How to Play Baccarat
As part of a continuing Reading For New Times feature on casino gaming (see past articles on Blackjack and Roulette), I’m happy to present a primer on the general rules of Baccarat (pronounced bah-cah-rah). This game is not as popular as some of the other casino games, likely due to a general ignorance of the rules of the game, along with its seemingly high-end players. Indeed, the Baccarat tables are generally secluded from the rest of the casino floor by ropes, the dealers wear tuxedoes, and all the beautiful, well dressed (planted) women seem to congregate at these tables. This is no accident – the casinos successfully create an elaborate atmosphere and aura, so that players feel they are playing a timeless, glamorous game (it was James Bond’s favourite game by the way). Don’t let this deter you though, as the rules are extremely simple and all players with money to cover the minimum bets are welcome.
As with my previous articles on casino gaming, I learned almost everything I know about casino gambling from Edwin Silberstang’s book “The Winner’s Guide to Casino Gambling“. I would recommend you pick up this book if you want to learn more about the math, history, and strategies of the various casino games. I am going to concentrate on the general rules of play, so that you will know enough about the game to sit down at a Vegas casino and get right into the game. Please be aware that there are different European rules for Baccarat that I will not go into here; if you plan to play the game in Europe I would suggest picking up a book to learn the subtle differences in game play and terminology.
The table shown in the diagram is the traditional one used in most American casinos. The numbers on the outside of the table ranging from 1 to 15 correspond to places at the table where players sit. Note that the number 13 is missing. Similarly, the number 4 and 14 may be missing from some tables because they are considered unlucky in the Chinese culture where Baccarat has a strong following. Above the numbers on the table you will find the word “Player”, then “Banker”. These are the spots where players will actually place their bets; they wager that either the player or the banker will win the hand.
On the average large table, there will be three dealers who have specific duties. One dealer is called the callman and sits facing the players; he is in charge of receiving dealt cards, placing them in the appropriate places, deciding whether a hand should get another card or stand (based on predetermined rules which I’ll explain shortly), and announce which hand is the winner. The other two dealers will pay out the winning hands, collect losing bets, and place markers for the house commissions. A 5% commission is collected every time a player bets on the banker and wins. The commissions are not collected after each hand, but rather a marker is placed on the player’s number in front of the callman in the center of the table. Players will have to pay up when the deck is reshuffled or when they leave the table. Sometimes a smaller Baccarat table is used with fewer seats, in which case one dealer may run the entire table.
The Hand Values
All the cards from Ace through 9 take their face value, while the 10, Jack, Queen, and King are all worth 0 points. Two cards are initially dealt to the player hand and the banker hand, and the face value of the cards is added by the callman. In Baccarat the total of each hand cannot exceed 9 � so if the cards have a sum of 10 or greater you must subtract 10 from the total.
The rules of Baccarat will be displayed in each casino for all the players to see, but the callman will make all the decisions on both the player hand and banker hand without consulting the players. There are very strict rules for how to play each hand (i.e. under which conditions the dealer must draw a card or stand) which are outlined below.
Basically, the highest possible hand in Baccarat is a 9; if a 9 is dealt on the original two cards it is called a Natural and is an automatic winner. If an 8 is drawn on the first two cards, it is also called a Natural and if the other hand is not equal to or higher than 8 it will be an automatic winner as well. If one hand is a Natural, no further cards can be drawn on either hand. If one hand has an 8 and the other a 9, the higher of the two hands wins. If both hands have an 8 or a 9 it is a tie or standoff, and neither the Bank nor the Player wins. The Player’s hand is always acted upon first, and that’s why the Banker’s decision to take a card or stand is dependent on what the Player does.
The Game Play
Baccarat is played with casino chips, usually in $5, $25, and $100 denominations. This is a game of pure chance where no skill is needed, and the only two decisions a player needs to make is whether to bet on the Banker or Player hand and how big of a wager to make. Baccarat is played with 8 decks of cards, which are kept in a box called a “shoe”. Each player seated at the table will take turns dealing cards from the shoe. That’s right you actually get a chance to deal the cards yourself in this game. The player with the shoe will continue to deal subsequent hands until the Banker hand loses, at which point the shoe will move on to the next player at the table.
After the players place their bets, the callman will nod at the player with the shoe to deal a card to the Player hand. It will be passed face down to the callman, who will in turn pass it to the player with the largest wager on the table (or wait for the second Player card before passing both cards to this player). If none of the players at the table have bet on the Player hand, the dealer will handle this hand himself. The second card that comes out of the shoe is placed face down beside the holder of the shoe; this is the Banker hand’s first card. The third card is dealt face down to the Player’s hand, and the fourth card is dealt face down to the Banker’s hand.
The player with the Player’s hand may now look at their cards before passing them to the callman, to place face up on the table and call out their value. The holder of the shoe then looks at their cards, and passes them to the callman to place face up on the table. The callman now puts the game rules into effect; if he must draw a card according to the rules, the holder of the shoe must slide out a new card and pass it facedown to the callman. This process is repeated if necessary with the Banker’s hand until one of the two hands is declared the winner. The winning bets are then paid off, while the losing wagers are removed from the table. (This long and complex procedure is why Baccarat still has some “mystique” around it, it takes a long time to play and most of the off time is spent checking out the glamorous surroundings.)
Here is the most interesting thing Baccarat has great odds – some of the best odds in the casino! If you bet on the “Banker” you have a 45.85% chance of winning, a 44.62% chance of losing and a 9.51% chance of getting a tie. When you win on a Banker’s bet you have to pay the 5% commission mentioned above, so your expected return is negative (as with all casino games) but the house edge is 1.06% (versus roulette at 5.26%).
If you bet on the “Player” you have a 44.62% chance of winning, a 45.85% chance of losing and a 9.51% chance of getting a tie. Unlike a banker bet however, you do NOT have to pay the 5% commission. This leaves the house edge at 1.24%, still pretty good but not as good as a banker bet. Lesson learned? ALWAYS bet on the banker, as the 5% commission you pay is more than outweighed by the higher probability that you’ll win. Try it out for yourself at this Baccarat emulator
The Bottom Line
Ok, I can see some of you saying “Great, but Beauty what does that mean for me?” Well it basically means you have a complicated game which is made simple by giving you one decision, do you bet on the Banker or the Player? And since the Banker is the better bet – you ALWAYS bet on the Banker. What this gives you is a stress free game (you can’t make a mistake if you always bet on the banker although you can still lose) which will give you some of the best odds in the casino (perfect blackjack playing has slightly better odds) along with one of the last “glamorous” types of gambling far removed from the fanny pack retirees at the slots.
Players should always check the limits of a table before they start playing. In Vegas and Atlantic City there is usually a $20 minimum and a $2,000 maximum bet on each hand. On smaller tables or “mini-Baccarat” tables there might be a $2 or $5 minimum, but you might have to search for one of these as the casinos may have only one or two on the floor. Also, the play on these “mini-Baccarat” games is much faster (there are fewer players per table) you may end up betting more at a $10 minimum mini-Baccarat game than at a $25 minimum Baccarat game. As for the game play, the player with the shoe should not look at their cards until the player hand has been turned over; it’s considered bad form to look at the cards sooner. Players should also let the callman run the game and call the cards, and shouldn’t interfere with his decisions.
Baccarat is a slow and relaxed game, and when many players are seated at a single table each hand may take a while. Make yourself comfortable, and have a great time.
- How to Play Baccarat
- by Beauty
- Published on July 6th, 2006
Edwin Silberstang's book:
"The Winner's Guide to Casino Gambling
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