How to Play Baccarat: The Mysterious Game of the Far East
One of the best bets in the online casino world is the game of baccarat. But the rules and unfamiliarity often scare off new players. Don’t be that player. Baccarat can be fun and profitable.
When you’re in a casino and stroll by the high-end table games, undoubtedly you’ll see more baccarat than any other kind of game. Those tables may be largely populated be Asian players, who are fascinated by the patterns and velocity of the wins and losses. But other than that, baccarat is a very easy game.
Yes, baccarat looks mysterious. The scorecards kept by the players can sometimes be intimidating. At a live game, they generate lots of debate. But in essence, the beauty of baccarat is its simplicity.
You could equate the “skill’ of baccarat to the skill it takes to flip a coin. Because after that coin’s in the air, there’s nothing you can do about winning or losing. Same way with your baccarat cards. Once a bet is down, you have no influence on how the cards come out.
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Versions of baccarat date back to the 1700s, but it became popular among European nobility in the 19th century. Baccarat then migrated to Asia, where it was called Macao Baccarat. When it came to America, it was called Punto Banco, which translates as “Player-Banker.” It was a popular game in the casinos of Cuba in the 1940s and ‘50s until Castro shut down gambling in the country. It then debuted at the Dunes in Las Vegas, and quickly spread across Nevada.
There are only three bets on a traditional baccarat table (those that don’t offer bonus bets)—Banker, Player and Tie. The one thing that makes baccarat one of the best games in the casino is the house edge. It’s one of the lowest of any game in any casino. Only blackjack played with perfect basic strategy or playing 10X (or more) odds on craps is better. For baccarat, the house edge is 1.06 percent on the Banker bet, 1.24 percent on the Player bet, and 14.36 percent on the Tie bet.
The object of baccarat is to get as close to 9 as possible, with 10s and Face Cards worth zero, and every other card worth their face value. When the total of the cards hits 10 or more, you simply erase the left-hand digit. For example, an 8 and a 7 total 15 or 5 in baccarat.
The two best hands in baccarat are “natural” 8 or 9, which is a combination of two cards totaling 8 or 9. There’s no way to beat a natural 8 or 9 after the four cards are revealed. But a natural 9 beats a natural 8—a true “bad beat” in baccarat—and there can be ties at 8 or 9, as well.
But don’t be fooled into thinking you have any control over the outcome. The cards come out as a result of a complicated set of rules that the player doesn’t need to know or even care about. Once you place your bet, you’re just an observer, like the instant you hit the “spin” button on a slot machine.
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That smaller house edge on the bank bet is the reason the house charges a 5 percent commission on winning bank bets. Some internet casinos offer “no-commission” baccarat, which sounds attractive, but may not be. The house has to make back the advantage it’s giving away to the bank bet, so it installs rules that require a winning bank bet of a certain number to be paid in a less than full amount.
A common rule change in this situation would be paying the winning bank bet that wins with 6 points 50 percent of the full payout. But since the bank bet that wins with 6 points occurs 5.39 percent of the time, that raises the house edge on the bank bet to 1.46 percent—making the Player bet the most advantageous at the table.
To protect against this, there are a couple of side bets at EZ-Bacc. The Dragon 7 bet pays 40-1 on a three-card total of 7, and the Panda 8 bet pays 25-1 on a three-card total of 8. The house edge on theses bets are 0.076 percent and 0.102 percent respectively—both reasonable expectations.
Don’t bother with Tie bet. Even though it looks interesting and provides a nice 8-1 payout, to get even money on that bet you should be paid almost 11-1. Paying almost a 15 percent house edge should be avoided at all costs.
Most side bets should be avoided too, because the house edge is usually over 5 percent. Not worth it.
One exception is the Dragon, which allows you to bet on the margin of win on one hand versus another. The margins go from 4 points to 9 points and the payoffs progress from even money for 4 points to 30-1 for 9 points. One caveat is that the Dragon bet should only be made on the players hand, because the house edge of the Dragon players bet is only 2.65 percent, versus a hefty 9.37 percent for a Dragon bet Bank bet. Still bets to be avoided.
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While we’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you, the bottom line is that baccarat strategy is simple. Once again, it’s almost even money, and one of the best bets in the house. Why screw it up with side bets and the Tie wager? And a blackjack-like system of counting cards? No help whatsoever.
There are some strategies you can use successfully. One is to “follow the show,” meaning to bet on the last winner. That will ensure that you’re there when the shoe goes on a streak, either multiple Banker or Player wins in a row. Downside? If the shoe is “choppy”—i.e. back and forth wins by the Bank or Player—you get killed.
Some players like to see patterns emerge. For example, three Bank wins might be followed by three Player wins. Downside? That won’t last too long.
Since the Bank hand has a smaller house edge than the Player hand, most players prefer to bet on the Bank. Start like that and see how it rolls.
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Online, most New Jersey and Pennsylvania online casinos offer baccarat, and several versions of it. Just because you play a version with a side bet doesn’t mean you’re required to play that side bet; you can treat any baccarat game as a traditional game. The side bet rarely if ever disturbs the true flow of the game.
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So give baccarat a shot. You may not be able to strategize the same way you do with blackjack, but you won’t get as frustrated either when the dealer pulls a “21” out of his sleeve!