Complete Guide to Baccarat Rules and Strategy

Thursday, Feb 19, 2009 | by CasinoGuide

Baccarat is a game with favorable odds, easy decisions and an aura of high-class Mone Carlo casinos. Basically, it is one of the best games you will find in the casino. Here we teach you everything you need to know before hitting the tables.

Baccarat is a straightforward card game played against the bank. It is perfect for casino-game beginners since the rules are very simple, more or less like flipping a coin. Despite the simplicity, there is a lot of math involved, something that can be good to know about. There are also quite a few myths about the game flourishing in the gaming community - myths we would like to dispel.


How to Play Baccarat

The game originates from France and still is very popular in European casinos. Strategically baccarat is very basic. In the standard version you don't have to make any decisions at all. If you focus on money management - as always in casino games - and avoid the one bet that offers bad odds, you will do just fine.

This is how the game is played: In every round of Baccarat, two hands are dealt no matter how many players are sitting at the table. The player's hand is called punto and the bank's hand is called banco, although the hands have nothing to do with neither the player nor the bank. You can bet on either one of them.

The player now chooses to wager on one of the three betting options.

Punto: Punto hand wins, which is a good bet.

Banco: Banco hand wins, which is a slightly better bet

Egalite: Punto and banco end up with the same value, which is a useless bet.

As far as skill is concerned you have now made your choice, and if you avoided "egalite", you can look forward to an honest coin-flip with very low house edge.


Baccarat Rules

Usually six to eight decks are used. Suites don't matter and the card values are as follows:

Cards from ace (low) to 9 have their card values.

Cards from 10 to king have zero value.

To get the total value of a hand, add the value of all individual cards. However, if the total is a two-digit number, disregard the first. In consequence, if you have 8/6, your hand's total is 4 (8 + 6 = 14).  The total of 3/J/9 is 2 (3 + 0 + 9 = 12).

A hand in baccarat consists of two or three cards but can never go bust as in blackjack. The cards are dealt in a somewhat complicated fashion, which can look a bit strange the first time you watch a game.

If the dealer or the bank has 8 or 9, no more cards are added and winnings are paid out. This is the superior rule and the exceptions listed below are not considered when the bank or the player has a so-called natural.

If the player has 0 - 5, another card is drawn and the player's hand is now finished.

Bank Hand (Banco)

If the player hasn't drawn an additional card (remember that this is not an option and is done automatically,) the bank draws on 0-5 and stands on 6-9.

If the player has drawn an additional card, the rules are as follows:

If the bank has 0-2, the bank always draws a card no matter what the player holds.

If the bank has 3, the bank draws a card unless the player's third card is 8

If the bank has 4, the bank stands when the player's third card is 0, 1, 8 or 9.

If the bank has 5, the bank stands when the player's third card is 0,1,2,3,8, or 9

If the bank has 6, the bank stands when the player's third card is 0,1,2,3,4,5,8  or 9

If the bank has 7, the bank stands no matter what the player's third card is.

Note that the rules above are always followed rigorously. This means that the bank sometimes will draw an additional card although the bank has the player beaten. It might seem illogical to risk loosing with a hand that's already a winner, but remember that Baccarat is about chance and not playing the cards right. You can have your money on the bank as well as on the player.

When playing according to these rules, the bank and the player will tie about once every eleventh hand. When this happens, all bets on banco and punto are paid back while egalite obviously wins.

The rules give banco an advantage and therefore every winning player betting on banco has to pay a 5 % rake (vigorish or vig). If you bet $100 on banco and win, the house will take $5. In live casinos, these fees are often paid when a player leaves the table. Observant readers probably understand that it is good to have some money left when ending the day. Otherwise you might find yourself in a very embarrassing situation.


Three Versions of Baccarat

Baccarat comes in three flavors: Baccarat, mini baccarat (also known as punto banco) and the exotic version chemine de fer. Here is a brief explanation of the different game types.

Baccarat, which is played on a large table, is the European original. This game is, or at least used to be, very highbrow and the tables are often located in an exclusive room in the casino. The atmosphere in these games is often deadly serious and players are not at all as loud and merry as when playing craps. In these games, the players themselves take care of the dealing and the stakes are often rather high.

Punto banco is a modern form of baccarat, designed for those who want a faster-paced and more accessible game. The table looks very much like the ones used in blackjack and a dealer handles all the cards. The only thing you do as a player is placing your bet on punto, banco or - although advised against - egalite. In this version you can't really make any mistakes and there are no weird rituals you are expected to follow. This is the version you find in online baccarat casinos.

Chemin de fer is played as original baccarat except for one big difference. You actually have a decision to make when the player's first two cards show a total of five: to take a card or stand. This version is the one played in the classic Monte Carlo casino.


Numbers and Strategy

With one exotic exception that you probably won't stumble upon unless you go to Monte Carlo, the hands are played automatically in baccarat. The only things you have to decide are how much to wager and what kind of bet you wish to make.

This is the house edge in normal baccarat with eight decks.

Casino edge on baco bets: 1.06 %

Casino edge on punto bets: 1.24 %

Casino edge on egalite bets: 14.4 %

As you can see, egalite is a very stupid wager. And why on earth would you chose one of the best games in the casino and then choose a sucker bet?

Players who have the slightest understanding of math realize that the game doesn't become more entertaining by betting on egalite. Also, if you chose banco instead of punto you reduce the house edge with about 0.2 %, which is as much as you reduce the house advantage in blackjack by learning the finer details of a blackjack strategy.


How to Reduce the House Advantage

If you wish to reduce the house edge even more, look for games with a smaller vigorish when betting on banco. Here are the house percentages when the vig is lowered.

4 % vig reduces the house edge to 0.60 %

3 % vig reduces the house edge to 0.14 %

2.75 %  vig reduces the house edge to 0,03 %. This is virtually no advantage at all and must be considered as a fair game. However, you will never find these games in brick-and-mortar casinos. But if you play online baccarat, you can actually find games with these incredibly nice odds.

1 % vig gives the player a 0.78 % advantage.

During special promotion periods in Las Vegas, some casinos have offered baccarat games with 0 % vig. This gives the player a 1.24 % advantage, but for obvious reasons these games don't appear that often.


Card Counting in Baccarat

When Edward Thorp realized that the odds in blackjack radically change depending on the value of the remaining cards in the shoe, people tried to find out if there are any other games that can offer players positive expectation when counting cards. Naturally baccarat was a prime suspect due to its similarities with blackjack.

However, counting cards in baccarat doesn't change the odds at all - or at lest very little. Math examples show that if you want to achieve positive expectation you can only play every 500 hands and have to go through very complicated calculations along the way. In consequence, you have to rely on luck and not counting in baccarat.


Baccarat Myths

Just like most other games baccarat is surrounded by many casino myths. Players have rituals and systems they think can help them beat the house. Naturally, all of them are nonsense. Here are a couple of examples:

One method to beat the game is to make decisions based on prior outcomes. This occurs in most games, but in baccarat player often believe, falsely I must add, that banco and punto wins come in streaks. In other words, if banco wins two times in a row, the likelihood of banco winning again increases.

Casinos are satisfied when players have these false assumptions. They even hand out pen and paper so that casino players can take notes and write down their system, which is something that you wouldn't see at a blackjack table. The cards can't remember any prior outcomes. Do people think that cards have a memory? No, this is obviously something to avoid at all cost.

Betting systems are also widely popular among baccarat players. The classic Martingale system, in which you double your wager after every loss, is unbelievably popular. What it really does is that it generates small wins and humongous losses. On the contrary to what most players want to achieve when gambling in a casino. Ask yourself: How many of those praising the martingale system are professional gamblers?  I have the answer for you, none!

There are a whole lot of other systems used, and all of them are pointless. They won't make the odds more favorable, but on the other hand, they won make the odds any worse either. Baccarat is a game built solely upon chance and there is nothing you can do to alter that.

However, baccarat is still one of the best games you will find when it comes to odds and house advantages. Especially online, baccarat is a game you can play virtually for free. And if you have the luck on your side perhaps rake in a buck or two.

These are the 10 best baccarat casinos online.

Good luck!



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