How to Play Baccarat

Excerpt from

The Intelligent Guide to Casino Gaming

by Sylvester Suzuki

Because it is one of the easiest casino games to understand and play well, baccarat is the ideal subject for this first discourse on casino games. In fact, the only thing that the novice need know in order to play the game as well as any seasoned veteran is to avoid betting on a tie. The game is also attractive because it offers the novice one of the best (least unfavorable) overall odds in the casino. Baccarat is therefore probably the game that gives the average recreational casino visitor the best chance of leaving the casino with more money in his pocket than when he entered. That is probably the reason why, although the game has enjoyed considerable popularity in Europe and Asia, baccarat has never been enthusiastically promoted in American casinos.

In most American casinos, baccarat is played at a small table with only one casino employee at the table. This American version of the game is usually referred to as mini-baccarat. In a small number of American casinos, the game is also played at a full-size European style table that is essentially two mini-baccarat tables connected by a panel at which a coupier (dealer) and one or two assistants are stationed. In general, betting limits at a full-size table are higher. Otherwise, playing rules are identical.

Mini-Baccarat Table

Mini-Baccarat Table

Rules of Baccarat

After bets have been made, the game begins with the dealer dealing two hands consisting of two cards each from a card rack (known as a shoe) which contains six to eight decks of cards. The first and third cards go to a hand that is designated as the Player Hand. The second and fourth cards go to a hand designated as the Banker Hand.

The object of the game is to make a hand that totals nine. For counting purposes, cards have the following values. Suits are not relevant.

Card Values in Baccarat
Card Numerical Value
Ace one
2 two
3 three
4 four
5 five
6 six
7 seven
8 eight
9 nine
10, Jack, Queen & King Zero

If the total of the first two cards is greater than nine, the first digit is disregarded. For example, if the first two cards are a five and a six, the numerical value of the hand will be one (5+6 = 11).

After the first two cards have been dealt to the Player Hand and the Banker Hand, the dealer will automatically complete play based on established procedures. Neither the dealer nor player has an option. Provided that the Banker Hand is not an eight or nine, the dealer will complete the Player Hand in accordance with the following rules.

Action on the Player Hand
First Two Card Total Player Hand Will
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Receive an additional card
6 or 7 Stand pat
8 or 9 Stand pat (natural)

If the Player Hand is a nine and the Banker Hand is not a nine, the Player Hand is an automatic winner.

If the Banker Hand is also a nine, it is a push and bets are returned.

If the Player Hand is an eight and the Banker Hand is nine, the Player Hand loses. If the Banker Hand is also an eight, it is a push. In summary, if the first two cards of either the Player Hand or the Banker Hand totals eight or nine, no additional cards will be dealt to either hand.

If the first two cards of the Player Hand totals six or seven and the Banker Hand does not total eight or nine, the Banker Hand will be completed by the dealer in accordance with the following procedure.

Action on Banker Hand—I
Banker Hand Total Banker Hand Will
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Draw a card
6 , 7, 8, 9 Stand pat

If the Player Hand has been given a third card, the dealer will act on the Banker Hand in accordance with the following rules.

Action on Banker Hand—II
Banker Hand Total Banker Hand Will
0, 1, 2 Always draw a card
3 Draw, except if third card to Player Hand is 8
4 Draw, except if third card to Player Hand is 0, 1, 8 or 9
5 Draw, except if third card to Player Hand is 0, 1, 2, 3, 8 or 9
6 Draw, except if third card to Player Hand is 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 or 9
7 Never draw a card

The Betting

Minimum and maximum bets are posted at each table. Because of the small house advantage on this game, normally $25 is the smallest bet that will be accepted at a mini-baccarat table. At full-size baccarat tables, the minimum bet is usually $100. Patrons may bet on either the Player Hand or the Banker Hand. They may also bet that the two hands will tie.

The rules of baccarat have been designed to give the Banker Hand a slight (1.4%) advantage over the Player Hand. Therefore, in order to insure that the casino will have the necessary house advantage over the patron, regardless of how he might wish to bet, a 5% commission (or vigorish) is charged whenever the patron bets on the Banker Hand and wins his bet. This means that if the patron wins a $100 bet on the Player Hand, he will win $100. However, for a winning bet on the Banker Hand, he will win only $95. The net result is that the casino enjoys a very reasonable 1.2% advantage on bets that are made on the Banker Hand. In summary, the casino enjoys a 1.4% advantage over the patron if he is betting on the Player Hand and a 1.2% advantage if he is betting on the Banker Hand. The difference of 0.2% amounts to five cents on a minimum $25 bet.

In most casinos, the payout on a bet that the two hands will tie is 8 to 1. Since the true odds that the two hands will tie is 9.5 to 1, the house advantage on this bet is almost 15%, making this one of the worst bets in the casino. Therefore, in every book on this subject that I have read, it is strongly recommended that you never bet that the hands will tie. This writer makes no such recommendation. The vast majority of casino visitors are occasional patrons who are in the casino to relax and have some fun. There are times in every gambler’s life when everything seems to be going his way and he senses that he can beat all odds and whip all comers. If such is the case and you understand the odds, I see no harm in making an occasional long-shot bet. Just don’t make a habit of it and don’t bet the family farm on it.

Closing Notes

The typical wording on a mini-baccarat table indicates that a winning tie bet will pay “9 for 1.” Don’t be misled. That note means that the winning bettor will receive $9 for each $1 that had been bet. However, since the $9 will include the $1 that had been wagered, payment will actually be made for odds of 8 to 1. The lesson here is that “9 for 1” is not synonymous with “9 to 1;” it is synonymous with 8 to 1. This is true not just at a baccarat table, but throughout the casino. When in a casino, always bear in mind that “X for 1” is not the same as “X to 1.”

At most baccarat tables, you will notice that the table is cluttered with tab sheets on which players are keeping records of previous results. A wide variety of symbols will be used to record Player Hand wins, Banker Hand wins, and ties. Apparently, the object is to detect trends that might help the player intelligently size future bets. However, since as when flipping a coin, each baccarat hand is totally independent of previous results, such data is totally worthless. Nevertheless, casinos seem pleased to help perpetuate the myth that such data might be useful by providing free tab sheets and pencils. In fact, many casinos provide players this same information on an electronic sign that is located behind each table.

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