Comparing Casino Gambling Games for First-Time Players – Blackjack vs. Baccarat

Blackjack Hand on Left and a Baccarat Table on Right

If you’re an avid gambler, it can be hard to believe that the world is full of folks who have never played a casino game in their life. But it’s true, as millions of people out there simply never had the opportunity, or the desire, to risk money on games of chance.

While that will always be the case for some, many from this non-gambling group eventually get their chance to visit a casino. And when they arrive, trying to decide between the various table games can be quite intimidating, to say the least.

If you’re planning a maiden gambling voyage anytime soon, the following breakdown compares two of the most iconic classic casino card games – blackjack and baccarat.

Basic Rules and Game Play

First things first… if you’re entirely new to both blackjack and baccarat, settle in for a down and dirty primer on both games.

Both of these games utilize the standard 52-card deck of playing cards, so you can expect to see four apiece of the Ace, King, Queen, and Jack, along with the 10 through 2. Both games also use a “shoe,” or a device used by the dealer which contains multiple (typically six or eight) 52-card decks.

The shoe is used to combat card counting, while also providing for more hands played before the dealer must shuffle.

When you sit down at a blackjack table, you’ll begin the game by placing a mandatory ante bet. Optional side wagers are available, but these are almost always “sucker” bets which heavily favor the house, so we’ll leave those aside for rookies looking to play right.

In most Las Vegas blackjack games, the minimum bet starts at $5 or $10, so bringing a stack of, say, $100 should be enough to get started.

Once you’ve placed an ante bet, the dealer will deliver two cards face up to your spot on the table. They also take two cards to begin the hand, but only one of theirs (the “up” card) will be exposed, while one (the “down card” remains a mystery at the moment.

In order to act on your blackjack hand, you’ll first need to know what value each card holds, so check out the list below for that information:

  • Ace = 1 or 11 (depending on which helps the player more)
  • King, Queen, Jack, or 10 = 10
  • 9-2 = Their numerical rank

Thus, a hand like King-10 would add up to 20, while Queen-9 is good for 19, Jack-8 for 18, and so on.

And with a hand like Ace-5, this “soft” hand – any hand with an Ace is considered soft – can be worth either 6 or 16 given the Ace’s unique flexibility. You’ll learn more about that flexibility when we get to the ways you can act on your hand, so don’t fret just yet.

The best possible total in blackjack is 21, which means the best possible two-card starting hand is an Ace coupled with any 10-value card. This instant winner is known as “blackjack,” and you’ll be paid out at a premium – 3 to 2 in big bet games or Downtown; 6 to 5 on most small-stakes and Strip tables – on your wager.

For any other winning hand, you’ll be paid back exactly even money on the bet.

Ok then, so how exactly do you win a hand in blackjack?

Well, aside from landing a premium starting total like 21, 20, 19, or 18, the way to win is by drawing cards to improve your starting total. Let’s say you get dealt the 4-9 for a 13, while the dealer is showing a 7 upcard.

In this scenario, the basic strategy of blackjack says to “hit” and take a third card to try and inch your total up. If you score an 8, you’ll make 21, while a 7 is good for 20.

Multiple Blackjack Hands on a Table

Hitting is a risk, however, because if you found any 9 or 10 on the draw, your new total would exceed 21 and your hand would “go bust” as an instant loser. This is why soft starting hands like A-5 (6 or 16) get hit much more often, as any high card won’t cause an immediate bust.

Along with hitting, you can also “stand” on strong totals when you’re fine with your cards.

With certain totals, like 10 or 11, “doubling down” is the correct course of action. Pay an extra wager equal to your first, and the dealer brings one final card down. And if the 10s which make up the largest portion of the shoe arrive, you win not one but two bets on a single hand.

Finally, with a paired starting hand like 8-8, you can also “split” them by paying an additional bet equal to your ante. From there, you’ll have two hands with a 7 to start, before the dealer doles out two more cards to complete them.

The objective of blackjack is to compare your starting total to the dealer’s upcard, then use basic strategy to hit, stand, split, or double.

Once your action is complete, the dealer turns over their down card and hits on anything less than 16. Once they reach 17-21, they stand, while they go bust by making any total over 21. When the dealer goes bust, any player hand still alive – even the lowest totals around – still collect as winners.

OK then, now that you know blackjack basics, let’s cover baccarat

In this game, you’ll have three betting options: the Player hand, the Banker’s hand, or a Tie.

The names are meaningless, they simply describe one of two random hands dealt out on each deal. Unlike blackjack, you can’t take any actions to improve your chosen hand, so you simply guess and sit back to see which one wins.

Baccarat uses a slightly different scoring system for its card values, as follows:

  • Ace = 1
  • King, Queen, Jack, or 10 = 0
  • 2-9 = Their Numerical Rank

The best possible total in baccarat is a 9, followed by an 8, 7, etc. But in another shift from blackjack, baccarat hands never go bust. Instead, once the total goes into double-digits, the left-most digit is removed to render a single-digit total.

That was a mouthful, so let’s use an example hand to make things more clear.

You bet on the banker and the dealer puts out a King and a 7 there, while the Player gets a 2-3. At the moment, the Banker has 7 (0+7) to the Player’s 5 (2+3). But, using an obscure system the dealer will apply automatically, each hand may or may not get a third card.

Let’s say the Banker draws a card and gets the 9. With a 7 and now a 9, their new total would typically be 16 – but in baccarat we slice of that first digit. In this case, removing the 1 leaves a 6, which is the Banker’s final total.

Casino Baccarat Table

Baccarat is a pure guessing game, so you need only pick a hand and hope to see it prevail. Conversely, blackjack is a game involving skill and strategy, so it’s up to you to play your cards right to give yourself the best possible odds.

Odds, Probabilities, and Payouts

Speaking of odds, let’s break down the Win/Loss/Push (tie with the dealer) probabilities in blackjack first:

  • Player Win = 42.22 percent of hands
  • Player Loss = 49.10 percent
  • Push = 8.48 percent

As you can see, you’ll experience a see-saw ride in this game, winning just over 40 percent of the time (on average, over the long run). The dealer takes down just under half of hands, while the other 8 or so percent result in a push.

When you win any non-blackjack hand, you’ll receive even money on your total bet(s), while Ace-10 is good for an enhanced payout of either 3 to 2 or 6 to 5.

Over at the baccarat tables, the probabilities are as follows:

  • Banker Wins = 45.86 percent
  • Player Wins = 44.62 percent
  • Tie = 9.51 percent

Winning Banker and Player hands payout at even money, but the Tie bet is good for a 9 to 1 score. Of course, as you’ll learn down below, that sweet payout requires taking a much larger risk on long-shot odds.

House Edge Players Are Up Against

Based on the probabilities relative to the payouts listed above, we can calculate the house’s edge on every blackjack and baccarat bet. This metric shows casino gamblers just how much, statistically speaking, a wager favors the house.

In blackjack, a basic strategy player can bring the house edge down to just 0.50 percent. In other words, on average, for every $100 this player bets over the long run, the casino will win 50 cents from them. From a savvy gambler’s perspective, blackjack is a very favorable game for smart, sharp players.

Closeup of Hand Betting Chips on Baccarat Table

With that said, playing blindly without basic strategy usually means you’ll be up against a higher house edge of 1.50 percent or more.

In baccarat, the Banker bet holds a house edge of 1.06 percent, while the Player is slightly worse at 1.26 percent. This discrepancy stems from the Banker’s ability to “act” last during the drawing round.

Thus, proper strategy in baccarat involves nothing more than betting on Banker at all times. This would be pretty boring though, so most players mix it up using their “gut instinct” or “system.” But knowing every hand is completely random, the Banker is always the best bet on the board.

As for the Tie option, you’ll incur a massive 12.35 percent house edge chasing that 9 to 1 reward.

That’s much higher than most slot machines, and you might as well scratch lottery cards if you like the look of the Tie.

General Atmosphere and Table Dynamics

Blackjack is by far the most popular table game around, so beginners can feel comfortable hopping in small-stakes games. The atmosphere will usually be casual between fellow players, with most enjoying a beer and a little banter.

Baccarat tables can be a bit more stuffy, and the players there are often very superstitious. They might not want an inexperienced player around, so don’t be surprised if the learning curve in live games is a little more steep.

Fortunately, you’ve already learned about both games here, so you’re ready to roll on your first trip to the casino table game pit.

So Take Your Pick

As two of the most popular card games ever invented, both blackjack and baccarat have bedeviled inexperienced players all over the planet for several centuries and counting. The two games share a few common threads – two-card starting hands, a race to reach the best totals, etc. – but blackjack and baccarat are also very different beasts indeed.

The first requires a little study of the basic strategy charts to play correctly, while the latter is a pure gamble on luck alone. Try both, then pick the one which leaves you enjoying the most entertaining time on the tables.