How to Play Baccarat

Baccarat (pronounced bah-cah-rah) is the casino game that whales play. These are players who are multimillionaires with huge credit lines ready to bet thousands of dollars or more per hand. It's the glamour game played in a secluded area of the casino with tuxedo-clad dealers, complimentary food and drink for players, and security guards urging ordinary players to keep moving. So it's no wonder that baccarat has a mystique, an unfamiliarity that can be intimidating to the average player. But the rules of baccarat are easy to learn, the game offers even the inexperienced player one of the best odds in a casino, and nowadays you can find a low stakes version right in the middle of the casino floor. Stay with me and by the time it takes to finish this article you'll be a baccarat expert.


The game is played with either 6 or 8 standard decks of playing cards and the objective is to guess whether the Bank or Player hand will come closest to 9. Like blackjack, every card in baccarat equals its face value with two exceptions. Aces have a value of 1 and all picture cards and tens have a value of 0.

In blackjack, 21 is the highest total and if you go over 21 you bust and automatically lose. With baccarat, 9 is the highest total, and unlike blackjack you can't bust. If your hand exceeds a total of 9 in baccarat, you simply subtract 10 to get an adjusted total. For example, if the initial two cards were 9-7, the total of the hand is 6 (not 16). Likewise, a 6-8 would be 4 (not 14) and ace-9 would be 0 (not 10).


Regardless of the number of players, there are only two hands dealt in baccarat designated the Bank and Player hand. You must wager on either hand prior to the deal (there are betting spots on the layout for both hands in front of each player). There is also a third betting option and that's a wager on the Tie Bet. Players who bet on the Tie are hoping that the Bank and Player hand end up with the same total. If this occurs the payoff is 8 to 1. This means if you wagered $5 on you would get paid $40.

Although it's nice to get paid at eight times your original bet, the fact is that a tie doesn't occur enough times to justify making this bet. Even with the 8 to 1 payoff, the casino's edge is a mighty 14.4%. Unless you are independently wealthy and don't mind donating some of your wealth to the casinos, I highly recommend you avoid the Tie bet. You have been forewarned so I won't say anymore about the Tie bet in this article.


Initially the Bank and the Player hand receive two cards. Sometimes one or the other hand will stand and other times a third card draw is required. The third card draw rules often confuse players which is another reason why they shy away from the game. But don't panic - this isn't like blackjack where you have to memorize a bunch of rules to know when to draw or not. Nope, in baccarat the players have no options. It's up to the casino dealer to determine which hand draws a third card or not based on a set of  rules for the game so you can just sit back and relax.


At the very least you should know that the third card draw rules are based on the total of the initial two cards dealt to a hand and the rules are not the same for both hands. To show you how easy this is, here's the third card rule for the Player hand:


Player hand draws a third card if the hand totals 0 to 5 and stands on 6 to 9.


That's all there is to it. And the total of the Bank hand has no bearing on whether the Player hand draws another card or not.


The third card rules for the Bank hand are a little more complicated. The first rule is:


Bank hand draws on 0, 1 and 2 and stands on 7, 8, and 9.


The complicated part of the Bank hand third card rule comes about when the Bank hand totals 3 through 6. The determining factor for whether the hand draws or not is whether the Player hand drew a third card, and if so, what was the value of the Player's draw card.


I've summarized the Third Card Rules in Table 1 below for reference.  You can even ask the dealer for a card that summarizes the rules. But I'll say it one more time - you don't have to learn them because the dealer is paid to know the third card rules and he or she will make all the decision on third card draws.


It so happens that the third card draw rules favor the Bank hand more so than the Player hand. This results in the Bank hand winning more then 50% of the time (Bank wins 50.68% of the time and Player hand wins 49.32% of the time, discarding ties). The significance of this if that you bet on the Bank hand you would be very rich because you would have more than a 1% edge over the Player hand. Of course the casinos are well aware of these percentages, which is why they charge a 5% commission (or vigorish) every time you win a Bank hand wager. With this commission the house edge on the Bank hand is 1.06%, slightly less than the 1.2% edge the house has on the Player hand. The key point is that even with the 5% commission, the Bank hand is still a better bet than the Player hand. As you'll see shortly we'll take advantage of this by limiting our betting to only the Bank hand.


You will see many players keeping track of the sequence of wins on the Bank, Player or the Tie bet. In fact, casinos will provide players with a handy scorecard to record this information. Is there any advantage to keeping score? The answer in a nutshell is no. Players who use score cards are looking for trends to guide them into deciding where to bet (so-called pattern betting). Trends are nice but the problem is that past trends have no correlation with the odds of winning the next hand. In other words keeping score is completely useless for predicting the results of future hands.


The minimum wager in big table baccarat (the game in the baccarat pit that seats 14 players) usually start at $25 and up (in this game the players deal the cards from a rotating shoe). However, there are low-staked versions of baccarat on the main casino floor with a betting minimum usually in the $5 to $10 range. One type is a smaller version of the big table game that seats about 8-10 players. Another more popular version is called mini-baccarat and this game is played on a blackjack size table with room for 6 or 7 players (in this game the casino dealer deals the cards). The playing rules for all these versions of baccarat are the same.


Your best bet is to wager on the Bank hand because it has a slightly lower casino edge compared to betting on the Player hand.  A suggested bankroll is 20 times your minimum bet. For example if you plan to wager $5 per hand, you should have a $100 session bankroll.  Set an initial goal to win 25% of your session bankroll (that's $25 based on your $100 bankroll).  If you exceed it, increase your win goal to $50 and keep playing. As long as you keep winning, keep increasing your win goal in  $25 increments. But when you start losing and you drop below the last win goal that you exceeded, you should quit your session with your profits.


The above betting method will not alter the casino's advantage. But it will discipline you to walk away with your profits and not limit the amount you could potentially win should Lady Luck shine on you.


And speaking of losses, they will inevitably occur even betting on the Bank hand (just like you could lose betting on heads or tails).  Your overall return of 99% is a long term one. Over the short term, like a single playing session, you could lose. Just don't lose your cool when it happens and whatever you do don't bet more in order to try to catch up. My advice is to take a break if you lose about 50% of your starting bankroll then try another session with your remaining bankroll.


You can further increase your overall return by using your Player's Card. If you don't have one, get one in the casino (it's free). Give the card to the dealer at the start of each playing session so that your play will be rated (amount bet and time played). Based on how much action you give the casino and their policy on comps, you should be able to get some free meals and other complimentary services just for playing. These have value which when added to the game's return will result in an overall return that exceeds 99%.


There is one problem with mini-baccarat compared to the big table game. It's a much faster game (because the dealer deals hands rapidly). In fact, it's not uncommon to be dealt up to 150 hands per hour in mini-baccarat. And since the casino has the edge on every bet that you make (even though it's a small edge betting on Bank hand) the more decisions per hour the greater is your theoretical loss.


Is there a solution to this problem? Yes, you've got to slow down your betting. How can you do this? Glad you asked because my friend and fellow writer Frank Scoblete (author of Baccarat Battle Book) has just the solution. When you first sit down to play, don't bet but rather wait until the Bank hand wins then bet on it. Keep betting on the Bank hand until it loses. When this happens sit out and wait for the Bank hand to win again before betting on it.

As Scoblete puts it: "This betting method will reduce your exposure to the casino's edge by about 50% because you will be avoiding all Player hand streaks and you will also be capitalizing on any possible Bank hand runs".  And he's right.


So whether you are an experienced or a novice casino player, consider giving baccarat (or min-baccarat) a try. With the low house edge on the Bank hand and with a little luck, you've got your best shot at walking out of the casino a winner.


Table 1
Third Card Drawing Rules


Rule #1
If either hand totals a natural 8 or 9, the round is over and both hands must stand (i.e. neither hand draws a third card). If neither hand has a natural then the Player Hand must act first.


Rule #2
If the initial two card Player Hand totals 5 or less, the Player Hand must DRAW a third card. If the total is 6 or 7 the Player Hand must STAND.


Rule #3
If Player Hand Stands and does not draw a third card, the rules for the Bank Hand are the same as the Player Hand (Bank hand must DRAW a third card on totals 5 of less and STAND on 6 and 7).


Rule #4
If the Player Hand draws a third card, Bank Hand must stand or draw according to the following chart:

                                                PLAYER’S THIRD CARD

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 D D D D D D D D D D
1 D D D D D D D D D D
2 D D D D D D D D D D
3 D D D D D D D D S D
4 S S D D D D D D S S
5 S S S S D D D D S S
6 S S S S S S D D S S
7 S S S S S S S S S S