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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: Is no-commission baccarat an impetus or an impediment?

20 July 2009

Baccarat buffs are generally irked by the commission the house collects from the payoffs when bets on Banker win. They earned it, and should be able to keep it all not have to give some of it back. Right? Guess what! The casinos dislike the commissions, too. Sure, they want the dough; it's the collection process they'd rather eliminate. It slows down the action, makes dealers do extra work, and causes misunderstanding and contention.

So, why have it? Because Banker has more chance of winning than losing. In 1,000 coups, on the average, bets on Banker should win roughly 458, lose 446, and push 96. At even money, $1 bettor would therefore gross $458 and forfeit $446, a net $12 profit. If a $1 bet paid $0.95, the gross would be $435.10 for a net loss of $10.90. Payoffs would be ordeals, though, and punters commonly avoid bets that clearly pay less than what's at risk. A 5 percent rake on a 1-to-1 payoff achieves the same results. And, unpopular as it is, causes fewer problems than the 0.95-to-1 alternative.

In case you're wondering why Player wins simply pay even money, it's because the likelihood of wins and losses are flipped. In 1,000 statistically-correct hands at $1 each, solid citizens would gain $446 and lose $458 for a net average $12 shortfall.

Modifications of baccarat are being offered in which the house takes no commission. Don't confuse this with a gift from the gambling gods. There's always a fly somewhere in the ointment.

In one no-commission variation, a Banker win with a total of six pays half. This occurs an average of roughly 54 times per thousand hands. Here's how folks betting $1 for the thousand coups would expect to fare. About 458 - 54 or 404 hands would win $1, 54 would win $0.50, and 446 would lose $1. That's $404 + $27 or $431 in and $446 out, a theoretical loss of $15 $4.10 worse than the regular version with 5 percent commission.

Totals other than six could be chosen to the same effect. Say a Banker win with a total of seven was selected to pay half. This can be expected on the average of 77 times per 1,000 coups. Now, 458 - 77 or 381 hands win $1, 77 win $0.50, and 446 lose $1. The net setback is $26.50 $15.60 worse than in the standard game.

"EZ Baccarat," a variation on the variation, as it were, has been receiving kudos from both sides of the table. Here, when Banker has three cards that total seven and Player has anything from zero through six, Banker pushes rather than wins. In 1,000 statistically-correct hands, this will happen an average of close to 22.5 times. So Banker wins 458 - 22.5 or 435.5 hands and loses 446. That's $435.50 coming in and $446.00 going out, a $10.50 loss for the bettor. Almost the same as in the time-honored game.

EZ Baccarat has another feature that appeals to people who relish small side bets on longshots with big payoffs. EZ Baccarat pays 40-to-1 on the 22.5 out of 1,000 (43.4-to-1 odds) proposition that Banker will get a three-card seven exceeding the Player's total the hand that pushes rather than wins in the main event.

Make this side bet 1,000 times for $1. On the average, you expect to win 22.5 x $40 or $900. The other 977.5 hands will be $1 defeats. The net projected loss will be $977.50 - $900 or $77.50. The house is essentially charging 7-3/4 cents per dollar bet.

Is this too high an edge? Think of its overall impact. You might get 500 rounds in a typical minibaccarat session. At $10 per hand on Banker with no side bet, chances are two out of three that your fortune won't drop below $275 or rise above $175. Make the dollar side bet on every round and the expected 11 wins and 489 losses cost you $489 - $440 or $49. This shifts the bankroll fluctuation to the range from $324 down to $126 up. Only two extra wins in those 500 rounds (which, of course, is why you keep a rabbit's foot in your fanny pack), and the tide turns.

As usual, the side bet is highly subjective. Only you can decide whether to toss a buck at a small chance to make $40. Bringing to mind these memorable musings of the immortal Sumner A Ingmark:

Statistics can leave you perplexed.
What math reliably projects,
Does not tell what will happen next.

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.