Beating Baccarat 101
Baccarat is a game of chance, so in theory it’s unbeatable. So why do millions of people around the world crowd around the tables making sizable baccarat bets? Because in the short run, baccarat can be beaten if you know when to quit.
When it comes to the best odds in any casino, baccarat is in the Top 4: some types of 3/2 blackjack, variations of video poker, mostly the Jacks or better 9/6 variant, and the odds bets at craps. But in all those games, it takes some kind of knowledge to get the best of the games.
Baccarat is simple. The gambler places his bet on Banker or Player and sits back and watches who wins. There is no way to influence how the cards come out because it’s all done by strict rules. There is another bet on the table, but the Tie bet is a loser, facing a whopping 11-1 disadvantage while only being paid 8-1. Other baccarat tables have “bonus bets” but most of them have an even higher player disadvantage so for the purposes of this article (and your chance of winning), we’ll stick to just Banker and Player.
Let’s start with the basics. Baccarat is usually played with six to eight decks of 52 cards shuffled and inserted into a shoe. In many casinos, there are continuous shufflers, which in blackjack isn’t good, but in baccarat it doesn’t matter.
Cards Ace through 9 have face values of 1 – 9, while 10s and face cards have no—zero—value. Two cards are initially drawn for each Banker and Player hand. If they add up to over 10, then you drop the left-hand digit.
For example, an 8 and a 9 add up to 17, but have a value of 7 in baccarat. Sometimes a third card is drawn depending upon a series of complicated rules, which really don’t matter to the player. Add up the value of the two or three cards and closest to 9 wins.
If the initial two cards add up to 8 or 9, that’s called a natural and no other cards will be drawn.
Except for the Tie bet, payouts are 1-1. But because the Banker bet has a slight edge, a winning bank bet must pay a 5 percent commission, called the vig. So for example if you bet $20 on the Bank and win, you owe the house $1 in commission. The dealer will either take it from the winning bet or keep track of it on a box in front of him and collect at the end of the shoe. The reason for this bet is the house has a 1.06 percent advantage on the Bank bet but a 1.24 percent advantage on the player bet. So you get what you pay for and the 5 percent commission evens it out.
And while we’re at it, also avoid baccarat games with side bets. You should never play them because most of them have a very high house edge, but they are also confusing and distract from the basic game. But if you have no choice, you can play the basic game while avoiding them and the normal house edge won’t be affected.
There are also some commission-free baccarat games where you can bet either side without paying a vig, but sacrifice something along the way by the way the third-card rules change slightly. Nonetheless, the commission-free variety of the game boosts the house edge to approximately 1.45 percent, higher than the traditional game, so also good to avoid.
As simple as the game is, the betting strategies are even simpler.
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Betting the Bank or the Player?
Since the Bank bet has an edge, and removing the Ties, the Banker bet wins 50.68 percent of the time, while losing just 49.32 percent. The Player bet is just the opposite.
One strategy is betting the Banker at all times. The numbers say you’ll win. Even with the commission and ignoring the tie, the house edge on the Banker bet is 1.17 percent, one of the lowest in all the casino. For every $100 you bet at baccarat on the Bank you theoretically lost $1.17.
But doing the same math for the Players bet shows a house advantage of 1.36 percent, still a reasonable number. Betting on either side isn’t that risky and if the side you pick goes on a “run”—a multiple series of wins—you’re in the money.
Avoid the complicated “classic” betting systems as they always have a “gambler’s ruin” risk of running out of money and/or hitting the table limit that would prevent you from recouping your money. The most blatant of these is the Martingale system that has the player doubling his bet after every loss. For example, if you bet $10 and lost, your next bet would be $20 and the subsequent bet would be $40. You can see you’ll either run out of money or hit the house limit in no time, and experience your own personal “ruin”.
Other systems like the Fibonacci, Paroli, Labouchere, and Alembert have their pluses and minuses but keeping up with their strict betting progressions can be tiring and usually not very profitable.
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Follow the Shoe
Since lots of Asian players love baccarat, it’s interesting and informative to watch how they play. At baccarat, players can request a scorecard, where they mark each win, sometimes with a different color of ink. Lots of modern baccarat tables have LED signs that serve as a scorecard. Some Asian players study these scorecards like they are the holy grail and seem to make sense of them.
Sometimes players believe they can discern a pattern, and at times they get lucky. For example, the Bank may win four times in a row before a single Player win. That pattern might hold up for some of the shoe, and if you recognize it soon enough you can take advantage.
Many Asian players employ the “follow the shoe” strategy where they will bet whichever side won the last hand. But that strategy can be destroyed by a “choppy” shoe—one which alternates one or two wins for each side. These players are hoping to latch on to a long “run” and they’ll increase their bet after every win to maximize their profits.
The most important element of baccarat strategies, like so many games, is money management. Set a loss and a win limit. If you buy in for $500 and want to double your money, quit when you hit $1,000 no matter when it happens during your casino visit. If you lose that $500, walk away and better luck next time.
Or maybe break up that $500 into five $100 sessions. Take a break in between sessions. And when you hit that $1,000 win goal, walk away (or walk back to your kitchen and make a sandwich), but don’t forget to tip the dealers.
Online Lessons Great Starting Point
A good way to get comfortable with baccarat would be to start at a low limit table. Online minimums are generally low, sometimes as low as $1. You’ll see the progressions of the cards, get comfortable with the third-card rules, and have access to high-tech scoreboards that show you exactly what is going on.
And after using the electronic versions, move up to the “live” dealers online. You can converse with those dealers for advice and talk to other players via chat functions about their specific strategies.
Whether you’re in a physical casino or an online version, baccarat can be a fun—and profitable—way to enjoy your favorite pastime, gambling!
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