Despite being commonly found in casinos across the world, Baccarat has something of a reputation as a game played only by the super-rich. As a result, the rules of the game remain a complete mystery to your average casino-goer.
The irony is, this glitzy card game is one of the easiest casino games of them all – far more straight-forward than its cousin Blackjack, for example.
Now, before we get into the guts of the game, there are a few things we ought to clear up.
First, don’t forget to drop the ‘t’ when pronouncing ‘Baccarat’, or else you’ll risk raising a few well-manicured eyebrows.
Second, there are actually several variations of Baccarat, including Punto Banco, Baccarat Chemin De Fer, and Baccarat Banque. Since Punto Banco is the variation you’re most likely to run into in the casino, that’s what we’re going to talk about here.
Fun fact: You may remember that the film ‘Casino Royale’ centres around a high stakes poker tournament, with international man of mystery and general shameless womaniser James Bond entering in order to thwart the bad guys (which totally makes sense, right?).
In the book of the same name on which the film is based (written by English author Ian Fleming), the game played in the tournament is, in fact, Baccarat.
Due to the rising popularity of Texas Hold’em at the time Casino Royale was released, the director decided to make the switch.
As we’ve said, Baccarat is an extremely straightforward game to pick up. That’s because the rules are very simple, with little input required on the part of the player.
Though the game has some similarities to Blackjack, the player has zero hitting / standing decisions to make, instead only making one decision per round – choosing which hand is going to win: the player hand or the banker hand (other whether the hands will tie).
And how do you determine which hand wins?
It’s the one with a total that’s closest to 9.
But before we come to that, a note about card values, because if you’ve played a lot of Blackjack, you’re going to have to get used to some new ones before you play Baccarat.
Aces count as 1, face cards count as 0, and the value of the remaining cards is equal to the number shown on the card.
Regardless of how many players there are at the table, there will only ever be two hands dealt – one for the ‘player’, and one for the ‘banker’.
Hang on, I don’t get my own hand to play?
Nope. In Baccarat, you’re just betting on the outcome of the round, nothing more. The names are simply used to differentiate the two hands. This isn’t like Blackjack, where each player is dealt their own hand. All players may bet on either the player hand or the banker hand.
As we’ve said, the winning hand is the one that’s closest to 9. Simple as that.
Here’s how the game plays out…
We kick things off with wagers being placed. This is the only point in Baccarat where players are asked to make a decision (unlike Blackjack where players will have subsequent hitting, standing, splitting etc. decisions).
Players may bet on the three possible outcomes:
The Player’s hand wins – pays out even money
The Banker’s hand wins – pays out even money (minus commission, typically 5%)
The hands tie – pays out 8-1 (sometimes 9-1)
Once the bets have been placed, the dealer will deal two hands each of two cards. The cards are dealt face up for all to see, with one hand assigned to the dealer, and one to the player.
Hitting / standing decisions in Baccarat are predetermined based on the values of each hand – this means that although each hand may take an extra card, there’s no ‘decision’ to be made, just a set of rules to follow which determines whether each hand should take a card, or not.
The maximum number of points each hand may total is 9. If the points value exceeds 9, the first digit of the total value is removed. This sounds confusing, but it’s pretty simple when you get the hang of it.
A couple of examples:
If the Player hand is dealt 8 & 7, the hand value would be 5 (15, with the first digit ‘1’ removed).
If the Banker hand is dealt 9 & 9, the hand value would be 8 (18, with the first digit ‘1’ removed).
‘Hit’ decisions – whether the player or banker hands are dealt a third card – depend on the following set of rules:
- The player hand is always resolved first, the banker second.
- If either the player or the banker has a total of an 8 or a 9, this is known as a ‘natural’ and no more cards are dealt.
- If the player has a total of 6 or 7, the player will stand. With 5 or fewer points, the player hand will take a third card.
- If the player stands with a 6 or 7, the banker will draw on a 5 or less.
- If the player draws a third card, the banker will draw based on the following criteria:
- Banker has total of 0, 1, 2
- Banker always draws a third card.
- Banker has total of 3
- Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-0 (not 8)
- Banker has total of 4
- Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is 2-3-4-5-6-7
- Banker has total of 5
- Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is 4-5-6-7
- Banker has total of 6
- Banker draws if Player’s Third Card is of 6-7
- Banker has total of 7
- Banker always stands.
- Banker has total of 0, 1, 2
Once the two hands have been resolved, the one with the points value closest to 9 wins. Ties result in a push for both the player and banker bets, with the ‘tie’ bet winning.
Okay, okay. We get it. That looks rather more complicated than we promised at the top of this article!
The wonderful thing is, you don’t actually have to understand any of that stuff in order to play.
Seriously – the dealer knows the rules, and it’s their job to resolve the hands. If you don’t want to, you need never look at the above list again and it wouldn’t impact on your ability to play the game!
All you have to do is decide which hand to bet on, then you can let the dealer take care of the rest.
But just in case you’re keen on understanding everything that’s going on, here’s a slightly more user-friendly version of the banker drawing rules:
So now you have the low down on the rules, how about we take a look at some strategies…
Want to learn the world’s greatest, most amazing, consistent, effective Baccarat strategy ever invented?
Great! I hope you’re ready for a super-complex, high level, off-the-chain strat.
Here it comes…
Bet on the Banker.
Okay, so that might have been something of an anti-climax. But the fact of the matter is, backing the banker’s hand is the best way to win money in the game of Baccarat.
No matter how funky you want to get, there’s literally no more effective strategy.
Having said that, both the two main bets in Baccarat, the player’s hand and the banker’s hand, have a very low house edge – 1.24% and 1.06%.
It’s for this reason that the game became so popular with high rollers – a few monster hands at such a low house edge can see those with deep pockets win big in the short term.
So much so, in fact, that lucky Baccarat streaks made by the richest gamblers can have a huge impact on a casino’s quarterly profit statements, which is why Baccarat results are often discounted when looking at industry trends.
While it’s true that playing a ‘perfect’ Blackjack game using basic strategy offers an even tinier house edge (see our Blackjack guide to learn more), the beauty of Baccarat is that you don’t need to learn anything at all in order to access the wafer-thin house edge.
While on the subject of house edges, we ought to hand out some more advice – don’t bother with the ‘tie’ bet. Why?
Because it’s by far the worst of the three possible bets from a player perspective, with an eye-watering house edge of 14.36%
Once in a while you might find a more generous tie pay-out of 9-1, bringing the house edge for the bet down to 4.84% – but this is still significantly worse than the other two options.
Here’s another thing not to bother with:
When you next sit down at a Baccarat table, you’ll very likely find some sort of card or sheet which you can use to record the result of each round. The idea here is that you can monitor the outcome each round to get a feel for any streaks or patterns that may emerge – and bet accordingly.
While streaks do occur, they have no bearing whatsoever on the likely result of the next round, and you’ll only end up frustrated if you try to bet this way. We’ve talked about the gambler’s fallacy before, and the same thing is happening here.
In a fair game of Baccarat, the results of previous rounds have no bearing whatsoever on future rounds.
So that’s pretty much it for strategy.
And you can’t say we didn’t warn you – Baccarat is one of the most straightforward games out there. So are the strategies that go along with it.
A quick note on card counting…
If you read our Blackjack guide, you’ll know that card-counting systems can be used to give players the edge over the house. With Baccarat seeming – on the face of it – to be a fairly similar game, does that mean the same thing applies?
Actually… no. It doesn’t.
In Blackjack, certain cards heavily favour the player, and others the dealer. This means that if players can keep track of the densities of these groups of cards, an edge can sometimes be gained.
In Baccarat, however, there isn’t much of a distinction between cards that favour the player hand and cards that favour the dealer hand. At the same time, the player has no control over ‘hitting’ decisions, so any knowledge gained from a count can’t be used to influence the game in the same way it can be in Blackjack.
Using computer simulation, maths boffins have been able to gain a positive expectation for the game of Baccarat, but the edge gained is so incredibly tiny that you’d have to play an enormous number of hands to profit from it. It simply isn’t practical.
There’s an undeniable sense of glamour that seems to hang in the air around a Baccarat table. Perhaps it’s the James Bond connection, or the perception that Baccarat is a game played by the ultra-rich and the super-mega-famous.
Whatever the historical reason, these days anyone can cash in on a slice of the action.
And despite the apprehension many new players feel about trying out the game, there’s really no reason to be nervous. Some of the rules around hitting / standing are a little confusing, but you don’t need to know them in order to play the game.
In fact, Baccarat is so simple it’s not dissimilar to betting on the outcome of a coin toss. But despite its simplicity, the game has a certain allure that keeps gamblers coming back for more.
So, now you know how to play – why not give it a try?