Baccarat is one of the oldest casino games in history, and although it's arguably not as well-known as blackjack and roulette, it's very popular largely stemming from the simplicity of the rules. Traditionally, it was very frequently associated with high-stakes gamblers, but these days it can be played in casinos at a wide range of stakes.
Below we briefly outline the history of baccarat and explain its rules. We have also provided some basic strategy advice, and we have looked at the best places to play the game.
Brief History of Baccarat
Baccarat is an old game dating as far back as the 1400s. It's believed by many to have been invented by an Italian, Felix Falguierein, and played originally as a social game. Other accounts suggest the game originated in France, and it was certainly very popular with French royalty. The word "baccarat" itself means zero in French and Italian, and the game was probably so called because all the picture cards have zero value.
The game spread throughout Europe, and over the years has steadily gained in popularity. By the 19th century, baccarat had reached the Americas, courtesy of French and English immigrants. Although not as big in America as in Europe, after its introduction in Las Vegas in the 1950s, it took off. Today baccarat is played in casinos all over the world, and it's also offered by most online casinos as well.
There are actually several versions of baccarat, such as Chemin de Fer and Baccarat Banque, but the most commonly-played version is Punto banco. This is the most straightforward format of the game, and the one found in most casinos. Thus, this is the one whose rules we will cover.
In Punto banco, two hands are dealt: one to the player and one to the banker. When playing the game, you have only one decision to make: whether the player hand will win, the banker hand will win, or there will be a tie. The winning hand is closest in value to nine. An ace is worth one, all tens and picture cards are worth zero, and all other cards are worth their face value.
Example – A jack, an ace, and a four would have a value of 5 (0 + 1 + 4).
Two cards are dealt to the player and the banker to start and a further card may be dealt to the player according to the following rules:
- If the player hand value is five or less, a third card is dealt.
- If the player hand value is six to nine, no card is dealt.
Once the player hand is complete, the play moves to the banker hand. If a third card was not dealt to the player hand, then the banker hand follows the same rules as above (i.e. if it's five or less, a third card is dealt, if it's six to nine, no card is dealt). If the player hand was dealt a third card, then the following rules apply:
- If the banker hand value is 2 or less, a third card is always dealt.
- If the banker hand value is 3, a third card is dealt unless the player's third card was an 8.
- If the banker hand value is 4, a third card is dealt if the player's third card was 2 – 7.
- If the banker hand value is 5, a third card is dealt if the player's third card was 4 – 7.
- If the banker hand value is 6, a third card is dealt if the player's third card was 6 or 7.
- If the banker hand value is 7, 8 or 9, no card is dealt.
These rules might seem a bit complex, but the great thing is that you don't need to remember any of them. The cards will be dealt according to the rules by the croupier, or automatically if you are playing online. Literally all you have to worry about is which bet to place prior to the start of the hand.
If you bet on the player hand and the player hand wins (i.e. it's closer to nine than the banker hand), then your bet is paid out at 1 : 1. If the banker hand wins, you lose your bet; and if it's a tie, then you get your stake back. If you bet on the banker hand and it wins, you are also paid out at 1 : 1; but the house takes a 5% commission. A tie pays 8 : 1.
When playing the Punto banco variation of Baccarat, the structure of the game entails very little strategy. It's very similar to betting on the flip of a coin, with the greatest difference being that there can be a tie. The most important piece of advice is to avoid betting on the tie, as this bet has the biggest house edge despite the 8 : 1 pay out.
Mathematically speaking, the best bet is to bet on the banker hand. Although you pay a 5% commission when your bet wins, the rules imply that the banker hand is ever so slightly more likely to win. There's not much to support that, but in the long run, your money will last longer if you are betting on the banker hand.
Where to Play Baccarat
Most brick and mortar casinos have at least a couple of baccarat tables, and you should be able to play at most venues. The easiest and most convenient way to play is to join an online casino. Again, most of these offer the game of baccarat. We have selected a few that we believe are the best places to play as listed below.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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