For gamblers of a certain vintage, the first casino game they ever learned about was baccarat.
Or more accurately, the French forebearer of baccarat known as chemin de fer, the favorite game of “007” himself, James Bond.
In the original Bond film Dr. No (1962), the British superspy is introduced to audiences over a spirited game of chemin de fer. Acting as the banker — unlike the baccarat played in American casinos today, players take turns banking the game in chemin de fer — Bond proceeds to casually flick over 9 after 9 while winning a significant stack of plaques.
Along with the first onscreen utterance of the famous line “Bond… James Bond,” that scene from “Dr. No” gave an entire generation their first glimpse of baccarat. And like so many others, I became enamored with the deceptively simple game played everywhere from Paris to Macau to Sin City.
In case you’ve never had the pleasure of betting on the banker or player to come closest to 9, take a moment to learn the basics of baccarat in this tutorial from Caesars Entertainment.
As you can see, baccarat is a pure game of chance that challenges players to one basic task — guess which hand (banker or player) will wind up with the total closest to 9 after taking either two or three cards. A multiple-deck shoe — containing six or eight decks in most casinos — is used to ensure that astute card counters can’t gain an advantage.
That means baccarat, despite using cards instead of a wheel, actually plays out much more similarly to the binary even-money wagers in roulette than it does blackjack or poker.
Most baccarat beginners would’ve never suspected things were that easy, though, mistakenly believing the game to be shrouded by mystery and intrigue. Because baccarat tends to be played for big money in secluded high-stakes areas of the gaming floor, with a hardcore community of regulars effectively boxing out recreational gamblers, many players think of baccarat as a game reserved for high-rollers like Mr. Bond.
But in all actuality, baccarat is one of the most approachable games around, provided you know your way around the table.
If you’re interested in playing baccarat to the best of your ability, which really is possible even in a game of chance, check out the list below for three rules and strategies most players don’t know about.
1 – Betting on the Banker Every Hand Really Is the Best Strategy
At first blush, baccarat seems like nothing more than a coin flip dressed up with playing cards and pretty green baize.
With two hands to choose from and either two or three cards dealt randomly to each one, it would appear that the banker and player occupy a level playing field.
But as anybody who has ever played Mini-Baccarat — the scaled-down casual version of the game favored by recreational gamblers — can tell you, the banker hand has to pay a premium on their winnings.
Let’s say you bet $10 on the banker hand for 30 hands, winning 20 and losing the other 10. In this case, you’d finish up with a cool $100 profit by virtue of a +10 win differential multiplied by $10 wagers.
But when you rack up your chips and get up from the table, the dealer will ask you to pay a “commission” of $10, which is equal to 5% of your total winnings.
Remember, you won 20 different hands in this example, so that $200 in payouts multiplied by 5% gives you a $10 commission payable to the casino.
Mathematically minded readers out there have probably deduced this by now, but this 5% commission means winning banker bets are paid out at 19 to 20 odds instead of exactly even money.
Meanwhile, somebody who did the exact same thing while betting on the player hand would get to keep their full $100 in profit, as winning player bets are paid at even money on the nose.
The reason for this commission payment isn’t readily apparent, but as it turns out, the banker hand wins slightly more often over the long run than the player hand.
Check out the table below to see exact win probability percentages for both base bets in baccarat.
Baccarat Base Bets by Win Probability
While those odds are close, the banker hand will win 1.23% more hands over the long run than the player hand. And as a result, the house edge faced by banker bettors is slightly lower than what player bettors have to deal with.
Baccarat Base Bets by House Edge
At this point, you’re probably wondering how two hands taking random cards from the deck can offer different odds to win. That’s a good question, and it vexes most baccarat rookies right off the bat.
Here’s how it works.
After the first two cards are dealt to each hand, both the banker and the player may draw a third card to complete their respective totals. But this draw isn’t based on any decisions made by you or the dealer.
Instead, a complex system of drawing rules known as the baccarat “tableau” is used to determine when third cards should be doled out.
You’ll learn more about the baccarat drawing tableau down below, but for now, just know that the player hand always “acts” first by either drawing or standing pat. Whether that action is a draw or stand depends on the player’s two-card starting total, but no matter what, the player hand goes first in the drawing round, followed by the banker hand.
Just like you see in blackjack, drawing last in total-based card games offers an inherent advantage.
Think about it for a minute… players can always go bust by hitting over 21, all before the dealer even shows their complete hand. By acting last, the blackjack dealer gets the benefit of eliminating opposing hands before they ever have to look at their cards.
Baccarat hands can’t go bust, of course, but by basing its own draw on the player hand’s total, the banker hand gets a built-in leg up.
For this reason, the only effective strategy to excel in baccarat involves betting on the banker hand only. That may be a bit boring, but if securing the best possible odds is your main objective, ditch the player and embrace the banker.
2 – The Tie Bet Is One of the Worst Wagers in the Casino
If you paid close attention to the probability tables above, you likely noticed a missing piece of sorts.
If the banker hand wins 45.83% of deals, and the player hand takes it at a 44.63% clip, what happens on the other 9.51% of hands played?
The banker and player tie.
Because baccarat hand totals simply roll over when they go over 9 — dropping the left-most digit to stay as a single-digit 0-9 total — dealing two and/or three cards out often produces identical totals. You’ll see a tie — better known as a “stalemate” among baccarat aficionados — on 9.51% of deals.
And when a tie does go down, both banker and player bets will be returned as a push. But while those wagers remain untouched, a tie typically sparks shouts of excitement from a happy winner.
That’s because baccarat offers a third bet on the tie, one which pays out at 8 to 1 when it turns a winner.
Scoring a sweet 8 to 1 return on your money might seem nice, and it is indeed when it happens, but the 9 to 1 odds against make this wager a sucker play.
The house edge on baccarat tie bets stands at a whopping 14.36%, much worse than any slot machine on the floor, and the second-worst casino wager of them all behind keno (15% to 29% house edge).
If you want to play baccarat well, forgetting the tie bet even exists is a strong first step.
3 – The Tableau Doesn’t Have to Be a Mystery
The rules for drawing a third card are extremely convoluted, so Mini-Baccarat dealers take care of everything automatically.
Even so, some players prefer to know what’s happening, so here’s how things play out.
Assuming no naturals arrive, the player hand starts out by standing pat on totals of 6 or 7 and taking a third card on totals 0-5.
The banker then draws based on how the player hand’s draw played out. When the player stands pat, the banker uses the same 0-5 = draw and 6 or 7 stand rule.
And when the player does draw a third card, the banker proceeds based on the rules shown below.
|BANKER TOTAL||DRAW ACTION|
|0, 1, or 2||Banker draws regardless of player’s third card|
|3||Banker draws unless player’s third card = 8|
|4||Banker draws only when player’s third card = 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7|
|5||Banker draws only when player’s third card = 4, 5, 6, or 7|
|6||Banker draws only when player’s third card = 6 or 7|
Baccarat is one of the best games for casino gambling beginners to start with simply because you can’t really mess up. But even though guessing games are fun and easy, baccarat stands out because of the subtle strategic layers that separate good players from the pack.