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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Understanding the Ups and Downs of Baccarat

7 October 2003

Baccarat is a good fit for folks who enjoy the agony and ecstasy of gambling as well as the resplendence of the milieu, and don't come to the casino primarily or exclusively to parlay small stakes into big bucks. The latter, because the game does not have a payoff schedule with high retuns for low-probability results. To win a lot, a person must bet a lot. Likewise for losing.

In baccarat, bettors can put their money on Player hoping to win 1-to-1, or Banker to get 1-to-1 minus that annoying 5 percent commission. There's also an 8-to-1 payoff wager on Tie. But Tie gives the house an exorbitant edge and 8-to-1 isn't exactly a ticket to Easy Street; sophisticated gamblers accordingly tend to avoid it altogether, or at most to bet it on the side at a lower level than they're risking simultaneously on Player or Banker.

Most casinos spread baccarat in standard as well as mini versions. The standard game generally has higher minimum bets, uses a larger table with more dealers, lets bettors handle the cards, and proceeds at half the pace or less. But the structure is the same in either case. On a round-by-round basis, chances of winning or losing, and of getting ahead or behind by varying degrees, are therefore mathematically identical.

One factor that may help you decide whether to try baccarat involves the bankroll swings you can expect to undergo during a normal session. Use minibaccarat for estimation purposes. Betting on every round, you'll get about 250 coups in a two-hour sitting.

Say you bet the same amount on every round, keeping to Player or Banker. Further, assume you stick it out for two hours despite your bankroll fluctuations during that period. On the upside, your chances exceed 20 percent of finishing with a profit over 10 times your bet, and 7 percent of ending above 20 units. On the downside, the probabilities are about 32 percent of losing 10 units or more, and 15 percent of falling below 20 times your bet. At $25 a shot, you're talking $250 and $500. Projections are slightly more optimistic if you bet only on Banker and conversely on Player. But for two hours of action, Player-Banker differences aren't enough to argue, let alone justify fist fights in the aisles with nit-pickers who can cite the sixth decimal place.

A common mistake made in predicting bankroll swings is to consider only where fortunes are apt to be after a session of some stated duration. The reality is that most solid citizens have loss limits and quit when they scrape the bottom of either their fiscal or emotional barrels. Flat betting on Banker or Player, the chance is about 60 percent of hitting a 10-unit pain barrier before completing 250 rounds, and 28 percent of dropping into a chasm 20 units deep prior to finishing this much play.

Swings get wilder for the same overall exposure when bettors vary their wagers. Say that you press on a win, hoping to catch a run, up to a maximum of four times. For instance, you might start at $10 and go to $25 then $50 and hold at $100 as long as your rabbit's foot does its duty; you return to $10 whenever you lose. The average bet with this progression would be a bit over $25.

Compared with flat $25 bets, chances of finishing after two hours above $250 and $500 using the progression increase from 20 to 28 and 7 to 15 percent, respectively. Negative swings are also more radical, with the probabilities of completing two-hour sessions worse than $250 and $500 in the hole rising from 32 to 38 and 15 to 23 percent, respectively. The likelihood of busting at $250 and $500 before completing 250 hands with the hypothetical progression as opposed to the $25 equivalent average flat bet goes up, too -- from 60 to 70 and 28 to 40 percent, respectively.

In addition to offering an opportunity for a long session at an elegant casino classic on a modest bankroll, with a good shot at a small profit and bets anyone can learn to make in a shake, baccarat has another big plus. Snob appeal. You'll impress your friends by telling them it's your game. To get the full effect, though, be sure to drop the final "t" when you pronounce it. For, as Sumner A Ingmark reminded readers of his remarkable rhymes:

To raise yourself above the rabble,
Enunciate with proper babble

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.