Bucking the Baccarat Image by Gayle Mitchell . July 2000

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Bucking the Baccarat Image

by Gayle Mitchell

You say baccarat is an expensive game that is not in your budget?  In fact, this table game is affordable--especially when you play the mini-version at a mini-price.

Baccarat is trying to shake its blue-blood image. In reality, it's an excellent game for the low-limit novice and the house edge is under 1.5%.

If you like blackjack, you'll probably like baccarat, because the two games are similar. Baccarat was discovered first and, unlike blackjack, does not require extensive strategy.  All you really have to do is pick a side: banker or player. I can see the growing popularity of such a simple and fast game with fixed rules and easy decisions.

I know how easy it is to feel intimidated by baccarat.  The table is usually in a secluded pit area with rich decor and tuxedo-clad people everywhere. For a long time I wouldn't even get close enough to find out the rules or what was going on in those plush areas. Now I know what I was missing...a lot!

Baccarat is a card game that is dealt from a shoe.  Some tables can accommodate 16 players (with no #13).  The shoe holds eight decks of cards. In each game, the player and the banker are each dealt a hand of two cards.  You bet on either of the two hands to win.  Winning means coming closest to a value of 9, and not over.

Directly in front of you are two boxes.  The box closest to you is for betting that the player will win the next hand, and the box furthest from you is for betting that the banker will win.  Most casinos have a minimum baccarat bet of $20. (We'll talk about the more affordable mini-version of baccarat in a moment.)

All number cards, 2 through 9, count as their face value or the number of pips on the card.  All 10s and face cards count as 10.  Aces count as 1. No hand can be worth more than 9. If it is, the last digit of the total is used.  For example, if the hand has a king (10) and a 2, then it totals not 12 but 2. In other words, to quickly determine the value of a hand greater than 9, simply use the last digit of the total number--such as 9 for 19, 0 for 20 or 7 for 17.

It's important to remember that no hand is too bad or too good to win, because the count can change with the third card, if one is required.  This creates a mounting suspense--and that's what makes baccarat such an exciting adventure.

The casino encourages players to deal cards from the shoe, but you are not obligated to deal.  The shoe passes around the table in a counterclockwise direction. The player holding the shoe is considered the banker.  However, the banker does not take any additional risk.  Technically he or she is not the banker but merely represents the banker's hand.

The dealer will determine which player has the largest bet on the player's hand, and will give that person the two cards representing the player's hand.  Both hands are displayed and the totals for each hand are called out.

At this point, the game may or may not be over, depending on whether or not a third card is required. A player does not need to know third-card rules.  The dealer instructs the banker when to draw a third card, if that's required by the game's strict rules.

After the third card is dealt, if required, the dealer announces the winner (saying, for example, "Banker wins 5 over 3").

Mathematically, the banker hand has a slight edge over the player hand, because of the third card rules.  This would mean that you should always bet on the banker hand. However, the casinos have come up with a neat solution to this: they charge players a 5% commission each time they bet on the banker to win.  The dealers are responsible for keeping track of how much commission is owed in dollars.  In front of each dealer is a row of numbered boxes.  Each time you have a commission payable, it is noted at your corresponding box number with token chips.  When you are finished playing, make sure you have enough money in front of you to cover this debt.

Besides betting that the player or banker will win, you could bet that there will be a tie.   With a casino advantage of 14%, the tie bet is the only bad bet on the baccarat layout.  A tie is always a push, so the banker or player bets stand when a tie is dealt.

Most casinos will provide a score sheet and pen if you ask.  Use these to track trends, patterns and streaks in the making. In baccarat, unlike blackjack, you can sit out or skip hands; just tell the dealer "no bet".  Use this break to analyze your scorecard for your next strategy move. Some gamblers keep these scorecards for a running history of their play.

Now, about that mini-version model of baccarat. I strongly suggest that you "test drive" a mini-baccarat table, especially if you are a low-limit or novice player.

The only difference between mini-baccarat and the full-size version of the game is that, in mini-baccarat, all hands are dealt by a dealer--not the players.

When you approach a mini-baccarat table, note the posted minimum bet and commission.  The usual is minimum bet $5, with a 25 cent commission when the banker hand wins.

You may have noticed that I have not gone into a lot of detail about the third-card rules for standing or drawing. As you become more educated, you will learn these rules, but I don't want to overwhelm new baccarat players at this time. You can certainly play baccarat without knowing these rules.  For now, I want to encourage educated gamblers to observe and participate in this game because of the low house edge and the possibility of profits.

The road to profits in baccarat is definitely with progressive betting after each win.

The baccarat "strategy" I recommend is to bet on the hand that won the last game, because streaks are legendary in this game.  A banker or player can win 10, 15, or even 20 hands in a row after the shoe opens up.

You now have enough knowledge to join the baccarat club, adding another game toward  your gambling degree.


Gayle Mitchell is author of  Casino Gambling Made Easier   books, booklets and strategy cards.