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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How Much Should You Bet at Baccarat?

2 August 1999

How Much Should You Bet at Baccarat?

Many table games have numerous and often bewildering options. Not baccarat! This game is the soul of simplicity. Each round offers three choices: 1) bet on Banker or Player, 2) do or don't augment the primary wager with money on Tie, and 3) decide how much to risk. There are no other alternatives, and participants can do nothing to affect the outcome of or payoff on a hand.

Some solid citizens assiduously mark their scorecards looking for patterns. Others bet only on Banker, because this wager has less house edge than Player. However, patterns of past results don't anticipate future outcomes. And edges on Banker and Player don't differ significantly in sessions of reasonable length. So, assuming that little or nothing is put on Tie, the only element that can be manipulated with any hope of influencing fate is bet size.

Serious gamblers size their bets with dual objectives in mind. First is to avoid depleting their bankrolls during the time allotted for action. Second is to attain some win goal -- usually to hit a jackpot at the slots, or earn a satisfactory profit at the tables. The optimally sized bet relative to a person's stake is a function of the statistical properties of each game, and the personal preferences and motivations of the individual.

Unfortunately, the bankroll sufficiency and win goal criteria conflict with one another. Low bets boost the likelihood of surviving a session but decrease the chance of reaching any selected plateau before going broke. High bets have the opposite effect. Bet size is therefore a compromise. Seasoned gamblers know from experience what it takes to endure and what profit levels are reasonable. But these factors can also be determined mathematically for any game, using "risk of ruin" principles.

In practice, survival usually takes priority over win goals. Say a person bets the same amount every round, and wants to be 85 percent sure of weathering the downswings of a normal four hour session -- about 600 rounds. Ignoring Player-Banker differences and avoiding Tie, risk of ruin analysis shows this can be done betting 2.3 to 2.4 percent of initial bankroll per round.

Normally, bets would be rounded up or down to practical values. At 2.5 percent (for instance, $25 bets on $1,000 stakes), a baccarat buff would be 85 percent confident of being in action for at least 550 rounds. At a more conservative 2 percent (an example might be $10 bets on $500 bankrolls), rounds at the 85 percent confidence level rise to nearly 800. Larger wagers jeopardize ability to outride normal downswings. At 5 percent of bankroll (for instance, $5 on a $100 stake), bettors have 85 percent chance of surviving only 160 rounds; at 10 percent (bets such as $10 on $100 bankrolls), this drops to a mere 45 rounds.

Chances of achieving various win goals before tapping out are shown in the following list for the 2 and 2.5 percent bets found using the survival criterion, and for aggressive wagers equal to 5 and 10 percent of a bankroll. Results are essentially the same for Player and Banker, singly or interchangeably.

win goal -------------- chance of success -------------
(fraction bet is 2.0% bet is 2.5% bet is 5.0% bet is 10%
of stake) of stake of stake of stake of stake
25% 66% 69% 75% 77%
50% 44% 48% 58% 62%
100% 22% 26% 37% 44%
200% 5% 8% 18% 25%

Here's an example of how to interpret the table for a $500 stake. If you risk $10 per round (2 percent), you have 44 percent chance of earning a $250 profit (50 percent) before tapping out.

The figures show how gamblers' objectives offset one another. When bets are raised from 2 to 10 percent of the stake per round, chances of earning a 50 percent profit before going belly-up jump from 44 to 62 percent. But, previous data indicated that by increasing bets in this manner, the number of rounds a person could be 85 percent sure of surviving falls from 800 to only 45.

It's as the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, laconically lamented:

Experience harshly teaches,
A gambler who over-reaches.
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 focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
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 focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.