How to Play Baccarat

HISTORY

EARLY BEGINNINGS

The origins of the game of Baccarat date back to as early as the 15th century, and not surprising, there are some debates as to its exact birth place and inventor. It is universally agreed however, that the game was first invented in either France or Italy. It’s difficult to trace the precise origin of this game mainly because slight variations of it name are used in both countries, each wanting to claim it as their own. Wherever it was invented, baccara (Italian) or baccarat (French) both translate to “zero” in English – so called because the tens and face cards in Baccarat, which comprise the majority of the deck, are all worth zero.

According to many, the game was first invented in Italy by gambler Felix Falguiere in the middle-ages. Falguiere based his game on an old Etruscan ritual of the nine gods, who prayed to a blonde virgin on their tiptoes waiting for her to throw a nine-sided die. The result of the toss decided her fate. If she threw an 8 or 9, she would become the priestess; if she threw a 6 or 7, she would be banned from any further religious activities. If she threw any number less than 6, she would have to walk into the sea. Good thing the stakes have evolved since then!

Falguiere’s early version of the game is believed to have been played with a deck of Tarot cards and introduced to France around 1490 A.D., where it remained an exclusive game to the French nobility for some time before becoming a casino game, where it evolved into the games of European Baccarat and ‘chemin de fer’ that are played today.

INTRODUCTION IN AMERICA

Baccarat’s introduction to America came first in it’s pure European forms, and was not exactly a hit. Chemin de fer and European baccarat were both brought to America and introduced at the racetrack and spa at Saratoga and the ritzy Palm Beach resort in 1911. Each was met with indifference from the nouveau riche and soon lapsed in popularity. While both games enjoy very popular status in Europe and Asia, it wasn’t until a variation of these games was brought to America that it really took off.

‘American Baccarat’, in which the House provides the financial backing for the game owes its immediate lineage to George Raft’s Capri Casino in Havana, Cuba dating from pre-Castro days. It is thought that this form of the game originated in England and spread to South America before it made its way to the United States in the late 1950s. Its originator Tommy Renzoni, stated in his (out-of-print) book, Renzoni on Baccarat, that Punto-Banco as it was called in Cuba, was brought to Las Vegas by him in the late 1950s, as Castro was about to take possession of the island. Renzoni wrote that his game owed it roots to European chemin de fer via Argentina. He claimed that the night of the game’s first modern American play, the Sands lost $250,000.

THE REST OF THE WORLD

Baccarat has a history overseas too, which is evidenced by its popularity among the Asian population who visit Las Vegas each year. In casinos based in the Portuguese territory of Macao, near Hong Kong, the popularity of baccarat is unrivalled. Unlike the heavily ordered and systematic American casinos, these Portuguese tables often allow multiple players to bet on a single spot at the same time, while the expert dealers mentally keep track of each players commission on winning bank bets.

All throughout its history the game remained a pleasant invitation to high rollers and individuals with high social standings. Not requiring much thought or ability, baccarat forced the players to leave everything to chance.

RULES

Here we are going to explain the American baccarat(or so called Punto Banco) rules and just mention the other kinds. It’s a very simple to play game. The dealer does the complicated part. You need only decide whether to wager on Banker, Player, or Tie.

AREAS ON A BACCARAT TABLE

  1. Caller (“Croupier”)
  2. Dealer
  3. Dealer
  4. Drop Box
  5. Discard Trays
  6. Tips box

Up to 14 players occupy the seats which correspond to the numbers on the layout. The No. 13 seat is eliminated, because of the superstition that surrounds the number. So, the 14th player will be seated at No. 15. In front of the players is a section for placing wagers.

Each player has three betting areas associated with his position at the table, corresponding to the possible choices at the beginning of each game: “Banker”, “Player” or “Tie”.

Three dealers service each table. The dealer standing at position 1 is known as the “caller” or “croupier”, and directs the play of the game and makes calls on the hands. Two other dealers work on the position 2 and 3. One dealer serves players 1 through 7, the other serves 8 through 14. They pay bets when a player wins and takes bets away on losses. In the croupier area there are numbered boxes, which are used to track how much commission each player owes the house.

THE VALUE OF THE CARDS

To compute the value of a hand you sum the values of the hand’s cards(see the table).

Ace 1
10, K, Q, J 10
1 – 9 face value

If the value of the hand exceeds 9, you drop the first digit to get the real value of your hand. For example, a hand consisting of a 9 and a 5(the sum is 14) has a value of 4. As such, it is impossible to ‘bust’ a hand in baccarat like in blackjack.

If the sum of the first 2 dealt cards is 8 or 9 the hand is called “a natural”.

PLAYING THE GAME

A game is started by dealing two cards to the player and two cards to the banker. Then the value of each hand is calculated and:

  1. If one and only one of both the player and the dealer hands is “a natural” (8 or 9), the natural hand wins.
  2. If both hands are “a natural” and one and only one hand equals 9, le grande “natural” (9) wins over le petit “natural” (8).
  3. If both hands are “a natural” and equal in value, the game ends in a tie.
  4. Otherwise one more card have to be dealt or not to the player(first to him) and the dealer. Considering this 3rd card a new computation is made and the winner is the hand closest to 9, or in case the hands are equal, it is a tie. The 3rd card is dealt following the rules(also see the table below):
    • If the player has total of 6 or 7, the player stands(no card is dealt to him).
    • If the player has total of 5 or less, the player automatically hits and the banker gives the player a third card.
    • If the banker has total of 0, 1, 2: Banker always draws a third card.
    • If the banker has total of 3: Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-0 (not 8)
    • If the banker has total of 4: Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is 2-3-4-5-6-7
    • If the banker has total of 5: Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is 4-5-6-7
    • If the banker has total of 6: Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is of 6-7
    • If the banker has total of 7: Banker always stands
Player’s 3rd card
BT 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
7 S S S S S S S S S S
6 S S S S S S H H S S
5 S S S S H H H H S S
4 S S H H H H H H S S
3 H H H H H H H H S H
2 H H H H H H H H H H
1 H H H H H H H H H H
0 H H H H H H H H H H

H – Hit(get new card), S – Stand, BT – Banker’s Total

BETTING

There are three betting options in Baccarat.

  • BETTING ON THE PLAYER HAND: By placing your gaming chips in the “Player” area in front of you, you are betting on the player hand. You win the bet, if the player hand at the end of the round (after all drawing and dealing are done), will be greater than the dealer’s. In this case, you are paid even money(1 to 1) and charged no commission. The house edge for this bet is 1.29%.
  • BETTING ON THE BANK HAND: By placing your gaming chips in the “Banker”area in front of you, you are betting on the Banker hand. You win the bet, if the banker hand at the end of the round will be greater than the player’s. In this case, you are paid even money and charged the standard 5% commission fee on the amount that you won. In order not to slow down the game, the dealer does not collect the “vigorish” after each round. He pays even money to winning banker bets and keeps records of the commission every player owes. After the finish of a shoe, or when a player wants to leave before the end of a shoe, the dealer will collect the accumulated commission. When you bet on the “Banker’s” hand, the casino has advantage of 1.01%. It is one of the lowest house advantages in the casino.
  • BETTING ON A TIE HAND: If you want to bet on the Tie hand, you will place your gaming chips in the “Tie” area or on the number corresponding to your seat. A bet on a Tie pays 8 to 1 without any commission fee. If there is a tie, bets on the “Banker or “Player” are returned, but you can leave them on the betting area for the next round or increase/decrease your bet. Tie Bet is the worst bet in baccarat since this bet has a house advantage of 15.75%.

GAME VARIANTS

There are three present-day games that are essentially the same and sometimes all thought of as baccarat. They are:

  • CHEMIN DE FER:

    This game is played in some European casinos, but is not played in the U.K. and North America. The goal is the same (to get as close to 9 as possible) but the rules allow a few conditions where drawing a card is optional. The casino doesn’t play the role of banker, the players bet against each other, the players take turns being the banker-dealer (the option may be declined, and it then passes to the next player to the right) the house takes a standard cut out of the player banker’s winning coup.

  • BACCARAT: This game is the only game played in the U.K. and North America and usually the stakes are high. The rules discussed on this page fit here.
  • MINI-BACCARAT: A new version of the game. The game is played at a blackjack sized table with up to seven players. The rules are the same as for the full version of baccarat, however to speed up the game the players don’t touch the cards they are dealt by the casino dealer. The stakes are much lower for this game than the full version, this plus the less formal atmosphere make this version appeal to many players.

BACCARAT STRATEGY

ODDS

The game of baccarat can be played with 6 or 8 decks of cards and the probability distribution for a hand dealt from a complete shoe of 6 or 8 decks is as follows:

Number
of Decks:
Banker wins Player wins Tie
6 decks 0.458653 0.446279 0.095069
8 decks 0.458597 0.446247 0.095156

CASINO COMMISSION

The casino’s commission on the winning Banker hand (4% or 5%) and payouts on a tie bet (8:1 or 9:1) implies the following house advantages:

Number
of Decks:
Banker bet 5% Banker bet 4% Player bet Bet tie 9:1 Bet tie 8:1
6 decks 1.0558% 0.5972% 1.2374% 4.9313% 14.4382%
8 decks 1.0579% 0.5993% 1.2351% 4.8440% 14.3596%

Having in mind the above tables these tips will give you the best chance of winning:

  •  Always bet on the banker, as this bet has the lowest house edge.
  •  Look for games with as few decks as possible.
  •  Look for games that charge a commission on banker bets lower than 5%.
  •  If you intend to bet on a tie from time to time, look for baccarat games that pay 9 to 1 on a tie bet instead of the usual 8 to 1.
  •  Set a specific target amount of money to play baccarat with. Once you lose it, quit. Baccarat should be played for its entertainment value.

BOOKS

Baccarat for the Clueless

by John May, Publication Date: 09/01/1998, 144 pages

Ignore the title even if you are clueless because this is an very thorough book on the subject of baccarat. In 15 chapters, the author covers everything from how to play all versions of the game (mini-bac, American and European baccarat) to the future of the game. There’s a 20-page history with a special discussion on women at the tables and an equally lengthy section on card counting. Other chapter headings include Analyzing the Shuffle; Other Advantage-Play Techniques; Cheating; Chemin de Fer; Baccarat en Banque; Super Pan Nine; Tournament Baccarat; Playing for Comps; The Internet; Psychology; and Baccarat Miscellanea. Various strategies are explored, including subjects like warping, card-steering, junkets, and tell-play.

The Baccarat Battle Book: How to Attack the Game of Baccarat

by Frank Scoblete, Publication Date: 09/01/1999, 214 pages

Scoblete shows clearly the complexities of baccarat. He discusses card counting systems, advantage play methods, and ways to reduce the casino commission on the bank bets. The book is great reading and never dull. If you play baccarat you should seriously consider getting this book.

Secrets of Winning Baccarat

by Brian Kaysar, Publication Date: 04/22/2003, 192 pages

The author recorded the results of each hand for 232 shoes and concocted a system that would work against that set of results. In case you’re new to baccarat, the first section explains the game clearly, especially the third-card rule which often confuses not only the player but also the dealer. From that auspicious beginning, Kayser moves through sections titled Baccarat Style (finding the table, making the bet, handling chips, etc.), Some Basic Mechanics (keeping a score card and terminology); Basic Betting Strategy (trends, ten foot hole, basic strategy, testing the strategy, applying the basic strategy, distribution of winning shoe, odds of getting consecutive non-winning shoe.) How Baccarat Works ( odds, runs, strategies); Advanced Betting Strategies (three advanced strategies); Looking for Opportunities (singleton vs. run, betting row three, four, mental bets, every hand); A Unified Strategy (picking opportunities); Frame of Mind; Have the Money to Back Your Play, Targets, Ties; Some Observations; Practice Play; Advanced Tactics: Testing Procedures. Quite a bit packed between the covers of this one.