How to Play Baccarat
Baccarat, enchanting as the game is, carries within itself the simplicity and candor of the fairest of games. The Baccarat table is usually where the high-rollers reside. One of the most glamorous games in the whole casino, it embodies the captivating excitement which gambling is all about. If you’re not really good at Blackjack or Craps, then Baccarat is just for you if you want to entertain yourself with a game that offers fair odds of winning and a very small house edge.
How the Game Works
Baccarat is basically a bit more complicated than a game of coin toss. There are four cards being drawn from the shoe, forming two hands – one for the Player (the Player does not represent you; this is not your hand), and one for the Bank (the Bank doesn’t represent the house, just like the Player doesn’t represent you). The way the cards are dealt is as follows: one for the Player, one for the Bank, one for the Player, one for the Bank. The bettors wager which hand will win – the Player or the Banker (it’s like one is head and the other is tails). There is a third option – you bet that it will be a tie, but I would not advise taking this option because the odds of winning are terrible and it gives huge house edge. The only reason people find it alluring is because it pays 8 to 1. It’s still not a good bet so I would advise you to stay away from it.
The winning hand is the one that has a value closer to 9. That’s it, really. This is all you need to know as a bettor in order to play the game. You will only have to make two decisions – how much do you want to bet and on which hand. Armed with this knowledge, you can go to the Baccarat table and start playing right now. There are other things about the game, such as when additional cards are drawn and other details, which I will of course explain, but this is what you actually need to know in order to play the game. Everything else is a bonus.
Drawing a Card
Like I said, the cards are drawn from a shoe. The game is typically played with eight decks of cards. The Dealer deals four cards alternating between the Player and the Bank. The cards are face down (unless you’re playing Mini-Baccarat) and so there is a bit of tension and mystery before the outcome is revealed. The Dealer flips the cards and then, abiding by the rules he draws more cards if needed (I will explain these game mechanics soon). In some casinos, the Player cards are given to one of the bettors (usually the one with the highest bet) as a ritual, so he has the chance to have a look at them first. This plays no role in the outcome of the game and is for entertainment purposes only. The cards had been shuffled and cut before entering the shoe, and then dealt from the shoe where no one can choose which card to draw. Even though the outcome is unaffected, most players enjoy this bit because it adds even more substance to the game.
Two hands are dealt, but which one wins in the end? The winning hand is the one close to 9. If one hand shows 9 and the other one shows any other value, then the 9 wins. If the first two cards form the 9, then it’s called a “Natural 9”. Natural 9 beats everything except for another Natural 9, in which case the game is a tie. If the first two cards equal 8, then it’s called a “Natural 8”,and as you’ve probably already figured, it beats everything except for a Natural 9 and a Natural 8 (in which case it’s a tie). The mechanics of the cards, themselves, are very interesting. Unlike games like Blackjack, in Baccarat a value of 10 equals zero. There cannot be a combination higher than 9. If you get a two digit combination, the first digit is removed. If the cards equal 11, for example, then we remove the 1 and only 1 remains. If the cards equal 16, we remove the 1 and only 6 remains, and so on and so forth.
If you want to know the cards’ values, here they are: an Ace is worth 1; all the low cards are equal the number of the card (so, for example 1 is 1, 2 is 2, 9 is 9, etc.). 10 is actually 0 (I’ve already explained why), and queens, kings, and jacks are also worth 0.
Just to make sure everything is clear, here’s an example from an actual game. The Dealer deals. When the Player’s cards are revealed (the Player’s cards always revealed first), he gets a king and an 8 – that’s a Natural 8 (because the king is 0), which is very tough to beat. However, when he reveals the Bank’s hand, it’s 10 and 9 – a Natural 9 (since the 10 is also 0). The Bank has a Natural 9, hence the Bank wins. Everyone who’s bet on the Bank collects their winnings. This is a very unlikely turn of events in general, and I’m just using it in this example because it would be easy to understand. Once we get drawing more cards in the equation, it becomes much more complicated.
Drawing Additional Cards
You don’t really need to know these because they are enforced rules. You don’t have any choice in the matter, and neither does the house. However, for information purposes, I will explain how and when more cards are drawn.
Since the Player is the one dealt first, he is the one who gets to draw first if needs be. The rule about the player cards is as follows:
For values from 0 to 5 on the combination of the first two cards, the Player draws;
For values from 6 to 9 on the combination of the first two cards, he stands (with 8 and 9 beings Naturals, as you probably remember);
The Bank is dealt second. This is an important fact because this is how the Bank is given a bit of an advantage. Keep in mind that the Bank does not represent the casino, which means that if the Bank wins, the casino doesn’t win. Since the Bank has an advantage, the casino charges a 5% commission on every bet for the Bank. This means that if you bet on the Player and win, you will get your bet at even money (meaning you gain exactly what you bet). However, if you bet on the Bank and win, you will get your bet at even money minus the 5% commission. Usually the odds for a tie are 8 to 1 but you should stay away from betting on a tie because it’s a terrible bet. Since the Bank is dealt second and has the advantage, the casinos are protecting their interests by enforcing this commission. Whether the Bank draws another card depends highly on the Player’s hand, as well as the combination of the first two cards.
- If the Bank is dealt a combination value of 3 and the Player has drawn a third card other than an 8, then the Bank draws another card;
- If the Bank is dealt a combination value of 4 and the Player has drawn a third card from 2 to 7, then the Bank draws another card;
- If the Bank is dealt a combination value of 5 and the Player has drawn a third card from 4 to 7, then the Bank draws another card;
- If the Bank is dealt a combination value of 6 and the Player has drawn a third card 6 or 7, then the Bank draws another card;
- If the Bank is dealt a combination value of 7, he stands;
- If the Bank is dealt a combination value of 8 or 9, it’s a Natural, so he stands;
If the Player is dealt a Natural 8 or 9, then the Bank cannot draw another card because nothing beats a Natural other than a higher Natural (or they tie if they are both Natural 9). Those are the drawing rules. Sounds a bit complicated at first, but in reality you will be able to remember them in a few games, even if you don’t try to memorize them. You don’t really need to know how drawing additional cards works in order to have a good time and win some money.
Getting a Natural on the hand you’ve bet on is a really good feeling, but it’s not what makes the game so interesting. Getting a natural almost always guarantees you win, but it also makes that particular hand quick and boring. The real magic happens where there are turnarounds and you’re not sure what’s going to happen. Let me give you an example.
You approach the Baccarat table and decide to place a bet. Following the set example, you bet on the Bank (like I said, the chance of winning is a bit higher, which is why most people bet on it) and wait for the cards to be dealt. The first card is dealt to the Player and it’s an 8. This is bad news because the second card is 10, king, queen or jack, he gets a Natural 8. However, the chance for that is pretty small so you just patiently wait to see what the Dealer has in store for you. The second card is dealt to the Bank. It’s a 6.Waiting to see what the second card brings. The card dealt to the Player is revealed. It’s a king. The Player gets a Natural 8. The probability of success almost evaporated.
You, as well all the other people on the table who had bet on the Bank start moaning, falling into a state of despair. There is almost no hope. Only a 3 can save you now. The Dealer draws the second card and places it face down on the table. The pressure is unbearable. What is it? Is it 3 – the savior of this hand, or is it anything else, which dooms you to lose your bet. Everybody becomes impatient. People tell the Dealer to flip it. They want to know what happened. Everyone is waiting. The Dealer flips the card. It’s a 3! You win! Almost everybody at the table wins and everyone starts cheering, high-fiving around and congratulating each other. The atmosphere is electric. You collect your winnings and get ready for the next round. The Dealer will ask you for the 5% you owe the house before you leave the table. For now, you only need to focus on the next game.
As you can see in this example, the game can be pretty exciting. People share their emotions on the Baccarat table, just like with any other social game. This is why I advise you to play real Baccarat, not the Mini. In the Mini, there are less people playing, less excitement and the cards are always face up so there is no mystery. There is no magic. It’s really not as enjoyable.
Odds and Pay-Offs
Baccarat is one of the best games in the whole casino industry for many reasons. One of these reasons has to do with the fact that it offers little house edge (1.25% if you bet on the Player’s hand and 1.1% if you bet on the Bank’s hand). This gives a fairly good chance to make some money. I’ve already explained the 5% commission you have to pay if you bet on the Bank and win. If that commission wasn’t there, most casinos would lose a lot since the Bank is more likely to win.
Betting on a tie gives the house a 14.3% edge which is what makes it a really bad wager, even if the pay-offs are huge (8 to 1 in most cases). Don’t fall into this trap. If the payoffs are big, then the chance of winning has to be low.
Even though the standard commission is 5%, there are some casinos that offer a 4% or even 3% commission. If you see something like this, think twice before you play the game because there might be a catch. If the combination is lower than 5%, the house virtually has no edge, which begs the question why would they make such an offer? Double-check everything to make sure there isn’t something else at play here, otherwise you might find yourself liberated from a large sum of money.
Betting on a tie is bad. I simply cannot stress this enough! Tie Bets offer a really alluring pay-off (usually 8 to 1) but the house get a whooping 14.3% edge. It’s one of the worst bets you can make, not just on the Baccarat table, but in the whole casino. Never bet on a tie!
Tracking the Shoe
Unlike Blackjack, you are actually allowed to track the cards in Baccarat. Not only that, but the casino provides you with a card where you can put down the tally. You can put down the winning hands, the losing hands, cards and everything at your heart’s content. Seems good, right? The casino is giving you an even bigger chance to win. And unlike counting cards on Blackjack, it’s not frowned upon. On the contrary – the house provides the tools.
If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The reason why they won’t let you count cards on Blackjack (which is neither illegal, nor cheating by the way; still, if you get caught, you will probably be asked to leave the establishment), is because counting cards actually gives you a bit of an edge. It improves your changes. However, the house knows full well that The previous hands have no effect on the following and that no matter how much you count cards and put things down, it still won’t matter. It’s basically nothing more than a ritual. It makes you feel better, but just like your lucky charms, it doesn’t really do anything than helping you believe in your luck or yourself. Hey, if you need something like this in order to believe that you have a chance of winning your bets, then by all means – go ahead and fill the card up. You just need to know that tracking the shoe doesn’t really improve your chances in reality. Keep that in mind next time you decide to increase your bet because you think a favorable opportunity is about to arise.
Counting strategies, even when they promise huge success, are not recommended. The reason is this – even the most complicated strategies I’ve encountered require a lot of time and effort to learn. You need to be disciplined and very focused on the task at hand if you are to stand a chance of learning the strategy. This is not even mentioning the huge bankroll you require because you need to play for a long time in order to exploit the statistical variations. You may lose a lot of money to the house simply because you believed in a strategy. Overconfidence will get you nowhere in the casino.
I’ve already explained that there is no real strategy you should follow when betting on the Baccarat tables. That being said, I can still give you a few tips that may improve your game or save some money.
First of all, always play at the most favorable. The default position should be betting on the Bank since it offers a smaller house edge. Statistically speaking, if you place bets on the Bank’s hand, you have the highest statistical probability of success. Remember the 5% commission, though. The total of the commissions is paid to the Dealer before you leave the table or at the end of the shoe. Don’t forget that these money aren’t yours. Don’t count them as your own. And don’t bet on tie! If you bet on Player or Bank and it’s tie in the end, you don’t lose your bet. You don’t win, but you don’t lose either. However, if you bet on a tie and one of the hands wins, you lose your bet. Furthermore, the chance of success is very small and the house’s edge – enormous. Keep in mind that the past combinations don’t in any influence the next hands. The fact that the Player’s hand has won five times in a row, doesn’t mean that this time it will be the Bank or tie. There is no strategy that can ensure victory.