but rather that there will be streaks where the same result will come in for awhile. So, is this a good system? Well, actually, it’s no better and no worse than any other system because no matter what you do you’ll still have the same casino edge going against you on every bet you make: 1.36% on the player and 1.17% on the banker. The one good thing about a system like this though is that you don’t have to sit there and guess what you want to play each time. Instead, you go into the game knowing how you’re going to play and you don’t have to blame yourself if your guess is wrong, instead you get to blame it on your system!