Baccarat is a popular casino game that graces the floors of most bricks-and-mortar establishments and is also widely available via online casinos. Thanks to numerous big-screen representations including the James Bond series, it has become synonymous with sophistication and refinement.
History of Baccarat
Baccarat can be traced back to the 14th century and a game called ‘baccara’. Created by Felix Falguiere, this early variant differed from modern baccarat in that it required cards to be dealt by four dealers. Each player took turns to be banker and was able to bet against fellow competitors as well as the house.
The modern game bears a closer resemblance to the version enjoyed by French nobleman at the court of King Charles VIII in the 19th century. Known as Chemin de Fer, this particular version became hugely popular in France and also caught on in the United Kingdom.
Different Versions of Baccarat
Despite the game’s proliferation in a variety of countries, there are only a few variations. Here’s a run-down of the most commonly player versions of baccarat.
Chemin de Fer
The direct precursor to modern baccarat, Chemn De Fer is still played today. However, there are a few differences worth pointing out. To begin with, there are six decks instead of seven. Additionally, the croupier is the only participant allowed to shuffle the cards, which are then dealt by the banker (each player gets a turn at being the banker). Cards are distributed face-down with the decision to draw a third card resting with the player. Players take their turns according to how much they bet, with the biggest bettor going first.
Widely played in the US, Mini Baccarat comprises seven players instead of eight and uses only one croupier who acts as both banker and dealer. One of the main appeals of this version is the low bet rates which makes it far more accessible to low/medium rollers.
This variant became wildly popular in Latin American during the 1950s before catching on in a big way throughout the rest of the world. Up to 14 players can take part with six to eight decks used. The shuffling and card distribution is handled by the croupier. The players (Punto) are not given the opportunity to decide on a third card which is dealt regardless.
How to Play Baccarat
Standard Baccarat is heavily based on Punto Banco rules and is commonly played with eight decks. As with all comparing games, each card represents a certain number of points: face and 10 cards account for zero, face values apply to cards from 2 -9 and Aces are worth 1 point.
Before the cards are dealt, the player makes one of three bets: banker, player or tie.
Player – this bet is placed on the player winning. Should this occur, all wagers placed on the banker or tie are paid out to the player at a ratio of 1:1
Tie – this kind of bet is placed on a tie between player and dealer. Should the player win, all bets placed on the banker and player are paid out at a ratio of 8:1
Banker – this bet is placed on the banker winning, with all stakes made on players and ties paid out at a ratio of 1:1. A fee of up to 5% is often applied to banker wins here in favour of the casino.
After all bets have been made, the dealer and player(s) receive two cards, with each attempting to get the highest score from the sum total of their hand.
A hand worth 6 or 7 OR 8 or 9 immediately stands while players with hands totalling 5 or less are allowed to hit again. Should either the player or banker have a point total of either 8 or 9 with their first two cards, no more are dealt and the participant with the higher total declared the winner.
However, it’s not always as straightforward as this. In many cases elaborate calculations are required following rounds. Some of these are as follows:
- If a banker’s total is 2 or less, he must draw another card (hit)
- If a banker’s total is 7, he stands
The banker does not draw another card if the sum of his two cards is:
- 3 and the player’s third card is 8
- 4 and the player’s third card is 0, 1, 8, 9
- 5 and the player’s third card is 0, 1, 2, 3, 8, 9
- 6 and the player’s third card is 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 or 9
Baccarat Odds and Probability
For eight decks games, the house edge for betting on a player’s hand stands at 1.24%. Betting on the banker hand is 1.0% - this is actually the lowest house advantage of any casino game. The house edge is about 14% for tie bets, lowering to 10.36% for bets on pairs.
For six deck games, the house edge remains the same for banker and player bets. However, it rises to 14.44% for tie bets and 11.25% for pair bets.
The probability of a bet coming up in a baccarat shoe is as follows:
- Banker Win: 6/5, Probability: 0.458653
- Player Win: 5/4, Probability: 0.446279
- Tie: 9/1, Probability: 0.095069
As illustrated above, the banker bet has a slightly more favourable probability than the player, which is why many players follow the basic strategy of betting on the banker.
Online Baccarat Gameplay Tips
Before delving into some of the main baccarat strategies, it’s a good idea to follow a few basic pointers first. You’ll get a better idea about the game and how it’s played. You’ll also lay a solid foundation from which you can apply more sophisticated tactics later on.
Learn the Rules
Something of a no-brainer this one - seasoned players have an advantage over newbies because they know the game inside-out. So conduct proper research and be sure that you’re fully clued up about the rules. Otherwise, it could get rather ugly.
Avoid the Tie Bet
The tie bet is the worst option and should be avoided to begin with - while a tie is entirely possible, the odds of it appearing stand at a paltry 8:1.
Bet on the Player and Banker to Begin With
Wagering on the banker means that the casino has the lowest possible advantage. Nevertheless, when you’re starting out, bet on both the player and banker. You’ll get a better feel for the game.
Bet on the Banker
Once you feel more confident, start betting on the banker consistently in order to take advantage of the slightly more favourable odds of winning. Be mindful though of the 5% commission that’s often attached to banking bet wins.
Don’t waste your time in keeping track of results in great deal. Save for trying to spot in-game streaks, identifying complex trends in any casino game is a flawed strategy. Our minds just aren’t able to cope with the law of large numbers not to mention the massive data range required.
Be Aware: You Don’t Have a Gut Feeling
Don’t make bets based on your gut feeling because there’s no such thing. What you might have is a cognitive condition that affects most gamblers at one time or another. It’s called, ‘delusory thinking’.
If you’re unfamiliar with the subtleties of any gambling game, let alone baccarat, it makes good sense to look after your bankroll and bet small. Reserve the big bets for when you feel more confident.
Know When to Quit – Set Session Limits
Knowing when it’s time to leave the baccarat table is perhaps one of the most effective strategies of all - stick around for too long and your bank-roll will suffer. This is why most online casinos set session limits allowing players to limit their game-play.
As well as the above pointers, it’s also helpful if you become familiar with the terms used in games of baccarat. Here’s a run-down
- Baccarat – used during game-play to describe a hand totalling zero – the worst possible hand
- Banco – Spanish word for banker
- Banque – baccarat variant played in many European casinos
- Bankroll – money you intend to spend on gambling
- Banker – also known as ‘banco’, the word ‘banker’ refers to one of two hands dealt in a round of baccarat
- Burning - When the top three to six cards are discarded after shuffling and before the start of a new game
- Carte – French term used to request another card from dealer. (French for ‘Hit Me’)
- Commission – the amount of winnings paid out to the dealer after successfully wagering on the banker – usually collected after reaching a certain threshold
- Coup – a completed round of play in baccarat
- Cut – divide a deck of cards in half after shuffling
- Cut Card - plastic card used for cutting decks after shuffling
- Dealer – person responsible for distributing the cards (casino staff member of player customer depending on baccarat version)
- Down Card – facedown card, also known as ‘hole card’
- Discard Tray – apparatus that holds all played or discarded cards
- Dragon bonus – winning side bet operated by certain casinos in which a hand wins by at least four points
- Face Card – all cards with portraits on them
- Fading – land-based casinos term used to describe the practice of placing bets
- Flat Bet – occurs when a participant places the same wager repeatedly
- House Edge – the built-in advantage a land-based/online casino has over the player which ensures the ‘house’ makes a profit
- Ladderman – an employee who sits in an elevated chair to observe the baccarat tables and monitor play
- La Grande – terms used to describe a natural total of nine
- La Petite – a term which refers to a hand totalling eight
- Marker – piece of paper which can be signed in order to borrow money from the casino
- Monkey - a term used to describe a card with a value of zero – this applies to tens, jacks, queens and kings
- Muck – term which describes eight card decks with 52 cards each that are used at the start of shuffling
- Natural – when two dealt cards total eight or nine
- Palette- apparatus used to move cards on a baccarat table
- Pass – a win
- Push – neither a winning or losing bet
- Run – side bet allowing the player to bet on multiple hands
- Player – as with the term ‘punto’, ‘player’ describes one of two hands dealt in a round.
- Shoe – casino apparatus used to hold the baccarat cards
- Shills – member of casino staff charged with luring players onto baccarat table
- Shooter – the bank
- Shuffle-Up – early shuffling of the cards before play
- Stand-Off – When the player and bank are locked in a tie
Once you’ve accepted that Baccarat is purely a game of chance, you’ll be able to start devising strategies that have little hope of improving the likelihood of you winning something! Joking aside, there are a few tactics that can improve your chances...ever so slightly.
Before applying any strategy its good practice to allocate betting units that represent the amount you’re willing to stake. These should be no more than 1% of your total bankroll so if you have £5000, set aside £50.
Mentioned in some of our other guides to popular casino games, the Martingale approach is a flawed but popular betting system. For baccarat, the participant bets on either the banker or player and stakes a single bet which is then doubled should he lose. Following a win, the player returns to his original stake. Here’s an idea of how this system works in practice.
- Player bets £10 and loses (bankroll @ -10)
- Player bets £20 and loses (bankroll @ -30)
- Player bets £40 and wins (bankroll @ +10)
- Player bets £10 and loses (bankroll @ 0)
- Player bets £20 and wins (bankroll @ + 20)
- Player bets £10 and wins (bankroll @ +30)
The player in our example won three hands and lost three hands – this happens frequently in baccarat because the game is almost a 50/50 proposition. Despite this, the martingale strategy has helped our player win £30. In theory then, you’ll always win back any losses you accrue at the baccarat table and may also garner long-term profits. But there are a few shortcomings with such a system.
To see the Martingale method through successfully, you’re going to need a very large bankroll – it’s a tactic that drains funds because of the ‘doubling up’ element. And at some point or another, you’re going to run into a losing streak that your bankroll won’t be able to cover. Some casinos also impose table limits on games reducing the effectiveness of the Martingale tactic effective over the short-term.
One-Sided Baccarat Strategy
Plenty of people will tell you to ‘bet on the bank’ when playing baccarat. Others will tell you take the opposite approach and ‘bet on the player’. These ‘one-sided’ tactics can actually prove quite effective when applied properly - players actually have a 3:1 shot of developing a winning position during one out of two shoes. The odds of an evens bankroll or breakeven point are around 4:1.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that both player and banker gain some kind of advantage during certain stages of a round in approximately 8 out of every 10 shoes. It follows then that the likelihood you’re chosen side will go ahead at some point is pretty decent.
The 1-3-2-4 gambling strategy is suitable for games offering a close-to-evens chance of winning - namely roulette and baccarat. This system allows players to vary their bets so that they have a better chance of making up their losses from previous rounds. It’s also designed to reduce the win/loss variance by restricting 4-unit wagering until the fourth bet, thus ensuring an overall win even if the last bet loses. Putting this strategy into practice is very simple – if a bet wins, you progress to the next bet in the sequence. If it loses, you go back to the beginning. Should all four bets win, you start again having made 10 units profit.
Baccarat is an engaging casino game that offers excitement and intrigue. However, it’s worth pointing out that the chances of winning are about the same as a coin-flip - players who understand this tend to get the most out of it. But just because it’s a tight game, doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to enjoy some impressive runs of luck now and then. Just be prepared for the inevitable negative streaks when they come. Good luck!