Baccarat is a card game played at casinos. There are three popular variants of the game: punto banco (or “North American baccarat”), baccarat chemin de fer, and baccarat banque (or “à deux tableaux”). Punto banco is strictly a game of chance, with no skill or strategy involved; each player’s moves are forced by the cards the player is dealt. In baccarat chemin de fer and baccarat banque, by contrast, both players can make choices, which allows skill to play a part. Despite this, the winning odds are in favour of the bank, with a house edge no lower than around 1 per cent.
Baccarat is a comparing card game played between two hands, the “player” and the “banker.” Each baccarat coup has three possible outcomes: “player” (player has the higher score), “banker,” and “tie.”
Valuation of hands
In Baccarat, cards have a point value: cards 2–9 are worth face value (in points); 10s, Js, Qs and Ks have no point value (i.e. are worth zero); Aces are worth 1 point; Jokers are not used in the game of Baccarat. Hands are valued according to the rightmost digit of the sum of their constituent cards: for example, a hand consisting of 2 and 3 is worth 5, but a hand consisting of 6 and 7 is worth 3 (i.e. the 3 being rightmost digit in the combined points total: 13). Logically then, the highest possible hand value in Baccarat is 9. In the game, a “Baccarat” refers to anything with a value of zero; in a hand of K, 4 and 6, the King is a “baccarat,” and the hand value is also “baccarat.”
Varieties of Baccarat
Baccarat games were originally social and private gambling games, but now are played widely in casinos.
The overwhelming majority of casino baccarat games in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and Macau, are “Punto banco” baccarat and they may be seen labelled simply as “Baccarat”. In Punto banco, the casino banks the game at all times, and commits to playing out both hands according to fixed drawing rules, known as the “tableau” (French: “board”), in contrast to more historic baccarat games where each hand is associated with an individual who makes drawing choices. Player (“Punto”) and Banker (“banco”) are simply designations for the two hands dealt out in each coup, two outcomes which the bettor can back; Player has no particular association with the customer, nor Banker with the house.
In some countries, this version of the game is known as tableau.
Punto banco is dealt from a shoe containing 4, 6 or 8 decks of cards shuffled together. A cut-card is placed in front of the seventh-last card, and the drawing of the cut-card indicates the last coup of the shoe. For each coup, two cards are dealt face up to each hand, starting from “player” and alternating between the hands. The croupier may call the total (e.g. “Five Player, three Banker”). If either Player or Banker or both achieve a total of 8 or 9 at this stage, the coup is finished and the result is announced: Player win, a Banker win, or tie. If neither hand has eight or nine, the drawing rules are applied to determine whether Player should receive a third card. Then, based on the value of any card drawn to the player, the drawing rules are applied to determine whether the Banker should receive a third card. The coup is then finished, the outcome is announced and winning bets are paid out.
The tableau of drawing rules for punto banco
If neither the Player nor Banker is dealt a total of 8 or 9 in the first two cards (known as a “natural”), the tableau is consulted, first for Player’s rule, then Banker’s.
If Player has an initial total of 0–5, he draws a third card. If Player has an initial total of 6 or 7, he stands.
If Player stood pat (i.e., has only two cards), the banker regards only his own hand and acts according to the same rule as Player. That means Banker draws a third card with hands 0–5 and stands with 6 or 7. If Player drew a third card, the Banker acts according to the following more complex rules:
If Player drew a 2 or 3, Banker draws with 0–4, and stands with 5–7.
If Player drew a 4 or 5, Banker draws with 0–5, and stands with 6–7.
If Player drew a 6 or 7, Banker draws with 0–6, and stands with 7.
If Player drew an 8, Banker draws with 0–2, and stands with 3–7.
If Player drew an ace, 9, 10, or face-card, the Banker draws with 0–3, and stands with 4–7.
The casinos list these rules in a more easily remembered format as follows:
If the banker total is 2 or less, then the banker draws a card, regardless of what the player’s third card is.
If the banker total is 3, then the bank draws a third card unless the player’s third card was an 8.
If the banker total is 4, then the bank draws a third card if the player’s third card was 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
If the banker total is 5, then the bank draws a third card if the player’s third card was 4, 5, 6, or 7.
If the banker total is 6, then the bank draws a third card if the player’s third card was a 6 or 7.
If the banker total is 7, then the banker stands.
A math formula equivalent to the drawing rules is: take the value of Player’s third card, counting 8 and 9 as −2 and −1. Divide by 2 always rounding down towards zero. (Thus −1,0,1 all round to zero when this division is done.) Add three to the result. If the Banker’s current total is this final value or less, then draw; otherwise, stand.
The croupier will deal the cards according to the tableau and the croupier will announce the winning hand: either Player or Banker. Losing bets will be collected and the winning bets will be paid according to the rules of the house. Usually, even money or 1–1 will be paid on Player bets and 95% to Banker bets (even money with “5% commission to the house”).
Should both Banker and Player have the same value at the end of the deal the croupier shall announce “egalité — tie bets win.” All tie bets will be paid at 8 to 1 odds and all bets on Player or Banker remain in place and active for the next game (the customer may or may not be able to retract these bets depending on casino rules).
In casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, punto banco is usually played in special rooms separated from the main gaming floor, ostensibly to provide an extra measure of privacy and security because of the high stakes often involved. The game is frequented by very high rollers, who may wager tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single hand. Minimum bets are relatively high, often starting at US$25 and going as high as $500. Posted maximum bets are often arranged to suit a player, but maximums of $10,000 per hand are common. When it comes to online casinos, usually high roller baccarat games are played in separate rooms. A player that wants to play high roller baccarat online can do so only with an invitation which is not easily acquired. Most of the time the invitations are given to players that spend lots of time playing baccarat for real money.
Because baccarat attracts wealthy players, a casino may win or lose millions of dollars a night on the game, and the house’s fortunes may significantly affect the owning corporation’s quarterly profit and loss statement. Notations of the effects of major baccarat wins and losses are frequently found in the quarterly reports of publicly traded gaming companies.
The full-scale version of punto banco baccarat is played at a large rounded table, similar to chemin de fer. The table is staffed by a croupier, who directs the play of the game, and two dealers who calculate tax and collect and pay bets. Six or eight decks of cards are used, normally shuffled only by the croupier and dealers. The shoe is held by one of the players, who deals the cards on the instructions of the croupier according to the tableau. On a Player win, the shoe moves either to the highest winning bettor, or to the next person in clockwise order around the table, depending on the casino’s conventions. The shoe may be refused or the croupier may be requested to deal. In smaller and lower-stakes games, the cards are often handled exclusively by casino staff.
Midi and mini punto
Smaller versions of the game are common in more modest settings. In midi punto, the table is only staffed by a single croupier and is generally smaller. In mini punto, the table is no larger than a standard blackjack table, and the cards are dealt by a croupier directly from a standard shoe. Table minimums/maximums are smaller.
Punto banco odds and strategy
Punto banco has both some of the lowest house edges among casino table games, and some of the highest. The Player bet has an attractively low house edge of 1.24%, and the Banker bet (despite the 5% commission) is even lower, at 1.06%. Both are just slightly better for Player than chances at single-zero roulette, and comparable to playing blackjack by intuition rather than correct strategy.
In contrast, the tie bet has a punishingly high house edge of 14.4%. Most casinos in the United Kingdom pay the tie at 9–1, resulting in a more lenient house edge of around 4% for the tie bet.
Despite having a low house edge, punto banco is not susceptible to advantage play, and despite the superficial similarities to blackjack, card counting is not profitable. In his 1984 analysis (Thorp 1984), Thorp concludes that:
Advantages in baccarat are very small, they are very rare and the few that occur are nearly always in the last five to 20 cards in the pack. —(Thorp 1984)
Nonetheless, many punto banco players record the coup results as the shoe progresses, laying them out using pen and paper according to traditional patterns such as “big road,” “bead road,” “big eye road,” “small road” and “cockroach road,” and making inferences about the result of the next coup by examining the layout. Recently casinos (particularly online casinos) have begun to display the coup results in the current shoe using audiovisual equipment. Despite the impossibility of altering winning chances by examining the result history of the shoe, the use of record cards in punto banco is pervasive in casinos across the world.
EZ Baccarat: No-Commission Baccarat
EZ Baccarat is a proprietary variation of baccarat and is preferred in many casinos around the world. The EZ Baccarat draw rules and outcomes are identical to those of classic baccarat, with the following exception: a winning Banker bet is paid even money (1-to-1, instead of the 19-to-20 of standard Baccarat) except when it wins with a three-card point total of seven, in which case it is a “push” or a “barred” hand. The house edge on a Banker bet under EZ Baccarat rules is 1.018%, which is just slightly lower than the house edge on the Banker bet in standard commission-based baccarat. The use of this EZ Baccarat “push rule” is equivalent to taking a 4.912% commission out of every winning Banker bet payout. The three-card seven-point winning Banker hand (called a “Dragon 7”) occurs about twice per eight-deck shoe. In addition to the no-commission feature, EZ Baccarat has two additional side bets: the Dragon 7 and the Panda 8. The Dragon 7 is a one-coup bet that always loses except when the Banker bet wins with a three-card score of seven. The Dragon 7 pays 40-to-1 when won and has a house edge of 7.61%. The Panda 8 bet is a one-coup bet that always loses except when the Player bet wins with a three-card score of eight. The Panda 8 bet pays 25-to-1 when won and has a house edge of 10.18%. The addition of the Dragon 7 and Panda 8 side bets, along with the significant increase in the number of coups dealt per hour, results in increased casino hold percentages from EZ Baccarat play. Apart from the principal benefit of increased game speed, casinos prefer EZ Baccarat not only because it eliminates both errors in calculating commissions and disputes with customers over proper commission amounts, but also because EZ Baccarat is often much easier for the casino staff to operate and supervise than is classic baccarat.
Super 6/Punto 2000
A variation of punto banco exists where even money is paid on winning Banker bets (rather than 95%), except when Banker wins with 6, it is paid only 50% of the bet. This game goes under various names including “Super 6,” and “Punto 2000.” The house edge on a Banker bet under Super 6 is 1.46% compared with regular commission baccarat at 1.058%. This is equivalent to increasing the commission by 17.45% to 5.87%. The Bank wins with a six about 5 times every eight deck shoe. As well as its increased house edge, the Super 6 variation is used by casinos for its speed, since it partially does away with the time-consuming process of calculating and collecting commission on winning Banker bets; but still requires stopping the game, breaking down every Bank bet and paying 50% of its value each time there is a Bank winner with a six.
Chemin de Fer
Chemin de fer was the original version of baccarat when it was introduced to France and is still the version that is popular there. The name “Chemin de Fer” (iron road) came about because the cards were placed in an iron box and predates its modern French meaning of “railway.” In 1960 Lord Lucan won £26,000 over two nights playing ‘Chemmy’ at a high end gambling party run by John Aspinall. However, Lucan would eventually accrue significant debts.
Six decks of cards are used, shuffled together. Players are seated in random order, typically around an oval table; discarded cards go to the center. Play begins to the right of the croupier and continues counterclockwise. At the start of the game, the croupier and then all players shuffle the cards in play order. The croupier shuffles a final time and the player to his left cuts the deck.
Once play begins, one player is designated as the “banker.” This player also deals. The other players are “punters.” The position of banker passes counterclockwise in the course of the game. In each round, the banker wagers the amount he wants to risk. The other players, in order, then declare whether they will “go bank,” playing against the entire current bank with a matching wager. Only one player may “go bank.” If no one “goes bank,” players make their wagers in order. If the total wagers from the players are less than the bank, observing bystanders may also wager up to the amount of the bank. If the total wagers from the players are greater than the bank, the banker may choose to increase the bank to match; if he does not, the excess wagers are removed in reverse play order.
The banker deals four cards face down: two to himself and two held in common by the remaining players. The player with the highest individual wager (or first in play order if tied for highest wager) is selected to represent the group of non-banker players. The banker and player both look at their cards; if either has an eight or a nine, this is immediately announced and the hands are turned face-up and compared. If neither hand is an eight or nine, the player has a choice to accept or refuse a third card; if accepted, it is dealt face-up. Traditional practice (grounded in mathematics, similarly to basic strategy in blackjack, but further enforced via social sanctions by the other individuals whose money is at stake) dictates that one always accept a card if one’s hand totals between 0 and 4 (inclusive) and always refuse a card if one’s hand totals 6 or 7. After the player makes his decision, the banker in turn decides either to accept or to refuse another card. Once both the banker and the representative player have made their decision, the hands are turned face-up and compared.
If the player’s hand exceeds the banker’s hand when they are compared, each wagering player receives back their wager and a matching amount from the bank, and the position of banker passes to the next player in order. If the banker’s hand exceeds the player’s hand, all wagers are forfeit and placed into the bank, and the banker position does not change. If there is a tie, wagers remain as they are for the next hand.
If the banker wishes to withdraw, the new banker is first player in order willing to stake an amount equal to the current bank total. If no one is willing to stake this amount, the new banker is instead the next player in order, and the bank resets to whatever that player wishes to stake. Many games have a set minimum bank or wager amount.
In Baccarat Chemin de Fer, it will have been noticed that a given bank only continues so long as the banker wins. As soon as he loses, it passes to another player. In Baccarat Banque the position of banker is much more permanent. Three packs of cards are shuffled together. (The number is not absolute, sometimes four packs, sometimes two only, being used; but three is the more usual number.) The banker (unless he retires either of his own free will or by reason of the exhaustion of his finances) holds office until all these cards have been dealt.
The bank is at the outset put up to auction, i.e. belongs to the player who will undertake to risk the largest amount. In some circles, the person who has first set down his name on the list of players has the right to hold the first bank, risking such amount as he may think proper.
The right to begin having been ascertained, the banker takes his place midway down one of the sides of an oval table, the croupier facing him, with the waste-basket between. On either side of the banker are the punters (ten such constituting a full table). Any other persons desiring to take part remain standing, and can only play in the event of the amount in the bank for the time being not being covered by the seated players.
The croupier, having shuffled the cards, hands them for the same purpose to the players to the right and left of him, the banker being entitled to shuffle them last, and to select the person by whom they shall be cut. Each punter having made his stake, the banker deals three cards, the first to the player on his right, the second to the player on his left, and the third to himself; then three more in like manner. The five punters on the right (and any bystanders staking with them) win or lose by the cards dealt to that side; the five others by the cards dealt to the left side. The rules as to turning up with eight or nine, offering and accepting cards, and so on, are the same as at Baccarat Chemin de Fer.
Each punter continues to hold the cards for his side so long as he wins or ties. If he loses, the next hand is dealt to the player next following him in rotation.
Any player may “go bank,” the first claim to do so belonging to the punter immediately on the right of the banker; the next to the player on his left, and so on alternatively in regular order. If two players on opposite sides desire to “go bank,” they go half shares.
A player going bank may either do so on a single hand, in the ordinary course, or a cheval, i.e. on two hands separately, one-half of the stake being played upon each hand. A player going bank and losing may, again go bank, and if he again loses, may go bank a third time, but not further.
A player undertaking to hold the bank must play out one hand, but may retire at anytime afterwards. On retiring, he is bound to state the amount with which he retires. It is then open to any other player (in order of rotation) to continue the bank, starting with the same amount, and dealing from the remainder of the pack, used by his predecessor. The outgoing banker takes the place previously occupied by his successor.
The breaking of the bank does not deprive the banker of the right to continue, provided that he has funds with which to replenish it, up to the agreed minimum.
Should the stakes of the punters exceed the amount for, the time being in the bank, the banker is not responsible for the amount of such excess. In the event of his losing, the croupier pays the punters in order of rotation, so far as the funds in the bank will extend; beyond this, they have no claim. The banker, may, however, in such a case, instead of resting on his right, declare the stakes accepted, forthwith putting up the needful funds to meet them. In such event the bank thenceforth becomes unlimited, and the banker must hold all stakes (to whatever amount) offered on any subsequent hand, or give up the bank.
In the laws of baccarat, no one code is accepted as authoritative, different clubs make their own rules.
A reliable winning strategy calls for placing bets on the bank hands. This surprises many players because bank bets are subject to the 5 percent commission. However, the bank should win 50.7 percent of the time. And the 5 percent commission is paid only on winnings and not on losing bets. So, a player has a slightly better advantage by playing the bank.
As with other table games such as blackjack and craps, flat bets will, at the very best, even out over the long run. To be successful at baccarat, you should increase bets after winning hands in order to take advantage of short streaks that often occur. Conversely, losing bets should never be increased.
A sound betting system for baccarat calls for increasing your bets after a previous win over a cycle of five hands, according to the following schedule:
• An initial bet of one unit is made.
• The second bet is three times the original bet.
• The third bet is four times the original bet.
• The fourth bet is five times the original bet.
• The fifth bet is six times the original bet.
After the fifth bet, the cycle reverts to the original bet. Although this system calls for increasing bets in the ratio of 1-3-4-5-6, no bet beyond the second one is ever double the previous bet. This prevents the player from being wiped out by a losing bet.
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