5 Things Beginners Might Not Know About Baccarat
Even if you consider yourself an avid casino gambler, you might not be all that accustomed to the game of baccarat.
Played in its full form — typically in a separate room adorned with a larger than normal table — baccarat can often appear as though it’s a game unto itself. A devoted group of diehards will regularly convene around the table and yet you won’t see many tourists casually strolling up to place a bet like they do in blackjack or roulette.
For whatever reason, baccarat has developed a reputation as an exclusive game reserved only for folks “in the know.” Some recreational gamblers report fearing overly complicated rules and procedures, while others are simply scared off by the high-stakes betting baccarat often generates.
In any event, you may not know everything a gambler should about this age-old card game.
If that’s the case, settle in to brush up on the basics by learning about five things you might not know about baccarat.
1 – Baccarat Is Much Easier Than It Looks at First Glance
First things first… you can’t learn about the intricacies of baccarat without knowing how the game is played.
If you’ve ever watched live baccarat being played in a Las Vegas casino, chances are you came away confused by the spectacle. Big bets are splashed out by boisterous players, those players take turns passing around the dealer’s “shoe” which holds multiple decks of cards a la blackjack, and every so often, somebody will slowly sweat the final result by bending their cards.
Throw in an overly intricate system of determining whether a third card is dealt out — a process known in baccarat circles as the “tableau” — and the whole scene can easily be off-putting to the uninitiated.
Here’s How the Game Really Works from a Layman’s Perspective
Baccarat is a pure game of chance based on nothing more than guessing which one of two hands will wind up reaching the total closest to 9. The game uses a standard 52-card deck of playing cards, but in most cases, you’ll be using a multiple-deck “shoe” which holds either six or eight decks.
In any event, the dealer delivers two cards face up to form each hand, which are known as the banker hand and the player hand. Each hand forms a total, based on the following card rank value system.
Baccarat Card Rank Values
|2-9||Value = Rank|
|10, J, Q, K||0|
Thus, a two-card starting hand like A-K would form a total of 1 (1 + 0 = 1), while a 2-7 would total 9.
In baccarat, the name of the game is reaching the total closest to 9. But unlike in blackjack, where hand totals can go over the goal of 21 to go “bust,” baccarat hand totals can never reach double-digits. Instead, they simply roll back over to 0 before climbing again.
That can admittedly be a bit confusing for a beginner, so here’s a rundown of how baccarat hand totals roll over.
Let’s say the banker hand gets dealt an 8-9, while the player hand has 6-7. In this case, normal card rank scoring would have the banker hand at 17, but baccarat doesn’t do double-digits.
Instead, we simply drop that 10-digit — or the left-most digit of the total — right off and toss it away. That leaves a 7 total, which is what 8-9 equals in baccarat. As for the player hand, 6 + 7 normally equals 13, but by removing the left-most digit, we get a total of 3.
In baccarat, a two-card starting hand that totals either 8 or 9 — the best number in the game — is known as a “natural.”
Depending on how the first two cards stack up for either the banker and player hands, the dealer may distribute a third and final card to complete their final total. This process relies on an overly complicated system of total comparison known as the “tableau” (which we’ll explore later on in a subsequent section).
But fortunately, only the dealer needs to know how the tableau is applied, so this process plays out automatically without you needing to do a thing.
To begin your actual baccarat session, you’ll start by placing a mandatory ante bet on one of two* primary choices — the banker hand or the player hand.
*We’ll discuss a third option, the tie bet, down below in the third section
From there, the dealer runs out two cards face up to the banker and player spots on the baize. After assessing each hand’s initial two-card total, they’ll apply the tableau to determine whether one or both, receives a third and final card.
Once the third card does or doesn’t come out, the banker and player hands are compared one last time, and the one with the closest total to 9 is declared the winner.
Yep, that’s right. Baccarat really is that easy.
Once you place that initial ante bet, your job at the table is done and over with. You just sit back and wait to see whether the hand you bet on, banker or player, winds up on top. No doubling down — or any decision-making for that matter — comes into play at any point.
If this gameplay dynamic feels a bit familiar, that’s probably because baccarat is really nothing more than a dressed-up version of the very first form of gambling — flipping a coin.
With two basic sides to chose between (other than the tie bet, which we’ll discuss in detail later), players simply guess between the banker and player hand before letting random cards decide their fate.
Now that you know how the game is played, let’s move on to the finer points of baccarat that every gambler should know like the back of their hand.
2 – The Banker Bet Is Slightly Better Than the Player Bet
Given the binary nature of baccarat betting — with either the banker or player hand taking the cake in the vast majority of deals — it might seem like both sides offer equal odds of success.
In reality, though, a caveat in the rules about drawing that third card creates a slight discrepancy in favor of the banker hand.
Baccarat Base Bets by House Edge
Baccarat Base Bets by Win Probability
As you can see, the banker hand enjoys a slightly improved house edge of 1.06% versus 1.24% on the player hand. Accordingly, the banker hand will wind up producing a winner on 45.86% of deals, while the player hand wins slightly less often at 44.63%.
This difference results from the fact that the banker hand only takes a third card if the player hand draws one first. In other words, the banker hand “acts” last in the action, only drawing a third card when the player hand has already done so. And because the player hand will only take a third card when its two-card starting total is weak, the banker hand has an inherent advantage built in.
To balance this disparity in house edge out a bit, baccarat awards slightly different payouts depending on which hand you bet on. Wins on the banker hand are charged a 5% “commission,” which means you’ll bring back $0.95 for every $1 wagered. Meanwhile, a winning player hand bet pays back the full even money return of $1 for every $1 risked.
This commission element is yet another reason casual gamblers are prone to pass on the baccarat tables before they learn the game. But once you dip your toes in and actually start playing, the dealer’s deft ability to calculate commission-decreased payouts makes the process painless and automatic.
Even with the commission reduction taken into account, however, baccarat strategy still dictates betting on the banker hand at all times if you’re looking to play the game perfectly. Of course, actual human beings prefer to mix things up and play the field, so to speak, guessing based on perceived patterns from previous results.
But if you’re seeking to put yourself in the best possible position from a probability perspective, backing the banker hand is the best way to preserve your baccarat bankroll.
3 – The Tie Bet Is a “Sucker” Play That Should Almost Always Be Avoided
Now let’s take a moment to discuss that third option on the table — the tie bet.
Even after drawing a third card, the banker and player hands can wind up producing the exact same total. When the banker hand shows 3-4-5 for a 2 total, and the player hand has K-A-A for a 2 total, they’ve created a tie.
Baccarat enthusiasts often refer to ties by the slang term “stalemate,” but the concept is quite easy to grasp.
Anybody who bet on either the banker or the player hand will have their bets returned in a push, so the game essentially resets itself heading into the next deal.
When a stalemate occurs, though, you’ll see some players start whooping it up in celebration before collecting a pile of chips.
This is because baccarat allows you to wager on the prospect of a stalemate situation via the tie bet. When you hit on a tie bet, the dealer will award you a juicy payout of 9 to 1 on your money.
At first glance, the ability to recoup $9 for every $1 wagered might seem like a steal, especially when you think about how many two- and three-card totals will wind up equal in the end.
But after you consult the table below — which shows the house edge rate and win probability for baccarat’s tie bet — you’ll see why this wager has been deemed the ultimate “sucker” bet.
Baccarat Tie Bet House Edge and Win Probability
- House Edge = 14.36%
- Win Probability = 9.51%
As the table shows, the house edge on any given tie bet climbs to a staggering 14.36%.
To put that disadvantage in its proper perspective, consider that the tie bet represents 14 times worse odds than the banker and player bets. If you’re a basic strategy player in blackjack, your house edge of 0.50% is 28 times better than that faced by baccarat tie bettors.
Trying to smash a single number on the roulette wheel is only a 5.26% house edge situation — nearly three times better than the tie.
And even the folks chasing their dreams and burning money on the worst penny slots out there are only up against average house edges of 8-10% — significantly lower than what the tie wager offers.
All things considered, parting ways with any portion of your bankroll by betting on the tie is a fool’s errand.
4 – It’s One of the Fastest-Growing Games in All of Las Vegas
Recently, the human calculators who work for the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) finished tallying the Silver State’s revenue numbers for 2018.
And in no surprise to gaming analysts, baccarat ranked among the biggest winners, as reported by the Associated Press back in January.
Nevada Casino Win in 2018 (By Game)
|Penny slots||$3.3 billion|
That billion-dollar baccarat performance marks a 4.7% increase over 2017’s revenue mark, a trend which has remained consistent over the last decade.
In a report entitled “Nevada Statewide Table Game Mix: The Evolution of Casino Games, 1985-2018,” David G. Schwartz and Courtney Nickson — statisticians at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Center for Gaming Research — compiled revenue and unit* count data for baccarat and mini baccarat.
Nevada Table Game Mix and Revenue Count for Baccarat and Mini Baccarat (Since 2010)
|Year||Game||Units||Revenue||% of Units||% of Revenue|
|Mini Baccarat||123||$75.34 million||2.41%||2.23%|
|Mini Baccarat||130||$89.72 million||2.58%||2.50%|
|Mini Baccarat||130||$86.15 million||2.61%||2.36%|
|Mini Baccarat||135||$100.51 million||2.74%||2.60%|
|Mini Baccarat||137||$89.58 million||2.76%||2.33%|
|Mini Baccarat||130||$100.65 million||2.68%||2.74%|
|Mini Baccarat||123||$90.39 million||2.58%||2.46%|
|Mini Baccarat||115||$80.50 million||2.44%||2.18%|
|Mini Baccarat||125||$79.54 million||2.69%||2.17%|
*Unit = Number of tables on casino floors; % of Unit = Percentage of tables and machines
Traditional baccarat has steadily broken the $1.1 billion revenue mark each and every year since 2010, topping out at $1.5 billion in 2014. Meanwhile, 114 more traditional baccarat tables have been added to Nevada casino gaming floors over that span.
The willingness of players to put down big bets on baccarat and casino operators to oblige them by spreading more and more tables has led the game to become one of Nevada’s fastest-growing verticals.
In their report, Schwartz and Nickson show how baccarat has grown from representing less than 2% of Nevada gaming back in 2000 to nearly 8% of the state’s casino scene last year.
Percentage of Nevada Table Game Density by Game and Year
In fact, baccarat’s 5.98% expansion in density makes it the biggest mover in all of Nevada gaming. Given its supposedly “niche” status, seeing baccarat at the top of so many critical performance evaluation lists is pretty surprising.
5 – The Third Card Tableau Is Easier to Grasp Than Most Players Realize
If you ask the average baccarat fan to explain exactly how the game’s third-card drawing rules are applied, you’ll likely hear a muddled mess of an explanation.
The so-called “tableau” of rules used to determine when the banker and player hands need to draw a third card is widely believed to be some sort of uncrackable code. Most players believe only the trained dealers behind the box know the secret, so they just sit back and let the cards fall where they may.
But if you really want to know baccarat like the back of your hand, you should know the reasons why certain totals are compelled to draw one final card.
Here’s How the Baccarat Tableau Really Works
First off, if either the banker or player hand receives an 8 or 9 total — what’s known as a “natural” — both hands stand and take no further cards.
Assuming no naturals hit the felt, however, the tableau will be applied as follows.
The player hand always “acts” first, so if the player total sits at 0 through 5, a third card must be dealt out. And if the player hand is 6 or 7, it stands and takes no additional cards.
The banker hand’s draw decision is based on how the player hand “acted.” When the player hand stands and takes no more cards, the banker hand draws using the same rules as stated above. That is, after a player stand, the banker draws a third card with totals of 0 through 5 and stands on 6 or 7.
In cases where the player hand did draw a third card, the banker hand uses the following rules to determine whether it takes a third card of its own.
|Banker Total||Draw Action|
|0, 1, or 2||Banker draws third card no matter what player’s third card was|
|3||Banker draws third card unless player’s third card was an 8|
|4||Banker draws third card only if player’s third card was a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7|
|5||Banker draws third card only if player’s third card was a 4, 5, 6, or 7|
|6||Banker draws third card only if player’s third card was a 6 or 7|
That last bet gets a bit hairy, admittedly, but all in all, the baccarat tableau isn’t all that difficult to get a handle on. And for the sake of player protection, knowing how the dealer is supposed to act on the cards is always helpful in cases where human error comes into play.
Baccarat boasts an unmistakable air of mystery to anyone who has yet to play the game. Maybe that’s because baccarat’s close cousin Punto Banco was James Bond’s game of choice in the classic “007” films, or perhaps players are simply fascinated by the unknown.
But while baccarat can seem overly complex to the naked eye, it’s really just a basic guessing game outfitted with a few bells and whistles.
That guessing game is pure gambling, though, which might just explain why so many people out there love to back the banker or the player with their hard-earned bankrolls.