Baccarat is a casino table game favorite amongst savvy bettors in Las Vegas and beyond, looking for a game that presents a decent chance of winning.
For many, their first encounter with Baccarat was through iconic films like James Bond’s Casino Royale. This has contributed to the game’s mystique and popularity, attracting players who want to experience the sophistication and excitement depicted in the movies.
Playing baccarat at the casino is a great way to get started with table games. With a house edge of just 1.06%, it boasts some of the best probabilities for players looking to intelligently wager their hard-earned dough. If you’re a numbers person, you’d be interested to know that it’s second only to Blackjack in terms of gambler’s odds.
Still, even with Baccarat’s relative likelihood to pay out, backing the right-hand coup after coup isn’t a given, even if you’ve got the best poker face in the casino. If you thought coups only happened during unstable dictatorships, don’t fret. The Baccarat strategy follows a set of straightforward rules you can learn and master how to play Baccarat and win. Ready to learn how to play this casino card game?
Baccarat Basics: Guidelines for the Game
While numerous variations to the traditional casino game of Baccarat exist, including Baccarat Banque, Mini Baccarat and Midi Baccarat, and Punto Banco is by far the most popular. It’s what you’re most likely to encounter on a casino floor (often referred to as Baccarat in most casinos) and the best one to prepare for before you trade your cash for chips.
When you approach a Baccarat table at full capacity, you’ll be greeted by 7 to 14 seated players and the dealer. There may be even more crowding around, placing bets behind seated players. That’s fully acceptable and relatively common, even if it makes things a little chaotic.
But don’t let all this action distract your focus. You will only have to worry about 2 pawns at the table: the player and the banker.
Baccarat is more of a game of observation than direct action. The dealer will play the role of both banker and player, dishing out cards in a predetermined pattern called a tableau.
The player and the banker go head-to-head in a round (called a coup) and the bettors place wagers on the results. You can bet on the banker hand (which the house will take a 5% commission from), the player hand, or a tie.
But what are you betting on? What are the cards worth, and what happens during a coup?
Card Values and Winning Hands
The winner of a Baccarat coup is the hand with the highest score. The way those scores are calculated goes beyond straightforward addition, however, and not every card is worth what its face shows.
The number of cards in a Baccarat game varies from casino to casino. Generally, most tables in Las Vegas shuffle 4 to 8 decks at a time.
Each hand in a coup receives 2 to 3 cards. To calculate a set’s total, you must first know each card’s specific value:
2 to 9
Cards in this range are valued at their number.
10, jack, queen, and king
Any 10s or face cards that come up add no value to a hand.
Aces are always low in a Baccarat game, meaning they’re only worth a single point.
If a joker comes up in traditional Baccarat, the dealer forgot to remove it from the shoe before play began
How to Play Baccarat and Win
An Example Coup
The banker is dealt a 2 and a 4. The sum is 6, so that’s their score. In the same coup, the player is handed a 7 and an 8, which adds to 15.
The player wins, right? Wrong.
In Baccarat, a hand’s score is determined solely by the final digit of its sum. In this case, the player’s score is 5 because 15 ends in 5. And 6 is greater than 5—so you better hope you banked on the banker bet.
Ignoring the first digit means the highest possible score in Baccarat is 9, so that’s what the player and the banker both aim for when playing their hands.
But if the dealer is just laying out cards, who is deciding when to hit or stay in this race to 9? That goes back to the mention of tableau from before, which sets the rhythm of a live Baccarat bout by determining who gets cards and when.
How to Play a Baccarat Coup
Once all the bets are on the Baccarat table, and the coup has begun, the dealer serves up cards according to preset Bacarrat rules:
The dealer sends one card to the discard pile face up so that everyone knows what won’t be showing up later.
The dealer deals a pair of face-up cards for the banker hand and the player hand. If either hand results in a score of 8 or 9, it’s declared a natural winner and is paid out according to the posted bets. If neither hand clears 7, things get a little more interesting.
Consult the tableau
Once the initial deal is done, there’s a formula that dictates how the coup moves forward. The player’s hand goes first, taking a hit if their score is 5 or below and staying if they have a 6 or 7. If the player doesn’t take a card, the banker will follow the same formula and hit if they have less than 6. If the player takes a card after the initial deal, however, things get even more interesting.
The banker hand (possibly) hits
Whether or not the banker’s hand takes a hit is determined by its score (not the card total) and the last card drawn by the player. If the banker has a score of 2 or less, they automatically take a third card. The same goes if they have a 3, unless the player drew an 8 on their hit. With a 4, they get a card if the player drew 2 through 7. At 5, the banker draws if their opponent had 4 through 7, and at 6 it only gets a card if the player got a 6 or a 7. If the banker’s hand has 7, it stays.
Calculations and results
Once the tableau has been followed and the cards dealt, the scores are tallied and the winner is announced. The house gives and takes according to who bet on the winning hand. If it’s a tie, only bettors who put chips on the Tie Bet space will be paid.
If these rules sometimes feel a bit complex, just remember that the game is out of your control once the chips are down. The dealer will follow the formula for you.
And since you can’t do anything once a coup has begun, you need to have a solid strategy established before you post your bet.
How to Play Baccarat and Win
Bacca(Strat): The Key to Conquering More Coups
Baccarat’s streamlined gameplay means that you have relatively few decisions to make at a table. The only decisions you need to make are where to bet and how much—and even those decisions are simplified for you.
While tables vary in regards to a minimum and maximum wager, they’ll only have 3 spaces to bet on: the player, the banker, or a tie.
Breaking down the probability and payout of each position in Baccarat can steer you toward the smartest choice (or bring you a little peace of mind if you’re nervous about your first coup conquering):
The player has a 44.6% chance of winning on any given hand and pays 1-to-1.
The banker’s hand has slightly higher odds at 45.8% but pays out a little less. 19-to-20 are your earnings once the house slices, its 5% commission off the top.
Ties are the least likely result, with 9.6% odds of being drawn. The baccarat payout is greater for such a risky gamble. Most casinos give 8-to-1 returns on winning them.
For savvy bettors, the heavy payout doesn’t compensate for the reduced odds of drawing equivalent hands, and thus they are wary of betting on a tie. If one were to simplify the choices further and remove the possibility of ties, the banker would still have the slightest edge at 51%.
In assessing these options, the banker is a more hopeful choice for your chips. This is why the house compensates for their potential losses by skimming 5% off the winnings that pass through the position. This small retention makes the earning potential for both the player and the banker relatively even.
Still, if your objective is to win as many coups as possible, the banker is most likely to draw a winning hand. The higher probability means more total victories in the long run and makes for a safer bet.
So don’t play with the player. Bank on the banker—and remember that ties are, in this game, usually for losers.
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