Baccarat

Learn How to Play Baccarat and Win!

Derived from the European games of chemin de fer and punto banco, baccarat is a game of mystery to most of the betting public even though it’s a staple of American casinos. With the aid of this article, you can unravel the secrets of baccarat and even learn how to become a winning player. Let’s begin with a little history of the game:

Baccarat is the French spelling for the Italian word baccara, or zero, signifying the point values of face cards. The game has been traced to 1490, when the Italian baccara was introduced into France, where it was a favorite of nobles during the reign of King Charles VIII. Baccarat was first offered in Las Vegas in 1959, about a year and half after chemin de fer was introduced. Both games already were flourishing in illegal casinos in the East.

The direct ancestor of baccarat as played in the United States, chemin de fer is similar in play. One major difference is that the customers bet among themselves, rather than against the casino, with the house taking a commission from the customer holding the bank. Chemin de fer was offered in Las Vegas briefly in the 1950s, but it was quickly replaced by baccarat. Today it remains popular in European casinos.

Baccarat Today

Baccarat comes closer than most other casino games to offering the customer an even break, with house edges of just 1.17 percent for a bet on the banker hand and 1.36 percent for a bet on the player hand. Blackjack players who use basic strategy do better; as do video poker players with refined skills. But baccarat is a game with no playing strategies to master. The average baccarat player is at less of a disadvantage than average blackjack or video poker players.

Nevertheless, the game is familiar to only a relative handful of customers. For decades it was kept under wraps, played in lavish high-roller pits for the amusement of millionaires. The lowest minimum bet in the baccarat pit usually was $20, and at that the customer would feel like a piker near the likes of the late Akio Kashiwagi, who once accepted a challenge to a $12 million freeze-out at an Atlantic City casino. With $200,000-maximum bets, Kashiwagi was challenged to play until he’d either lost the $12 million or won $12 million from the casino. Six days later, with Kashiwagi having played 12 hours a day, the challenge was called off, and Kashiwagi left $10 million behind.

In casinos that cater to high rollers, baccarat has long been the game of the “whales” — the highest of the high rollers. The full-scale version is played in a separate, roped-off area at a table for 14 players, run by three dealers — none of whom actually deals the cards out of the shoe holding the eight decks. A ceremonial passing of the shoe allows players in turn to slide out the cards. In the related game of chemin de fer, the player holding the shoe banks the bets of the other players, but that’s not common in the United States.

In the 1980s, casinos began to reach out to the average customer with mini-baccarat, played on a seven-player, blackjack-sized table on the casino floor with the rest of the table games. It moves faster than baccarat, the shoe-passing ceremony has been eliminated, and the dealer deals all cards, but the rules are the same. Now anyone with $10 for a minimum bet, even $5 in some casinos, can play the game of the whales.

At the full-scale, 14-player baccarat table, one dealer — the “callman” — stands up. The callman turns cards faceup after they are dealt by the bettor holding the shoe. The callman is responsible for calling out the point totals of each hand and announcing whether either hand gets another card according to the set hit/stand rules of the game. Two other dealers remain seated on either side of the callman. They are responsible for paying off winning bets and collecting losing wagers. Mini-baccarat has just one dealer, who deals the cards and combines all the responsibilities of the three dealers at the larger table — but does it much faster.

Some casinos have traditional baccarat tables that can accomodate up to 15 players.
This layout is typical for baccarat. Some casinos have traditional
tables that can accommodate up to 15 players.

At either table, numbers indicate each customer position. In front of the numbers, each bettor has a lined-off area in which to place a banker bet and another in which to place a player bet. In front of the dealer are also numbers corresponding to each customer. Each time a customer wins a banker bet, the dealer places a marker in the box corresponding to that customer. Bettors must pay a 5 percent commission on winning banker bets, so these wagers must be tracked.

Enough introduction, let’s learn how to play. In the next section, you will learn the rules of baccarat, as well as strategies to become a winning player.

Baccarat Rules and Strategy

Baccarat is not an exceedingly complex game, but it does have certain idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to. For instance, the banker hand and the player hand:

Banker vs. Player

Regardless of how many people are playing, only two hands are dealt. One is designated the banker hand, the other is the player hand. Any customer may bet on either hand, with the exception that the customer holding the shoe in the full-scale game must either bet banker or pass the shoe. Do not think of the bank hand as belonging to the house or the player hand belonging to the bettor. To avoid confusion, we’ll refer to baccarat “bettors” or “customers” rather than “players.”

The Play

In full-scale baccarat, the bettor holding the shoe slides one card out and passes it facedown to the stand-up dealer, who passes it to the customer with the largest player bet. The next card, the first of the banker hand, is placed next to the shoe. The bettor then deals another player card, then the second banker card. The dealer calls for the player hand, and the customer with the largest player bet first looks at the cards, then gives them to the dealer. The dealer turns the cards faceup and announces the point total. Then the dealer calls for the banker hand, and the shoe holder looks at the cards and gives them to the dealer. If the player total requires a draw, the dealer will say, “Card for the player,” and the shoe holder will pass a card to the dealer, who will pass it to the player-bettor, who looks at it and passes it back to the dealer, who turns it faceup. Finally, if the banker requires a card, the dealer will call, “Card for the bank,” and repeat the process with the shoe holder.

The casino is more than willing to offer the time-consuming ceremony to its largest bettors. In mini-baccarat, however, the dealer plays out both hands, with no fuss and in half the time.
The object is to bet on the two- or three-card hand that totals closer to nine. Tens and face cards all are worth zero points; all other cards are worth their face value, with the ace worth one point. If a total is more than 10, the second digit is the value of the hand. For example, a 9 and a 6, which total 15, make up a five-point hand.

Initially, two cards are dealt for each hand. The point totals determine whether either hand gets a third card. The player hand is completed first. A total of 8 or 9 is called a “natural,” and the player hand gets no more cards. In fact, unless the banker has a natural 9 or ties the natural 8, no further cards are drawn, and the naturals are automatic winners. Player also stands on totals of 6 or 7. On any other total, zero through 5, player draws a third card, unless banker has a natural, in which case the bank hand wins with no further draw.

Banker rules are a bit more complex. Banker also stands on 7, 8, or 9 and draws on 0, 1, or 2, but on other hands the banker’s play is dependent on the value of the player’s third card. Banker hits 3 unless the player’s third card is an 8; hits 4 unless the player’s third card is 1, 8, 9, or 10; hits 5 only if the player’s third card is 4, 5, 6, or 7; and hits 6 only if the player’s third card is 6 or 7.

Player Hand: When first two cards total:
 1-2-3-4-5-10 Draaws a card
6-7 Stands
8-9 Natural — Stands
Banker Hand
 First two cards total: Draws when player’s third card is: Stands when player’s third card is:
 3  1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-10 8
 4  2-3-4-5-6-7 1-8-9-10
 5  4-5-6-7 1-2-3-8-9-10
 6  6-7 1-2-3-4-5-8-9-10
 7  Stands
 8-0  Natural — Stands
0-1-2  Always draws

There are a few exceptions. A natural, as noted above, stops play with no further draws. And if the player has one of its other two standing hands, 6 or 7, bank stands on 6 as well as 7, 8, and 9.
And that’s it. Neither hand ever gets more than three cards. After the hands have been played out, the hand totaling closer to 9 wins. Winning bets are paid off at even money. Ties push — neither hand wins nor loses.

Bets on Ties

Bettors also may wager that the two hands will finish with an equal number of points. Winning bets on ties pay off at 8-1. That sounds tempting, but this wager carries a hefty 9.5 percent house edge. Avoid it.

Etiquette

As in other table games, buy chips by placing cash on the layout and asking the dealer for change. The dealer is not allowed to take money directly from players’ hands.

If you are the bettor with the largest wager on player and receive the player cards, do not look at them until both player and banker hands have been dealt. And if you hold the banker hand, do not look at the cards until the dealer has flipped the player hand faceup.

Baccarat players are allowed to keep track of the results of each hand, and most casinos provide score sheets and pencils to do so. Most players simply put an X in a column beneath “Banker,” “Player,” or “Tie.”

Strategy

  1. This is a pure guessing game. Which hand will win? The banker hand will win slightly more often — 50.68 percent of all decisions, not including ties — giving the house its 1.36 percent edge on player bets. But the house collects a 5 percent commission on winning banker bets, leading to the 1.17 percent house edge on banker.
  2. Mathematicians long have suspected that baccarat, like blackjack, might be vulnerable to a card-counting system. But the best system yet developed appears to yield a slight edge to the bettor on the average of about one hand per eight-deck shoe. That’s an edge not worth pursuing — to have the advantage, the customer would have to count down hand after hand after hand, without playing, until this tiny advantage came to pass. The customer would lose more in time than he’d gain in the edge, and the casino would be unlikely to hold a seat for someone spending hours without placing a bet.
  3. For the bettor, baccarat is a game of luck plus money management. Do not make bets too large for your available bankroll, and do not increase bets when losing. Making larger bets while chasing losses is a good way to go broke fast. If you’re going to vary your bet size, increase it while winning and bring it down when losing. Set limits on your losses and stick to them.
  4. If you sit down at a mini-baccarat table with $100, tell yourself you’re not going to leave with less than $50. Then, if you have a cold streak and you hit that $50 mark, walk away. An important part of casino survival is developing the discipline to leave a table while you still have money.
  5. Learn to walk away with winnings, too. If you have a good run and build that $100 up to $150, try one of these two techniques. Either put the original $100 in your pocket and just play with the $50 in winnings, while keeping that $50 loss limit, or adjust your thinking to tell yourself you’ll not walk away from the table with less than $125. Then stick to it.
  6. The longer you play a game with a negative expectation, even one as narrow as 1.17 percent, the more likely it is that the casino will grind down your bankroll. Walk away from the table with at least part of that bankroll intact — not just at baccarat, but at any casino game — and you’ll be surprised at how much more often you wind up a winner for the day.
  7. Baccarat is not necessarily the most popular game in a casino, but it can be just as exciting as blackjack or craps. Though the organization of the game can seem strange at first, the tips in this article should have you placing bets in no time.
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