If you’re like most casino gambling enthusiasts, even though you’ve probably heard of the card game called baccarat, you never actually tried it for yourself. Baccarat has a mysterious reputation among the recreational gambling community, thanks in large part to how casinos set up and stage the game. Most casinos in Las Vegas relegate their true baccarat tables to secluded “high-limit” sections.
There, a smoky haze shrouds serious players who spent the night placing big-time wagers, bending the cards, and even tearing them up in disgust. This unusual scene can be off-putting for many casual players, but I’m here to tell you about seven big reasons why every gambler should give baccarat a try.
It Only Takes a Minute to Learn Baccarat
Before we dive into the many merits of playing baccarat, let’s run through a quick crash course on the game’s basic rules and betting options.
Depending on the version (more on this to come), baccarat is played using either a six- or an eight-deck shoe à la blackjack. As for the cards in that shoe, here’s how baccarat card values break down:
- 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings = 0 points
- Aces = 1 point
- 2s = 2 points
- 3s = 3 points
- 4s = 4 points
- 5s = 5 points
- 6s = 6 points
- 7s = 7 points
- 8s = 8 points
- 9s = 9 points
To begin a hand of baccarat, you’ll choose between three betting options – the Player hand, the Banker hand, and the Tie.
Don’t worry too much about the original meaning behind these hand names, as they’re simply holdovers from the old-school version which had gamblers alternate between acting as the player and acting as the bank. For all intents and purposes, you’re just guessing which one of the two hands will wind up winning (or whether or not they’ll end up in a tie).
The objective of baccarat is exceedingly simple – guess which hand will wind up reaching a total of nine, or closest to it, after getting dealt two or three cards.
Once you’ve placed a wager, the dealer does nothing more than distribute two cards (one at a time) to each hand. An individual hand’s total can never exceed nine, so whenever it goes into double digits, you simply lop the left-hand digit off to arrive at the real total.
That’s a mouthful, I know, so here’s a visual example below to help illustrate how a baccarat hand works:
- Player Hand = Ace and 7 for an 8 total
- Banker Hand = 6 and 9 for a 5 total
As you can see, even though the Banker hand’s six and nine should equal 15, we remove the left-hand digit to leave a total of five.
OK, so the Player hand just beat the Banker hand then, right? Well, not so fast…
Sometimes just one hand will draw a third card, and in other cases both hands get to draw. In any event, the third card completes a hand’s total, and whichever hand winds up closest to nine is the winner.
When you win on the Player hand, you’ll collect an even money payout from the house. A winning Banker hand, meanwhile is paid at nearly even money, less a five percent commission. This commission is necessary because the Banker hand, due to its ability to “draw” last, holds a slight statistical advantage over the Player hand.
Again, that minutia might seem confusing at first glance, but it doesn’t matter much once the cards are in the air.
And if you happen to bet on the Tie option and both hands wind up level, you’ll earn a premium payout of 8-to-1.
Now then, you’ve just learned how to play baccarat, so let’s explore the many reasons why you should try this classic casino card game.
Baccarat Isn’t Only Played in an Intimidating Atmosphere Anymore
When you walk through any major land-based casino, you’ll eventually come across a seemingly private room protected by a velvet rope. Inside, gamblers dressed to the nines crowd around a huge table in a scene reminiscent of craps – but this is no humble dice game, it’s Big Table Baccarat.
Also known as “punto banco,” this version of baccarat is best known as the setting for James Bond’s infamous showdown with eventual on again, off again girlfriend Sylvia Trench. You know the scene from “Dr. No” (1962), when the suave secret agent coolly beats the beautiful Trench out of her entire bankroll while playing cards in a fancy casino.
In the traditional form of Big Table Baccarat still played, players take turns acting as the bank while passing an ornate shoe holding several decks of cards round and around. And sure enough, with minimum bets typically set at $500, the clientele in a Big Table Baccarat game in Sin City will be typically be dressed like “007” himself.
Between the huge bets and the haughty atmosphere, plenty of recreational players watch a few hands out of curiosity before moving on to more humble environs.
And I don’t blame them one bit, which is why the next reason to try baccarat is so important…
Modern Casinos Have Added More Approachable Options
If the idea of betting hundreds of dollars per hand surrounded by a bunch of snobby high-rollers doesn’t do it for you, I certainly get it.
And that’s why casinos adapted by rolling out a more casual, low-stakes option called “Mini Baccarat.” Also known as “Midi Baccarat,” this game takes place in the normal table game pit and uses basic minimum bets like $5 or $10. The giant table is exchanged for a standard one that looks, feels, and fits like your basic blackjack or Three Card Poker game.
Instead of players alternating as the bank and handling the shoe, a dealer takes care of all that too.
The result is an approachable form of baccarat that invites recreational players on a budget to join the fun.
You’ll Wind up Winning Roughly Half the Time
Another reason I encourage beginners to check out baccarat is the game’s binary nature. Leaving aside the Tie bet, you only have two options to choose from – Player or Banker.
Notice how I said “roughly” in the heading though, because the Tie bet will win after 9.5 percent of all deals.
The Tie Bet Is a Great Way to Pad Your Bankroll in a Hurry
Speaking of the Tie bet, this high-risk / high-reward gamble pays off handsomely at 8-to-1.
When you hit a natural blackjack, your $10 bet brings back $15 in profit at 3-to-2 odds, or $12.50 at the inferior 6-to-5 rate.
But that same $10 wager transforms into $80 in profit when the longshot Tie cashes in. That’s enough to please any casual player, which is why you’ll see players splash around on the Tie more than the long odds might suggest.
The Low Casino House Edge on Banker and Player Bets
Unless you’re a basic strategy master, the casino house edge on blackjack comes to 1.5 percent. Hop on the roulette table and you’re up against a 2.70 percent (single-zero wheels) or 5.26 percent (double-zero wheels).
And some of the more popular bets on craps like the “Yo” (11) create a house edge of 11.11 percent – which is unbeatable over the long run.
Take your bankroll to the baccarat table, however, and you’ll face relatively friendly house edge rates of 1.06 percent on Banker and 1.24 percent on Player.
Of course, those are offset by the obscene 14.36 percent house edge on the Tie bet, so take your shots at that long shot sparingly.
It’s the Only Game Where You’re Allowed to Bend Cards
This one’s reserved for Big Table Baccarat, but one of the more enjoyable traditions in casino gambling is slowly bending that third and final card to reveal your hand’s fate.
This raucous, old-school style of gambling can’t be found anywhere else in the corporate controlled casinos, so it’s worth spending a little more for the unique experience if you can afford it.
Baccarat may not be for everyone, but once you take a seat and place those fateful first bets, I’m willing to wager you’ll have a good time – win or lose. And fortunately, given the game’s nearly binary “coin flip” nature, you’ll wind up winning nearly half the hands you play on average.
While it may get a bad rap based on its antiquated status as an enclave for exclusive high-rollers, today’s baccarat has been modernized to offer widespread appeal. If you’ve never had the pleasure of backing the Banker or the Player, hopefully these nine reasons give you ample motivation to try baccarat on your next trip to the casino.