Baccarat is a card game that compares the value of cards between the player hand and banker hand. The only three possible outcomes of the game are player wins, banker wins, or tie. There is a very small house edge, though the odds do favor the banker.
Many people learned about baccarat through James Bond films, as the main character played the game most famously in Casino Royale but also in For Your Eyes Only and several other films. The only time it changed was when the 2006 movie adaptation was made using Texas Hold’em, which was a direct result of the poker boom.
There are variations of baccarat, the most popular being punto banco but also including baccarat chemin de fer and baccarat banque.
Many historians have found remnants of baccarat games dating back to the 1400s in Italy, where the word baccarat meant zero. French soldiers who returned from the Franco-Italian War during that century brought the game to France, where it eventually became a popular game in European casinos and among French and English royalty.
Variations like chemin de fer were obviously French derivations of baccarat. While many games simply change over time, baccarat kept its original form as well as its other versions, all becoming popular in one realm or another.
Punto banco became the most popular around the world, as the players’ actions are influenced by the dealer’s cards, inserting an element that intrigues players, especially high rollers.
The games made their way to the United States like so many others, with immigrants from Europe who suggested the games for riverboat casinos. When Las Vegas and other cities built large casinos, baccarat tended to attract big bettors as well as other curious gamblers, making it an ideal table game.
Baccarat’s popularity has moved over into the online casino realm as a table game or a live dealer game. The online crowd tends to play lower limits than in land-based casinos, which makes it a good place to learn baccarat.
The player in baccarat may not be the bettor in the game, as player has a different meaning in this case. With that consideration, it is best to think of the customer as the bettor.
Two hands are dealt, the player hand and the banker hand. In some casino games, the person with the shoe puts out one card, and the dealer moves the cards and dictates the action. However, most land-based casinos and nearly all online casinos simply offer mini-baccarat, which is a version of the game that removes that complication and allows the dealer to simply put out the cards.
Each bettor initially gets two cards. Based on the total calculation of each hand, an additional card may be added to the hand. The values are based on the following point system:
- Cards 2-9 = face value
- Cards 10, jack, queen, king = zero points
- Aces = 1 point
The total value of the hand is then dictated by the digit on the right. For example, if a hand is calculated at 18 points, the digit on the right is 8, meaning the hand is worth 8 points. The highest value option is 9.
If either the player or the banker shows a total of 8 or 9 with the first two cards, it is a win. No more cards are drawn, and the hand is over.
If there is no natural, the player hand is handled first. If the total of two cards is 6 or 7, the player stands. If the total is zero through 5, the player receives a third card.
The banker stands on 7 and must draw with a zero through 2. The rest of the banker’s choices are complicated:
- Banker hits a 3 unless player’s third card is 8.
- Banker hits a 4 unless player’s third card is 1, 8, 9, or zero.
- Banker hits a 5 only if player’s third card is 4, 5, 6, or 7.
- Banker hits a 6 only if player’s third card is 6 or 7.
- The hand with the total closest to 9 wins the bet, which is even money.
Tied hands are a push, with no win or loss. However, a bettor may bet on a tie. If that bet is placed and the hand results in a tie, the bettor wins an 8-to-1 payout.
There is a high edge on the tie bet, so most beginning players should never wager on the tie. It also has a house edge of 9.5%.
As for players at a live baccarat table, it is considered bad manners to look at player cards until both hands are dealt. And if holding the banker hand, it is common practice to wait until the dealer uncovers the player hand before looking at banker cards.
Many players like to keep track of the results of each hand, which can be done on paper in a casino but is much easier at an online casino. There is a running tally of player wins, banker wins, and ties on the screen for all to see.
There is typically not much strategy for baccarat players. One thing to keep in mind is that statistics show banker hands tend to win 50.68% of the time, slightly more often than player hands. But there is also a 5% commission for casinos – and some online casinos – for winning banker bets.
Counting cards is possible for baccarat as for blackjack players, but there has yet to be a successful attempt that replicates the success of the likes of the MIT blackjack team. The value system for points creates much confusion when trying to count cards as well as use the baccarat points for card values. And the likelihood of ties puts a snag in the system as well.
Some players use the Martingale system of doubling bets every time a hand loses, but some baccarat experts say it is better to double bets only when on a winning streak. The reverse-Martingale may be the best strategy for making money at a baccarat table.