An Introduction to the Game of Baccarat
Learn the in and outs of the elegant game of Baccarat, including the true odds and how the game compares to other more popular casino games.
Baccarat is said to mean “zero”; the worst hand a player can get. The word Baccarat, for many; invokes images of tuxedo-clad international high rollers risking personal fortunes on the next turn a single card. This perception of Baccarat created by Hollywood is accurate to a large degree in casinos across the globe. European casinos continue to apply strict dress codes and what my wife refers to as an “upabitty” air about them. But, when the big money lands on a Baccarat table in Nevada the person laying down the bet is as likely to be wearing his finest ball game attire as slacks and a sports coat from one the many high-end (and expensive) clothiers now found in all the best casinos.
One of the biggest Baccarat players of all time chose to wear a polo shirt and a brightly colored sweater wrapped around his shoulders when he played, the only thing that attracted anyone’s notice of the gentleman was his poor fashion sense. Casino patrons making a bee line for the all you can eat buffet had no idea that the smiling old man with the light yellow “Mr. Rogers” sweater strung over his shoulders walking past them was one of the richest men in the world. I guess when you are worth $15 billion, a good sense of color coordination is not important. It certainly didn’t seem to matter the man betting up to $250,000 a hand.
The mystique surrounding Baccarat can be further explained by its inherent restricted nature. During the first two decades Baccarat was played in Las Vegas there were few tables to choose from. During the 1970’s there were reportedly only 15 tables in all of Las Vegas. Adding to the problem of finding a seat was the fact that most these tables were open only part time, during busy shifts. This scarcity of tables made the game appear exclusionary, indeed often the only way to get a seat was to be a high roller or famous enough to request a game be opened for you.
This game of zero and nine is not just an amusing diversion for the super-rich. Today it can be played by anyone older than 21 and with enough money to meet the table minimum. There are opportunities for a “Joe the Plumber” to risk his hard earned pay check just like the jet set gamesters enjoying the elegant (stuffy?) Baccarat tables in the semi-private gaming salon. “Joe” just has to find the Blackjack pit with the strange looking tables that lay no claim to Hit Soft 17 or paying any bet 3/2. These tables with a large electronic reader board (displaying the results of the last several rounds of play) are called Mini-Baccarat. The betting minimums on Mini-Baccarat can be found as low as $5 (especially during slow periods). “Joe” can also play in the gaming salon if he chooses, as Nevada law does not allow for legal age patrons to be excluded from any casino area where gaming is being conducted. The exception to this rule is the private gaming salon approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 2002.
How is Baccarat played?
For decades Baccarat was played on a large table about 12 feet long with 12 to 14 seats. There are three dealers or croupiers - one acts as the caller and announces the hand totals and the other two pay winning bets, take losers and mark up commission. The caller deals the cards or when the players deal sets them in the correct position. In the United States the dealers are often referred to as base dealers and the stick just like a Craps crew, the caller is the stick and the other two dealers are base dealers. There is usually a Floor person supervising the game; he may be responsible for two games.
Players, or punters as they are known in Europe, can place a bet on either the Player or Bank to win. They may also bet the Player hand and Bank hands will end in a Tie. Winning Bank bets pay 1 to 1 minus a 5% commission, winning Player bets pay 1 to 1, and winning Tie bets pay 8 to 1. A caution concerning the Tie; don’t be confused by the Casino printing 9 for 1 on the layout for the Tie bet pay out. That is just another way to express 8 to 1. They do it to make the bet look as if it pays more. Some casinos have recently added a new side bet that has caught on; the Pair bet. Players making wagers on the Pair are betting that either the Player’s or Bank’s first two-cards will result in a pair and are paid 11 to 1 when they do.
The casino charges all winning Bank bets a 5% commission. Dealers keep track of the commission by placing lammers in the appropriate seat’s numbered commission box. The settling up of commission is handled in several different ways. Some casinos collect the commission after every hand others allow players to pay at the end of the shoe or when the amount in the commission box reaches the player’s average bet.
Baccarat is dealt from a shoe, sometimes by the players and sometimes by the dealer depending on the Baccarat table type. The first card dealt is for the Player hand as is the third. The second and fourth card go to the Bank hand. The drawing of a third card is predetermined by the rules of Baccarat; the players make no decisions whatsoever. On the Big Baccarat table the player placing the largest wager on the Bank is allowed to handle the shoe and deal the cards to the player making the highest bet on the Player. The cards are dealt from a shoe normally holding eight decks of 52 cards (no jokers).
Players who wish to can receive credit from the casino. These players can then draw markers from their credit line while at the table. After the chips have been issued to the player, the pit boss prints the marker in that amount and has the player sign it. These markers are exactly like personal checks and in fact are deposited within 30 days just like a check would be.
The players with the largest credit lines are afforded a courtesy not given all players. They are allowed to have “rim” play, meaning they have the amount of chips taken against their credit line marked up with lammers on the table. The player adds to the “rim” by taking more from his credit line and takes down his rim by paying the dealer back his winnings. This is so the players do not have to take the time to actually sign their markers. The marker is issued for whatever amount is left on the rim at the end of the player’s session.
Table limits vary from $5 all the way up to $200k, depending on the casino, the day, and the player. Bets are made with casino cheques. The cheques come in a variety of denominations, $1; $5; $25; $100; $500; $1,000; $5,000; $25,000, and $100,000. The cheques are often referred by their respective colors. This is no mandate from the Gaming Control Board directing casinos to color code their chips a certain way, so the color schemes vary. I have listed some of the more commonly colored chips and their value below.
$500 Purple or Pink
$1,000 Yellow or Gold
$5,000 White or Flags
A note for the rookie gamblers out there, casino chips cannot be used to pay for goods or services in the casino, so don’t try to pay for your steak dinner with chips. It’s embarrassing. Another word of advice on casino chips, if you find yourself being approached by someone claiming to be late for his flight and in desperate need to unload his chips by selling them to you at a loss, don’t believe it. It is a scam- the chips are not from a real casino and you will end up holding little round disks worth nothing. It’s even more embarrassing than trying to pay for dinner with real casino chips.
A Rose by any Other Name…
As you have read there is more than one way to risk you money on Baccarat in Nevada. There are three main versions of the same game: Big Baccarat, Midi-Baccarat and Mini-Baccarat. These forms of Baccarat should not be confused with the true ancestors of modern Baccarat: Baccarat Chemin de Fer or Baccarat en Banque (Deux Tableaux) both of which are discussed in greater detail in other posts.
Baccarat or “Big Bac (no longer offered in the US),” as it is referred to by many casino employees, is played on a table with 12 betting positions numbered from 1 to 15. The numbers 4 and 14 are often left off the layout in deference to the common Asian superstition that 4 is an unlucky number. The 13 is also missing due to many Americans’ belief that 13 is an unlucky number. Seem strange? Have you ever stayed in a hotel room on the 13th floor? I doubt it.
On the big table the player betting the most is allowed to handle the shoe and the deal the cards themselves. This practice is reserved only for the Big Baccarat table and is becoming less and less popular with the players. At the end of the Big Bad era I rarely saw a player handling the shoe.
Mini-Baccarat (Mini-Bacc) was created in the 1970’s so casinos could offer a faster paced game for Baccarat enthusiasts. This faster pace translates to more fun for the players and of course a bigger win for the casino. The differences between Big Bacc and Mini-Bacc (besides the betting limits) are that in Mini-Bacc is played on a Blackjack sized table and the players are not allowed to touch the shoe or the cards. The third and most recent incarnation of Baccarat is called Midi-Baccarat (Midi-Bacc) and combines elements from both Big-Bacc and Mini-Bacc.
Midi-Bacc appeared sometime in the 1990’s. Players on a Midi-Bacc game sit at the same table used for Mini-Bacc and are like the big game are allowed to handle the cards. Unlike Big Baccarat, Midi-Bacc players cannot touch the shoe and have the cards dealt to them by a dealer. The draw/stand rules and house advantages are the same for all three games.
So why play Baccarat? As will be explained in later chapters it is a game of no skill. There is no requirement even to learn the rules to play the game. The players really have only two choices to make: how much to bet and where to bet it. The fact remains that with the house advantage at 1.06% for Bank bets and 1.23% for Player bets Baccarat offers the customer one of the best values in the casino. Only two casino banking games offer better odds to win: Craps and Blackjack. But to realize these low odds on those games requires the players to develop and implement some skill as in BJ or in the case of Craps to know to place maximum allowable odds. Baccarat is the perfect “no brainer” game.
1. Blackjack 0.19% to 1.65% rule & basic strategy dependent
2. Craps Pass Line (with odds) 0.37% with 3,4,5 times odds
3. Baccarat Bank 1.06%
4. Baccarat Player 1.24%
5. Craps Pass Line 1.41% no odds
6. Pai Gow Poker 1.46% banking every other hand
7. Pai Gow Tiles 1.50%
8. Three Card Poker Pair Plus 2.32%
9. “0” Roulette 2.70%
10. Three Card Poker Ante Play 3.37%
11. “00” Roulette 5.26%
12. Baccarat Natural 9 5.09% (no longer offered)
13. Baccarat Natural 8 5.46% (no longer offered)
14. Baccarat Pair 10.36%
15. Baccarat Tie 14.36% As you can see if you are going to gamble in the casino you may as well choose Baccarat with its lower loss rate then most (that is as long as you stay away from the Tie and Pair “sucker” bets).
Something to keep in mind when you are choosing which games to gamble on in the Casino, remember that all casino games which offer a high return on a bet typically have the worst house advantages from the player’s perspective. It is wise to avoid these types of wagers.
The Odds Are…
The house advantage for any game is calculated as follows: “A” - find the product (answer) of the proportion of times a winning event will occur multiplied by the amount won. “B” - find the product of how often a losing event will occur multiplied by the amount lost.
Subtract A from B, the difference is the House advantage (HA)
EXAMPLE: “00” Roulette HA = 5.26%. Likelihood the winning event will occur (Winning bet) 1 number out of 38 on the wheel wins. So take 1/38 or 2.63% and multiply in by the amount won (35 units) = 0.92
Subtract 0.92 from the likelihood the event will not occur (Losing bet) (37/38 1) = 0.973684 0.92 - 0.973684= .0526 or 5.26%
This formula will work for any game. Nothing, however, is as easy as it first appears and that old adage is true here too. The games of independent trials such as Craps and Roulette are easy to figure out because the number of times a bet will win or lose is a simple fraction of a small number of possible outcomes. Games of dependent trials like Baccarat and Blackjack are quite a bit more complicated due to the large number of possible outcomes, each dependent to a degree on the all the previous hands. There is no reason for you to enroll in a statistics course at your local community college, the house advantage for most casino games can be found online. A great resource for finding the house advantages for most casino games can be found at www.wizardofodds.com.
For most games a Casino estimates a player’s value to them by multiplying the HA by the amount bet multiplied by the number of bets made. Average Bet x Hands per Hour x House advantage.
For example Double Zero Roulette players typically get credit for 40 spins (hands) per hour, so if a player bet $100 per spin and played for 4 hours the casino’s expected win would be $844.60. A player betting only the Bank on a Baccarat table would lose only $169.60 in the same 4 hours and same average bet per hand. Casino accountants estimate the number of hands per hour for each game type and pit bosses estimate the average bet per hand. These “gray” areas create opportunities for taking advantage of the casino’s comp programs as will be discussed in chapter 8. In some cases a player manipulating the comp program can actually gain an advantage over the casino. Baccarat is a little different in that the number of hands played is not used, instead casinos use time played, with one shoe equaling one hour of play. Casinos are built on dreams. Whether your dream is to imagine yourself as a person of unlimited means finding amusement by attempting to breaking the bank in an opulent gaming salon or your dream is to finish a third Margarita served in a yard-long souvenir glass and still have enough mental and physical agility to push chips to a betting circle, Baccarat is game for you.
All the figures listed are assuming an 8 deck shoe.
Bank Not Counting Ties: (50.68% 0.95) - (49.32% 1) = 1.17% HA
Bank Counting Ties: (45.85% 0.95) - (44.62% 1) = 1.06% HA
Player Not Counting Ties: (49.32% 1) - (50.68% 1) = 1.36% HA
Player Counting Ties: (44.62% 1) - (45.85% 1) = 1.24%
HA Tie (9.51% 8) – (90.48% 1) = 14.36% HA
Bank Pair (7.47% 11) – (95.53% 1) = 10.36% HA
Player Pair (7.47% 11) – (95.53% 1) = 10.36% HA
Natural 8 (9.45% 11) – (90.54% 1) = 5.46% HA
Natural 9 (9.49% 11) – (90.50% 1) = 5.09% HA
I listed the house advantage twice for the Bank and Player bets. That is because there has been a long standing argument between authors as to which figure should be used for the Bank and Player house advantages. Some argue that anytime money is in action it should be counted, while others point out that after a Tie result, all Bank and Player bets can be removed from the layout and taken out of action and therefore they should not be considered. I can settle the contention right here once and for all. Use the numbers (1.06% & 1.24%) that do not include the Ties, that’s what casinos do.