Baccarat, also known as Punto Banco, is a game of chance and one of the oldest casino games. It’s also the most popular online table game out there. It gets its name as there are two principle bets to make throughout the game, that is, on the Banker (Banco) or on the Player (Punto), along with the third, rarely used ‘standoff’ (a tie). The classic game is one of favourable odds, regardless of who you bet on. It is conceived as a game for high-rollers with bigshots like Phil Ivey, an American professional poker player and winner of ten World Series of Poker bracelets, and Qui Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American poker player who won the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event, who are also fans of the card game. Its allure is the shroud of mystery which surrounds the game – this piece aims to demystify the game and debunk it of its myths with all there is to know about Baccarat, including the basic rules and tips on how to play.
Baccarat was born in medieval Italy in the 1400s as a game played solely by the elite. By definition, the name Baccarat is derived from the Italian word “baccara” which means zero. Ironically, it’s named after the worst hand played in the game (which is zero) rather than the winning combination and refers to the fact that several cards in the game have no value. The game later moved into France where it was a favourite amongst French royalty, particularly King Charles VIII. It was called Chemin de Fer (or railway) which was also the most common variation in Europe. Meanwhile, in England, Punto Banco was the game of choice, so much so that the great novelist Ian Fleming learned to play the game himself and created one of the world’s most famous (although fictional) spy and Baccarat player, James Bond. In fact, the entire plot of the box office hit Casino Royale is centred around the definitive high-rollers’ game. Interestingly enough, it was the English version that made its way to US soil through South America. It never quite reached the popularity of slots and roulette, which was the fault of casinos which upheld Baccarat’s reputation as a game for high-rollers by setting lofty minimum bets and limiting Baccarat tables to secluded rooms with posh leather chairs, concealed behind velvet curtains. More than 500 years later, times have finally changed with the emergence of online casinos making it accessible and affordable for everyone from all walks of life as it can be played for free as well as for real money. It’s now a leading online casino table game and is especially popular among Asian gamblers. As a matter of fact, it’s insanely popular in Macau, also known as the Vegas of China.
In today’s version of Baccarat, between six and eight decks of cards are used. There is one dealer and bets are generally placed against the house, who also acts as the banker. The object of the game is to aim for a total count of nine, or as close as you can get, in a hand of two or three cards.
Forget what you know about Blackjack, Poker and all those other table games (this game requires much less thinking) because Baccarat has a completely different set of rules. To begin with, both face cards and tens hold no value, and suits are also extraneous. Cards with values lower than ten are counted at face value, with aces being worth one point. Most importantly, only single-digit cards are pertinent. In fact, if a total count reaches double digits (e.g. 8 and 7 for a 15 count, the left digit is dropped therefore 15 is counted as 5). A ‘natural’ is a hand of two cards adding up to a total of eight or nine.
At the start of a new shoe (a dealing box), the dealer turns over one card which will determine how many cards the dealer is to burn according to the Baccarat value, except in this part of the game a ten or face card will result in 10 cards burned. The cut card is placed 16 cards from the bottom of the shoe. When the cut card appears, the dealer finishes that hand, plays one more, and then begins a new shoe. Play commences with all players betting either on the player, banker or on a tie (at some tables you may also bet on a player pair and banker pair).
‘Baccarat Pairs’ is a side bet on Punto Banco which wins if the first two cards dealt to the Player or the Banker constitute a pair (for example 10, 10 or K, K) and loses on all other outcomes. The game is played as normal, but you have the option to bet on a Player Pair, Banker Pair or perhaps both. This type of bet can be made in addition to, or instead of, a Player or Banker wager. A winning pair pays 11 to 1.
After all the bets are made, the dealer gives two cards to each player, including the banker. As aforementioned, the total score of the hand is the right digit of the total of the cards. In a game of Baccarat, the scores always range between 0 and 9 and it’s impossible to bust, unlike in Blackjack. A third card may or may not be dealt to either the player or the dealer depending on the following rules. Your options now are to hit (H – take another card) or stand (S – take no more cards).
In the end, the totals of the player and dealer are compared; the winner is the one with the greater score. Winning bets on the banker pay 19 to 20 (even money/1:1 less a 5% commission), winning bets on the player pay 1 to 1, winning bets on a tie usually pay 8 to 1. In the event of a tie, both banker and player bets will push. On winning banker bets, the player will be paid even money. Meanwhile, the dealer will keep track of the 5% commission owed with small laminated markers so that at the end of each shoe, or when a player wishes to leave, the dealer will collect all commissions owed.
As Baccarat is purely a game if chance, apart from knowing the rules, these are some bits of advice and strategies that may help increase your odds the next time you play. As Baccarat is purely a game if chance, apart from knowing the rules, these are some bits of advice and strategies that may help increase your odds the next time you play.
Over the years there have been three other popular versions of the game. These are Mini Baccarat, Chemin de Fer, and Baccarat Banque (Deux Tableaux). The aim of the game (to get as close to nine as possible) and the hand values are the same.
Mini Baccarat, as indicated by the name, is a smaller version of the game which is preferred by Americans. The table only accommodates seven players instead of eight and requires one croupier who acts as both dealer and banker, instead of the standard three needed in the larger version of the game. This variation has very attractive low bet rates and is therefore preferred by the majority of small-time gamblers. The card game is not tucked away behind velvet curtains either, it is can be played in the open in land-based casinos.
Chemin de Fer is the variation of the card game found mostly in French casinos. The main difference is that the casino, be it online or land-based, doesn’t play the role of banker, therefore you cannot just bet on the player or bank, you must be one or the other. Therefore, you need a minimum of two players to play. They wager among themselves, and the bank rotates from player to player. You can decline the role of banker, in that case, it passes to the next player to the right, so the shoe moves counter-clockwise around the table like a train (its aptly named ‘railroad’ which is ‘chemin de fer’ in French). Unlike the American version, the casino has no direct involvement in the betting. It only provides a dealer or croupier to ensure the smooth running of the game and that the rules are being adhered to. Despite this difference, the casino still takes 5% commission on all winning bank hands. A second difference is that Chemin de Fer has flexible drawing rules for the third card. These are:
In Baccarat en Banque or Deux Tableaux, it is only the house who plays the role of banker. With the casino as banker, the bets can be much larger than when another player is acting as the bank. Also, one player is enough to play, unlike in Chemin de Fer which requires a minimum of two players. In this variation, three hands are dealt, that is, one bank hand and two player hands. The players can bet on one or both of the players’ hands but never on the dealer’s hand. Furthermore, there are no particular drawing rules, it’s completely optional. The dealer may choose to follow the American Baccarat rules or may even alter them to boost his chances of winning.
As with all the other table games, you can play Baccarat in various places, depending on your preference. If you’ve given in to the allure of the game, you can easily play online for real money in land-based casinos, in online casinos, and even via your mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. More recently, it has been incarnated as one of many live dealer casino games wherein you can play on single and/or multi-seat tables. Live dealer table games allow you to play against other players and involve a live video stream from a casino with a real-life person who acts as your dealer and banker. The advantage of this kind of gameplay is that you don’t need to make many decisions, just bet, sit back and watch from the comfort of your home.
Baccarat is one of the easiest casino games that doesn’t require much skill to play. It also has one of the lowest house edges out of all the table games. Placing your bet on the banker involves a house edge of 1.06%, while the house edge for the player is 1.24%, which is significantly lower than games like roulette or slots.
Nowadays, there is no real strategy that can be effectively utilised by players, other than choosing the bets with the lowest house edge, keeping in mind the commission taken on the banker wager. However, this wasn’t always the case. In older variations of the game, the player and banker hands remained face down throughout the game. The player would choose to hit and/or stand, after which the banker would make their own decision. The strategy in these decisions was eliminated from the modern casino game but was incorporated in the rules that dictate when each hand must take an additional card.
Mathematically speaking, the best bet for players is the banker. Assuming an eight-deck shoe, the banker bet has a house edge of just 1.06%, making it one of the better bets in most casinos. The player bet has a house edge of 1.24%. However, as discussed earlier, when playing a betting strategy it’s best to bet on the player for the long haul. The one bet to avoid at is the standoff or tie bet. At the typical 8:1 odds, the house edge on the tie bet is 14.36%, and should only be made once every now and then as a lucky wager.