Baccarat, pronounced bah-cah-rah, is a popular, relaxing game that originated in Europe. This game of chance attracts many players because it offers one of the lowest house edges of any game, and the number of players has no effect on the outcome of each bet. Because the house edge is so low, you’re more likely to win baccarat than almost any other game in the casino.
Baccarat Sizes: Regular and Mini
American casinos usually offer two different styles of baccarat. Regular baccarat is played on a larger table, allowing 12 to 14 players and managed by an entire team of personnel, while mini-baccarat is played on a much smaller table, with only up to 6 players and a single dealer. Mini-baccarat is the way to go for a less formally dressed game.
Sometimes called Nevada-style baccarat, or punto banco, the American version is an adaptation of a French card game. Most casinos set aside an entire pit for baccarat tables and players. In these baccarat pits, you’ll find that the table limits are set a little higher, the personnel are dressed in formal attire, and the overall atmosphere is much more formal.
Mini-baccarat provides a different environment for gameplay without changing any of the rules. This version has fewer players and only one dealer, in a scaled-back and less formal atmosphere. Casinos will generally offer lower set limits at their mini-baccarat tables.
The mini-baccarat table will be the focus of our exploration since casinos rarely care what sort of attire a player is wearing, and the table limits are so much lower. There are some subtle differences between mini-baccarat and its regular-sized brother, which we’ll point just in case you want to go for the full, elaborate experience.
How to Play Baccarat
Only two hands are dealt in a game of baccarat, regardless of the number of players at the table. Two cards make up a baccarat hand, with one dealt for the banker, the other for the player. The object of the game is to bet on the hand that you believe will be closest, or equal to, nine. You may make a wager on the banker hand, the player hand, or that the hands will tie. The baccarat croupier will make all the playing decisions, freeing you up to just sit back, make your bets, and enjoy the ride.
The betting limits on a full-scale baccarat table will usually be higher than those found on mini games. They should be posted on a plastic placard on the table; if you don’t see the placard, don’t be afraid to ask! For example, you might discover that the regular baccarat tables require a minimum bet of $5 or even $20, and limit the maximum to $4,000. A mini-baccarat table will likely have minimum bets as low as $2 or $3 and a $1,000 maximum bet.
The baccarat croupier – the French word for “dealer” that has migrated to American casinos as well – does all the work in a game. The croupier draws, deals and calls the cards, and then collects and pays off the players’ bets.
Baccarat Cards Have Value
Cards are dealt from six decks held in a shoe, a rectangular device to hold the cards, during a game of mini-baccarat; the full-scale version uses eight decks in a shoe. The following table shows the numeric value of each card in the game:
Card Values for American Baccarat
|Card (Any Suit) Card Value in Points|
|10, Jack, Queen, King Zero|
The face cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings), as well as the 10s, equal 0 points in a baccarat game. Every other card is worth its numeric face value. If you’re dealt a hand with a total more than 10, you drop the first digit. This means a hand with two 8s, totaling 16, would give you 6 points in value. This applies to three-card hands as well, such as a hand containing a 9, 7 and 2. This three-card hand may total 18, but its point value is only 8.
A natural is formed whenever a two-card hand offers a point value of 8 or 9. At this point, card dealing stops. Le petite natural is the name of a hand totaling 8, le grande natural for 9. Since 9 is higher than eight, le grande natural will always beat le petite.
Playing Rules of Play
Strict rules govern the course of play after the two hands are dealt. The croupier will make all playing decisions, whether on a mini-baccarat table or a full-scale one. The rules never change. Knowing the rules can help you understand what’s going on, even though it isn’t necessary to play the game.
The first thing the croupier does is look at both to determine if there is an immediate winner:
* The game is over if either the banker hand or the player totals 8 or 9, forming a natural.
* Le grande natural will always win if both hands total 8 or 9. The game ends in a tie if both hands yield equal values.
Without a natural, the hands are played out by the following rules: Regardless of the value of the banker hand, the player hands is always played first. If the banker hand totals 8 or 9, the player doesn’t draw a card. Only when the total is lower than does the player draw a card, based on the rules found in the following table.
Rules to Complete a Player’s Hand
|If the Player’s First Two Cards Total||The Player’s Hand Must|
|Zero through Five||Draw another card|
|Six or seven||Stand|
|Eight or nine||Natural – no cards drawn|
Depending on how the player hand turned, the banker may be played next, and is always played last. Whether the player drew a card or not, the banker hand follows the strict rules for play listed in the next table.
How to Complete the Banker’s Hand When the Player Hand Totals Six or Seven and the Player Didn’t Draw a Third Card
|When the Banker’s First Two Cards Total||The Bank Will|
|Five or less||Draw|
|Six or more||Stand|
The banker does not draw a third card if the player hand totals 8 or 9, and the player did not draw a third card. The following table lists the rules the dealer must follow if the player hand does draw a third card.
|When the Banker’s
First Two Cards
|The Banker Draws
Only When the
Player’s Third Card Is
|The Banker Stands
Only When the Player’s
Third Card Is
|Two or less||1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10|
Only a total of three cards can be in the hands during each round of play. After all the rules of drawing are followed, the hand with a total closest to nine wins, allowing the croupier to pay out any bets made on the winning hand. A tie between the banker and player hands doesn’t pay out for bets made on banker or player hands. The casino charges a 5 percent commission from any winning banker bets, so even though they’re technically paid out 1 to 1, a banker bet payoff ratio is actually 19:20. Though it may sound enticing with a payout of 8 to 1, it’s best to stay away from tie bets.
A Session for Practice
Let’s try a quick practice game now that you’ve got a better grasp of the rules of baccarat. There will be three spots in front of you once you’re seated at a full-scale or mini-baccarat table. These spots are the areas where you place bets, labeled tie, banker, and player. There will be a shoe on the table, from which the dealer will deal out the cards for the game.
Before the game starts, six or eight decks, after which the dealer asks a player at the table to cut the cards. This means dividing the stacked decks in two, by taking the top half of the stack off and setting it next to the bottom half. Following the cutting, the cards will be placed inside the shoe, with the cut card being placed near the end to remind the dealer when it’s time to reshuffle. The dealer will then remove the first card from the shoe and flip it over. The number on that card indicates the number of burn cards that will be removed from the front of the deck, helping to ensure honest gaming.
After the shuffle, the game will begin. The first step is placing bets, even before any cards are dealt. Players decide to make wagers on which hand they believe will win the round, placing their chips on the banker or player spots. If you’re feeling lucky, you could place a couple chips on the tie spot for a chance at an 8 to 1 payout, but it’s not recommended. Make sure to check for the placard that lists the minimum and maximum betting limits. If you can’t locate it, ask the croupier! Don’t jump into any game without knowing the limits first. The dealer deals out the two-card hands for the player and banker once all bets have been placed.
Sometimes there are three croupiers attending a full-scale baccarat table: one to deal and call cards, two to manage the payoffs. Another fun little part of a full-scale game is that sometimes players are given the option to draw the cards from the shoe and pass them to the caller. The caller will guide you through the routine of drawing cards. Though these things aren’t present in a mini-baccarat game, the rules are still the same. If you’d rather not draw the cards during the game, you can pass on the option and it will move to another player. Players don’t participate at a mini-baccarat table; the single dealer does everything. Even though the player has the opportunity for a little more participation in a full-scale game, the dealer still make all the card-drawing decisions based on the strict rules discussed previously.
The game ends when a third card is drawn for each hand, if no naturals are present, and the hand closest to 8 or 9 wins, all bets being paid off at a rate of 1 to 1. Tie bets pay off 8 to 1, or even 9 to 1 in some places, but are extremely unlikely to ever come up. The cards are discarded after the winning bets are paid off. Once those cards are discarded, players make another round of bets and the dealer repeats the game cycle. Baccarat tables usually play through until the entire shoe is empty.
Here’s How the House Makes Money at Baccarat
The banker hand is given a slight edge in baccarat because the player hand is always played out first. This manages to provide a win rate, if the tie bets are excluded, of 50.7 percent to the banker hand, with player hands winning about 49.3 percent.
A clever person might assume from those odds that betting on the banker would offer a 1.4 percentage advantage and a good chance of winning. Trouble is, that’s not true. It would be, except casinos charge a 5 percent commission for any winning bets made on a banker hand. You’ll be paid 1 to 1 if your banker hand bet wins, but the casino keeps track of their commission. This commission, called a “vigorish” or “vig,” is calculated by the croupier as you play, rather than requiring you to pay it off immediately. This saves time, as dealers would slow down the game if they had to make change at the end of every round. Instead, you’ll be asked to settle the vig when you decide you’re done playing.
With the vigorish in play, banker bets give the casino a 1.17 percent edge, and a 1.36 percent edge on all bets when ties are included.
How to Bet on a Tie
You may be tempted to make a tie bet because it pays 8 to 1 if you win. The problem with a tie bet, however, is that the rules help to prevent ties from occurring as much as possible. The chances of hitting a tie are 9.5 to 1. Couple that with the 8-to-1-payout ratio, and the payback is only 85.5 percent. Those rare casinos that pay 9 to 1 are a little better, paying back as much 95.5 percent for a winning tie bet.
Relax While You Play
Even though the rules are a little complicated, the fact that the dealer does everything during the game make baccarat one of the simplest, most relaxing games available in a casino. There’s no way to screw up so badly that the house gains a greater edge. The best strategy for baccarat is to just stick with banker and player bets, avoiding tie bets as much as possible. That’s the biggest piece of information you need to really enjoy baccarat.
Some baccarat tables have electronic posts rising up, showing the last 30 winning hands. While it may build anticipation, that information doesn’t really help your playing much. There’s no surefire way to decipher the next winning hand in baccarat. You can follow along for interest’s sake, but trying to track winning hands won’t help you predict the future any better.
These posts can help you spot trends at each table, though. Occasionally betting to follow a specific trend can lead to winning bets, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t pinpoint anything. Trends are difficult to spot and there’s no way to tell how long they’ll last.
At the end of the day, baccarat betting is mostly guesswork. Those guesses, however, are definitely fun to make and can win you some big bucks! Large sums of money can be won and lost at a baccarat table, thanks to the smaller house edge in baccarat, making it a favorite game for high rollers. Low rollers aren’t left out, either, since that same edge can let a novice player stick around for quite a while.
The most popular betting system for baccarat is doubling up. If a $5 bet loses this hand, next hand up the bet to $10. Doubling up involves doubling every losing bet the next time around. Sounds like a feasible plan, but there’s one problem: betting systems simply don’t work. Instead, just have fun with it and make sure you’re not betting more than you can afford to lose!