How to Play Baccarat

Photo Courtesy (Getty Images)
Baccarat for the Ages. Photo Courtesy (Getty Images)

Ever see those old James Bond movies with 007 making huge winning bets at the baccarat table? Well, that's just what you can find these days at the baccarat table: famous people and huge bets. However, playing baccarat is fun and relatively easy, and you can learn how to play in just a few minutes.

A Crash Course in Baccarat

The toughest thing about the game is how it is pronounced: "baa-ca-rah," with a silent "t".

Now you know more than 90 percent of the players wandering around the casino and can consider yourself pretty smart. However, the truth is, the game offered in casinos in the US is really Punto Banco, which means player-banker, and all hands are controlled by the casino. The player makes no hitting decisions, only wagering decisions. The object of drawing cards for the player-banker is to get closest to a total of nine. Aces count as one, tens are zero, and 2 through 9 count as their actual (2 - 9) value.

As a gambler at the baccarat table, you may wager on three things: the player's hand winning, the dealer's hand winning, and a tie. That's it, zip - zap and done. If you bet on the most likely of the three occurrences, the Banker hand winning, you pay a commission of 5 percent that the dealer will collect should you win. Your payoff is 1 to 1, or even money.

If you bet on the Player hand winning, you are paid 1 to 1, or even money should it win.

If the Player and Banker hand are the same, it is a tie, and neither bet wins or loses. However, you can also bet on a Tie before the hand is dealt. Ties pay 8 to 1. While the house edge is 1.06 percent on the Banker bet and 1.24 percent on the Player bet, the Tie bet has a much larger house edge of 14.36 percent with an 8-deck shoe.

Where the Fun Is

Baccarat tables can be found in the table games area (or the "pit") along with other games, or in a special room. A smaller version of the game, or mini-bac, is sometimes offered on a standard blackjack-size table. It has the same rules and usually offers mini-bets, unlike the table limits that are found in some of the more sophisticated rooms where bets may be from $100 to $100,000.

Regardless of which game you decide to join, make sure you understand the commissions you owe, should you be betting on the "banker" hand. The dealer will keep track of the amount and when you quit, or get to a certain level (perhaps $25 or $100) at mini-bac, the dealer will ask you to complete your commissions.

How to Play Baccarat

Baccarat is played on a large table that can comfortably seat 12 to14 players. Although the seats are numbered to help keep track of buy-ins and commissions, no number 13 exists, probably because it is unlucky to be superstitious. The game is played with standard English decks of 52-cards, usually six or eight, shuffled and placed in a shoe.

A cut-card is placed 16 cards from the end of the shoe. When it is drawn, it indicates the last hand of the shoe. After all players make their wagers, a two-card hand is dealt out to the "player" and the "banker" spots, one card at a time, starting with the "player."These are the only hands dealt, and all wagers at the table rest on the outcome of these two hands.

The totals are compared, and specific drawing rules are used to determine whether the "player" should receive a third card, and then, based on the value of any card dealt to the player, whether the banker should receive a third card. The outcome is then determined by comparing the totals.

Baccarat Card Values

  • Aces count as "1"
  • Tens, Jacks, Queens and Kings count as "0"
  • All other cards, 2-9, count as their pip value, or 2-9

Total hand values are 0 to 9 because ten is subtracted from any total of more than 9. If the player has 4-9-3, the total of 16 becomes 6, by dropping the first digit. Two 10's, or 20, becomes zero.

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to choose the winning hand, Player or Banker. However, the object of the player/banker hands is to get closest to a total of "9".

Player's Hand

The Player's hand is always acted upon first.

Their two cards are turned over and the total called out by the dealer. Then the Banker's cards are exposed. Any total of 6 through 9 and the Player stands, no cards are drawn. A total of 8 or 9 is called a natural and is an automatic winner against any Banker hand except 8 or 9. If the totals are the same, the hand is a tie, a push. If the Player has an 8 and the Banker a 9, the Banker wins. If the Player has a 9 and the Banker an 8, the Player wins.

If the Player's first two cards are 6, 7, 8 or nine, they stand. If the Player's first two cards total five or less they hit and receive a single card. Their play is now finished.

Banker's Hand

  • The Banker always stands on a two-card total of 7, 8 and 9
  • The Banker always hits on a two-card total of zero, 1, 2 and 3 with the exception that the Banker will hit a total of 3 against a Player total of 8

The Banker will hit some 4, 5 and 6 card totals, depending on the Player's total:

  • Hit with a 4 against a Player total of 2 through 7
  • Hit with a 5 against a Player total of 4 through 7
  • Hit with a 6 against a Player total of 6 and a 7

The good part of Baccarat is that you don't have to memorize any of the above rules! The dealers take care of all the hitting. You just place your bets and hope to win.

Strategy

Like any gambling game, there are some strategies and tips you might want to consider for the game of baccarat. Because the Banker acts last, it has a slight edge at all times over the Player bet. The Banker bet has the lowest house edge (at 1.06 percent after commission) of any bet in the casino. That's why so many high-rollers like the game, whether they bet the Banker or the Player. The Tie bet is fun, but the house edge will knock you down quickly if you feel the need to bet it regularly. Sometimes a casino will offer 9 to 1 on the Tie bet, which reduces it from a huge 14.36 percent to a manageable 4.84 percent.

Casinos offer "outcome" pads like they sometimes offer at roulette tables for players to keep track of trends and streaks.

Because they Player and Banker hands have nearly the same odds of winning, the game tends to have longer streaks than other games like blackjack and craps. And, don't forget your commission!