Baccarat by Michael Shackleford aka Wizard of Odds
Baccarat is by far the most profitable table game in Las Vegas and Macau. In terms of number of tables, it may not seem very popular in Las Vegas. However, every high-end casino in Vegas has at least one high limit room where baccarat is king. It is not unusual to find Asian players betting hundreds of thousands of dollars per hand in the VIP rooms of the Bellagio, MGM, Venetian, and Wynn. Still, profits from baccarat in Las Vegas pale in comparison to those of Macau.
Somehow, high rolling players are drawn to baccarat, despite the fact that the odds are better in blackjack and craps. Why, I am not sure. I think part of it is that baccarat is seen as a very elegant and classy game. Maybe that is why James Bond likes it? Another theory is the game lends itself well to superstition. The casino is happy to keep the baccarat myths going as it freely lets players take notes at the table and provides them with electronic signs that keep track of the history and statistics of the current shoe. None of that actually helps, but you will probably never find a baccarat player who agrees with me on that.
How to Play
The short description of the game of baccarat is it is like betting on the toss of a slightly biased coin. To go a little further, a coin with a wide edge that has a chance to land on its side. Instead of using a coin, baccarat uses cards with preset rules, so there is no skill at all except bet selection. The game can be played without even understanding the rules. But, that will not keep me from explaining them to you anyway.
A word about notation first. The two main bets in baccarat are called the Player and Banker. These terms do not refer to the people playing or dealing the game. The names of the bets could just as easily be heads and tails. For purposes of clarity, when speaking of specific bets, I will use capital letters and use the lower case when referring to the actual people playing or dealing the game.
- Any number of decks can be used. Eight decks is the norm in land casinos.
- Cards are valued as follows:
- Aces = 1 point
- 2 to 9 = Pip value
- 10's and face cards = 0
- Aces = 1 point
- The point value of the Player and Banker hands is calculated as the terminal digit of the sum of the cards. For example, if one hand had a 7, 8, and 9, then the total would be 24.
= 24 = 4 points.
The terminal digit is 4, so the hand would be worth four points. Thus, the highest possible score is a 9.
- Play shall begin with the player betting on the Player, Banker and Tie. Sometimes, bets on a Banker pair or Player pair are offered, too. The player may bet on multiple bets, but it is customary to bet the Player or Banker while the other bets are viewed as optional side bets.
- After betting is closed, the dealer shall deal two cards to the Player and Banker hands. If either hand has a score of 8 or 9, then it is referred to as a "natural" and no further cards are drawn to either hand. This rule overrides all subsequent rules.
- If the Player total is 5 or less, then the Player hand shall draw a third card.
- If the Player did not draw a third card, and the Banker total is 5 or less, then the Banker shall draw a third card.
- If the Player did draw a third card, then the Banker will use the following table to determine whether to take a third.
- The final Player and Banker hands shall be compared, and the one with more points wins.
- Player and Banker bets shall push in the event of a tie.
- Winning Player bets pay 1 to 1.
- Winning Banker bets pay 19 to 20, which is often expressed as even money less a 5% commission. Commissions are usually counted using markers and settled at the end of the shoe.
- Winning Tie bets usually pay 8 to 1.
- Some tables offer bets on a Player pair and Banker pair, which win if the specified hand forms a pair in the first two cards. Wins pay 11 to 1.
When to Start and Stop Dealing
The following are the rules on where in the shoe to start and stop dealing. This information is rather esoteric, so skip over it if you wish.
- The first card in the shoe is turned face up. If it is an ace, one additional card is burned. If it is a 2 to 10, that many additional cards are burned, according to the pip value of the exposed card. If it is any face card, then ten additional cards are burned.
- A cut card shall be placed 16 cards from the end of the shoe.
- If the cut card is reached in the middle of a hand, then that hand shall be finished as well as one final hand in the shoe.
- If the cut card comes out between hands, then the next hand shall be the final one in the shoe.
"What are the odds?" you may be asking at this point. For an eight-deck shoe, here is the probability of each outcome:
- Player: 44.62%
- Banker: 45.86%
- Tie: 9.52%
The probability of a Player pair or Banker pair is 7.47%.
The reason the Banker wins more than the Player is the additional information he has in taking a third card. In other words, he has a positional advantage. The drawing rules for the third card may look arbitrary, but they are the optimal strategy.
After considering how much each bet wins, here is the house edge for each one:
- Player: 1.24%
- Banker: 1.06%
- Tie: 14.36%
- Player and Banker pairs: 10.36%
So, the optimal strategy is pretty simple -- bet the Banker every time. However, if you can't resist flipping back and forth between the Player and Banker in a futile search for a winning pattern, just resist betting on the Tie and Pair bets. Like any side bet, they are exciting when they hit, but placing them often will grind your bankroll down fast.
I can't emphasize enough that looking for patterns in the previous hands is a waste of time. Everybody at the table does this and they are all delusional that it helps.
Read more on baccarat system myths.
That is the executive summary to baccarat. There are other tangential topics on the game discussed at the Wizard of Odds, which you may wish to take a look at. Here are links to some of the most popular discussions:
- Baccarat side bets
- Commission-free baccarat
- Card counting in baccarat
- The odds for 1 to 12 decks
- How to read the score board
I'm also very proud of my baccarat trainer.
For a host of other information about baccarat, please visit the main baccarat page at the Wizard of Odds.
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