Baccarat is a relatively simple game, and in fact its rules tend to be simplifying in general. For example, when adding up the value of a hand, a total with double digits is reduced to the right side digit (15 becomes 5). Hand themselves only consist of 2 cards, 3 at most. Moreover, playing this game actually just amounts to betting on the action, without ever holding a card!
Elegant Simplicity of Baccarat
Baccarat may seem like an odd European casino game (with its origins in France) and it maybe even seem a bit boring for poker players. Unlike Roulette with its numerous types of bets, Baccarat has only a few, which we summarise for you below.
1. Bets on the Banker’s Hand
The main difference between the two hands that are compared in the game of Baccarat, one called Player (Punto) and one called Banker (Banco), is that the Player’s hand is drawn and concluded followed by the Banker’s hand.
The way the Banker’s hand is played depends upon whether the Player’s hand stood pat with 2 cards or got a 3rd card. Since there is a difference in the way the two hands are resolved, bets on the Banker’s hand have a lower house edge of about 1.06%. Winning Banker bets are paid 95% (5% goes as commission to the bank).
2. Bets on the Player’s Hand
As we said above, a ‘coup’ or round of Baccarat hinges upon the Player’s hand. The object is to get a hand total of 8 or 9 (called a Natural) — comparable to a Natural Blackjack in the game of 21. If this happens with the first two cards, then the coup’s outcome has been decided.
If the Player’s hand is only 0-5, a third card is drawn. If the starting total is 6-7 then the hand Stands (similar to how the dealer in Blackjack must stand on a 17). Depending upon how this pans out for the Player hand, the Banker plays accordingly.
Because of this offset, bets on the Player hand have a higher house edge of 1.24%. Winning bets on Player are paid 1:1.
3. Bets on the Tie of Banker/Player
The most lucrative bet in Baccarat is laid upon a tie between Banker and Player, called ‘égalité’, which is relatively infrequent. A winning tie bet earns 8-to-1 — but the house edge is 14.4%
The occurrence of a tie itself is determined according the complex rules or ‘Tableau’ (similar to Basic Strategy in Blackjack), which is consulted to determine how the Banker draws based upon the Player hand whenever a third card is drawn.
4. Bets as a Spectator
The French versions of Baccarat are more complex because the role of banker has more variation. But this is also because the onlookers of the game can join the betting if the total wagers from participating players (other than the one acting as Banker, similar to the alternating dealer in poker) are less than the Banker.
In that case, spectators can ‘go bank’, which means call the Banker’s bet size and join the action. This is an interesting aspect of the game Baccarat in France, and no doubt contributes some of its sociable character, with more ritual and pomp than the Punto Banco varieties.
5. Bets as the Banker
Again, in the French varieties of Baccarat, the role of Banker either alternates amongst participants or stays with one player as long as the total decks in play (called a shoe) last. Since there is a bit of advantage for the player who holds court as the Banker, this is a profitable role.
On the other hand, the Banker is bankrolling the action for the coups. In certain games, choosing the next Banker when the last one chooses to stop is decided by players’ willingness to fund an amount equal to the last bank holding! This is evidence of the Banker advantage.
Baccarat Around the World
There are 3 main Baccarat varieties:
- Punto Banco (‘North American baccarat’), strictly a game of chance without strategy; casino is the Banker
- Baccarat Chemin de Fer (‘chemmy’), original version common inside France, with alternating Bankers
- Baccarat Banque (‘à deux tableaux’), with the Banker role fixed for the total cards used (2-4 decks)
Even though, as you learned above, there are very limited betting options, Baccarat has many variations and some permit more choices and therefore some skill to play. The most popular version is Punto Banco, the simplest. And, in the end, simplicity may be the hallmark of this historic game.