9 Questions Every Beginner Should Ask Themselves Before Playing Baccarat

Online Baccarat Table on Top Live Dealer Baccarat Table on Bottom

Ask a casual casino gambler what they think is the most popular game for players. And ask them what they think is the profitable game for the house.

You’ll likely hear about blackjack and card counting, slot machines and seven-figure jackpots, or even poker rooms and gold bracelet glory. But it’ll probably take a while before your pal brings up baccarat despite the game’s status as an industry staple.

Every year, casinos in Las Vegas and beyond count baccarat tables as their most productive economic engines. That’s because millions of players worldwide count baccarat as their game of choice.

And if you’re thinking about joining their ranks, make sure you can pass this quiz first.

1 – Which Hand Is the Best Bet to Back and Why?

Before diving into the quiz, you should know that this isn’t designed for pure baccarat rookies. I’ll assume you know the basic rules and game play of baccarat, while expanding that knowledge via several related avenues of discussion.

With that said, if you don’t know what I mean by the “banker” and “player” hand, check out a basic baccarat tutorial before circling back to the quiz.

For folks who do know that distinction though, which is the best bet on the table—banker or player?

Despite the fact that both hands take two cards at random to start out, and possibly a third based on relative starting totals, the banker hand actually enjoys a slight advantage. Overall, betting on the Banker hand incurs a house edge of 1.06%, while player hand bettors face a 1.24% uphill climb against the casino.

In terms of outright win probability on any given deal, the Banker hand will win 45.83% of the time, the player hand wins at a 44.61% clip, and the other 9.54% constitutes ties (more on this to come).

And when you remove tie bets from your wagering equation, Banker will win 50.68% of deals compared to 49.32% for player.

This may seem counterintuitive given baccarat’s status as the ultimate game of chance, but Banker does enjoy a tangible benefit. By always “acting” last, or taking the final card following Player’s possible third card draw, banker gets the best of both worlds.

When its total is strong enough already, banker doesn’t need to draw and improve. But when player has previously improved on the draw, banker gets one last shot to claim victory.

This “last actor” advantage can also be found in blackjack, where the house benefits by players busting before the dealer ever acts on their own hand.

2 – Should You Ever Take a Chance and Bet on Both Hands to Tie?

Nope. Not at all. Never, ever, ever…

All joking aside, the tie bet in baccarat is one of the worst sucker bets in the casino. With a staggering house edge of 14.36%, the tie bet is nearly three times worse than Double-Zero Roulette (5.26%).

Unless you literally have money to burn, simply sticking with the banker vs. player binary is always your best bet in baccarat.

3 – What Is the Best Baccarat Strategy System Out There Today?

Speaking of your best bet, beginners are always on the prowl for proven baccarat strategies through which to master the game.

This desire stems from baccarat’s seeming connections to blackjack, another two-card to start table game using the standard 52-card deck. But while blackjack can be played perfectly based on basic strategy, baccarat doesn’t include the player decision points which make that possible.

Downtown Grand Baccarat Table

Simply put, without the ability to stand, draw, or otherwise improve on the hand you backed, baccarat just doesn’t incorporate strategic thinking. You can’t play “better” or “worse” than other players, nor can you work hard to shave the house’s precious edge down.

No, as the odds explained above make clear, the only way to play baccarat properly is by betting on the banker hand at every opportunity. Backing the player for variety’s sake makes the game fun, and the long-term hit to your odds isn’t all that meaningful, but strictly betting banker is technically the optimal strategy.

4 – Why Does the Casino Track and Post Previous Hands on the “Big Board” Above Every Table?

Because as P.T. Barnum once wisely observed, there’s a sucker born every minute…

That may sound like a harsh judgment on casual gamblers looking to have a little fun, but just hear me out. Every casino under the sun uses a bright, flashy display screen overhead to tantalize superstitious baccarat grinders.

Harkening back to the game’s popularity among Asian gamblers, these “big boards” are equipped to display various “roads” which list the table’s previous results. You’ll see stuff like the “Big Eyed Boy” road, the “Cockroach” road, and so on.

These can all get quite complicated, but essentially, they show players how the cards have come as the current shoe is whittled down. Folks who believe previous trends can predict the future feverishly follow the big board, scribbling in their own notebooks to divine which bets to make next.

Obviously, the big boards are nothing more than a way for casinos to prey on what is known as the gambler’s fallacy:

“Well, it’s been banker for like six out seven hands now, so player is due to hit soon. Time to bet it big and cash in!”

Roulette tables also use big boards to convince less-informed players to follow past trends. When a certain breed of gambler sees a long string of Black on the board, they simply can’t help but bet big on Red because they “know” the odds have to balance out.

But in reality, every hand of baccarat and every roulette wheel spin represents a wholly independent event. It could come Banker 20 times in a row, but on Deal #21, both Banker and Player would still offer the exact same odds and probabilities as they always do on any given hand.

5 – Why Does the House Charge a 5% Commission on Winning Banker Bets?

The answer to this one was foreshadowed above. Now that you know banker bets run with a lower house edge, and they win slightly more than half the time (when tied hands aren’t accounted for), the answer to this question is easy.

Baccarat Dealer Reaching for Cards on Table, Pile of Money

Without that 5% commission in place, the house’s edge on banker bets wouldn’t be high enough for casinos to justify spreading the game. Furthermore, the commission fee serves to level the proverbial playing field between banker and player bets.

Without it, smart gamblers would simply bet on Banker every single deal to get the best bang for their bankroll buck.

6 – Do You Really Need to Be a High-Roller to Play and Enjoy Baccarat?

Nope, not in the slightest. While you will need to bring thousands of dollars in tow to enter the big baccarat high-limit rooms, casinos realize that casual gamblers are essential to the industry. To bring baccarat to the masses, an alternative known as “mini” or “midi” baccarat was born.

Unlike the ornate tables with more than a dozen players found in big baccarat, the mini game appears just like any other table game like blackjack or Three-Card Poker. That means you’ll see six seats for players, and a lone dealer delivering cards.

Rituals like passing the shoe around and “squeezing” (more on this in the next entry) are removed to speed things up, and crucially, the minimum bet is usually set at $5 or $10.

7 – Can I Really Bend, Squeeze, and Rip the Cards at a Las Vegas Baccarat Table?

Well, that all depends on whether or not you’re willing to pay for the privilege.

Normally, abusing the cards in way, shape, or form is a huge no-no in any casino. New decks of cards cost money, first and foremost, while manipulating and marking them is a telltale sign of cheating in progress.

Only in the lavish high-stakes baccarat rooms—which come complete with massive tables seating 14 players and a dealer—will you see cards being destroyed without any intervention. Because the game of “big baccarat” is a holdover from gambling’s glory days, the wealthy players who pony up $500 per hand in a pure guessing game are treated like royalty.

Rather than chide or discipline a big-time big baccarat player when they bend cards, major casinos invite them to savor the “squeeze” in any fashion they see fit. You see, whereas mini baccarat tables for the ordinary Joes out there don’t allow players to touch the cards, big baccarat is a different beast.

MGM Grand Baccarat Room

In those exclusive roped-off rooms, players ceremoniously pass the shoe full of cards around the table while taking turns dealing each hand out. And after the designated dealer lays out the decisive final card face down on the felt, they’re free to slowly squeeze each corner and side to draw out the anticipation of discovering its value.

Eventually, the cards in a big baccarat game wind up looking like discarded paper airplanes unfit to fly.

But beware, while this tradition is still honored in the high-stakes rooms, regular mini baccarat games don’t work that way. Attempting to bend the cards there will earn you a swift warning, followed by a property ban for a second offense.

8 – What Are the Only Three Casinos Currently Offering Video Baccarat Machines in Las Vegas?

Video baccarat has become increasingly popular among operators as casinos look to cut costs.

Players love the automated version of their favorite game too, so head to the Palms Casino and Resort near the Strip to find the best video baccarat selection in Sin City. The Palms is home to five $100 minimum video machines, along with one more $25 bet game.

Boulder Station and Palace Station both offer a few machines using a much lower $10 minimum.

9 – Which Casino in Las Vegas Is Home to the Most Live Baccarat Tables?

That’d be Caesars Palace by a long shot. At the palace, baccarat players will find 50 live dealer baccarat tables running at any one time. That’s 30 more than the next largest (20 at the Gold Coast).

Our Final Thoughts

Baccarat has remained one of the most popular gambling games on the planet for centuries and counting. And that’s for good reason, as this classic casino card game offers players a true gamble. No strategy charts to study, no tough mathematical decisions to sort through—just two randomly dealt hands and a choice between them.

If you’re just beginning to get into baccarat, bravo! You’ve made a great decision. The game’s low house edge and back-and-forth nature mean that the house won’t beat you up too badly. More importantly, however, you’ll have an exhilarating time riding the roller coaster as the Banker and Player hand continue their age-old battle.