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Everything You Should Know about Baccarat, and More

4 November 2003

By Alan Krigman

Baccarat is a good choice if you're seeking casino table action but nervous about trying. It's elegant, has relatively low house advantage, and is often offered in mini versions with an affordable minimum bet. It's also simple to play. The dealer does the complicated part. You need only decide whether to wager on Banker, Player, or Tie. And you can devise all kinds of "systems" to progress your bets or switch among the options, which can be fun but happily or sadly makes no statistical difference at all.

Bets on Player are expected to win 44.62 percent of all hands, lose 45.86 percent, and push the other 9.52 percent; they pay even money. Those on Banker flip wins and losses while pushing at the same rate; they win slightly more than they lose so casinos get rich by deducting a commission from the payouts, effectively setting return in most joints at $0.95 on the dollar. The house's bite is about 1 percent either way. Similar chances and edges mean these bets are interchangeable for most practical purposes.

Ties win 9.52 percent and lose the remaining 90.48 percent; payout is 8-to-1. The edge here roars in at about 14 percent, a usurious amount considering that 8-to-1 isn't exactly spectacular. This is accordingly a real sucker bet, best avoided.

That's all you really have to know. Bet on Banker or Player -- it's a toss-up. If you win on Banker, the dealer typically pays even money and asks you to settle the commission right away or at intervals during the action. Stay with one side or the other, or switch back and forth, as your instincts and the patterns you're sure you divine in past series of rounds motivate you.

Solid citizens frequently try to make gambling more esoteric than the elementary exercise it is. To do so, some make up stuff they want to be true and call it theory. Others dig below the surface and find facts that don't necessarily help them take the casinos to the cleaners, but do let them brandish a certain aura of authority compared to the clods who haven't a clue about cards.

One detail that does help bettors follow the game is the way hands are tallied. It's from zero through nine. Tens and pictures equal zero, aces through nines their face values. When a total exceeds nine, subtract 10 to return to the scoring range. A five and an eight therefore rank as three (five plus eight is 13, minus 10 is three). Similarly, five, eight, and nine rank as two. Another illuminating tidbit is that the dealer begins by giving Player and Banker two cards each, then follows strict rules to stand or to draw once more for either or both. You can get an impressively confusing chart from the casino showing these rules. But learning them, as Oscar Wilde might cynically have said, is like knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Beyond merely grasping procedure, some casino aficionados find fulfillment fathoming the probability engines driving their favorite games. In baccarat, for instance, it can be edifying to know the likelihood that Banker or Player will end a round with various point scores, and also the chance of either hand winning when it has each possible total. This information is shown in the accompanying table. As an example of interpreting the figures, Banker expects to finish with a count of six in 12.1 percent of all hands, and should win 44.5 percent of those with this tally.
Probabilities Associated with Baccarat Point Scores

Banker chances
Player chances
Point
with this total
with this total
total
Having
Winning
Having
Winning
0
8.9%
0.0%
9.4%
0.0%
1
6.9%
7.2%
7.5%
6.6%
2
6.9%
12.9%
7.4%
12.0%
3
7.3%
20.1%
7.5%
16.9%
4
9.3%
35.0%
7.4%
23.1%
5
10.1%
43.1%
7.5%
33.0%
6
12.1%
44.5%
13.3%
47.0%
7
12.8%
59.9%
13.4%
61.0%
8
12.8%
82.8%
13.3%
83.5%
9
12.8%
91.4%
13.4%
91.7%

The data confirm, as you might guess, that low totals are always underdogs. Hands don't reach a 50-50 chance of winning until they get to a count of seven. It's also engaging to note that Player does better than Banker with high point values, and conversely with low finishes. How can you use this insight? There's this way, snidely cited by the celebrated songster, Sumner A Ingmark:

No knowledge so worthless that no one will want it,
There's always a braggart to take it and flaunt it.

Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns were focused on those interested in gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.