Baccarat is a great game. It’s one of the easiest games to play in any casino. And the house edge is low enough to make it one of the most attractive games in the casino, too.
I’ve described baccarat as similar to betting on the flip of a coin, but I have friends who baccarat aficionados who took great offense to that description. But still, you have a game where the odds of winning are about as close to 50% as any game you’ll play in the casino.
The purpose of this post is to provide you with an introduction to the strategy behind playing baccarat and keeping the house edge as low as possible.
How Baccarat Is Played
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the game-play here. Other pages on this site offer complete details for how to play. Still, here’s a quick introduction.
Baccarat is a card game. It’s one of the only casino card games where the player gets to actually deal the cards.
It’s traditionally a high roller game in a specific area of the casino. Newer versions of the game, though, cater to low rollers like me. Game-play doesn’t change much based on the stakes you’re playing for, though.
Aces in baccarat are worth 1 point, the tens and face cares are worth 0 points, and the other cards are worth their ranking. (The 9 of spades is worth 9 points, for example.)
You can bet on any one of the following during a hand:
- The player
- The banker
- A tie
Baccarat is weird, too, because the dealer isn’t necessarily the banker, as you might expect.
There are only 2 hands dealt in a game of baccarat—a player hand and a dealer hand. This is weird, too, because in a game like blackjack, everyone gets to play a hand.
Each hand starts with 2 cards. The scores are calculated by adding the point values of both cards together, then looking at just the right digit. For example, if the actual total were 16, the score would count as a 6.
The game has elaborate rules for whether a 3rd card is dealt to each hand. I won’t go into the specifics here, but this is not a decision-making game like blackjack. The total determines whether the extra card gets dealt.
The winner is the higher score. The player can win, the banker can win, or the game can end in a tie.
If you bet on the player, you win even money. If you bet on the banker, you win 95 cents on the dollar.
The banker bet is one of the worst bets in the casino, with a house edge of 14.36%. (If you find a casino that pays out 9 to 1 on this bet, the house edge drops to 4.80%, but that’s still terrible compared to the 1.06% on the banker bet.)
The correct strategy in baccarat is simple:
Always bet on the banker.
What’s the House Edge in Baccarat and What Does It Mean to You?
All casino games are designed so that the house has an edge over the player. This mathematical edge is based on having lower payoffs than the odds of winning. Notice how the banker bet pays at 19 to 20 instead of at even money.
That’s where the house makes its money.
The house edge is represented as a percentage, and it’s the amount that the casino expects to win on your action based on the math behind the game. For example, if a game has a house edge of 14.36%, your average loss for every $100 you bet will average out to $14.36 over the long run.
Here’s the practical effect of the house edge, though:
You can use it to measure the long term cost of playing a game.
Let’s say you’re playing baccarat for $100 per hand. (I know, I know—if I could afford those kinds of bets, I wouldn’t be writing blog posts, either.)
At an average baccarat table, you’ll probably see 70 hands per hour. This means you’re gambling $7000 per hour (70 bets at $100 each). You’ll win some of them, and you’ll lose some of them.
If you’re betting on the banker every time, your expected loss for that hour of gambling is $74.20. That’s 1.06% X $7000.
On the other hand, if you’re betting on the player hand every time, your expected loss goes up to $86.80.
And if you’re betting on a tie every time, your expected loss skyrockets to $1005.20.
It’s easy to see which strategy is going to be easier on your pocket book in the long run.
It’s probably also obvious that if you play baccarat long enough, you’ll eventually lose all your money. Some hours you’ll be on a winning streak, but losing streaks will inevitably make up for that.
Tracking Previous Results and Using Betting Systems
Casinos love players who want to track trends. They provide note-cards and pencils at the baccarat tables so you can track the results of each hand.
Depending on your mindset, you might start betting on the player hand if the player hand seems to be winning more often than probability would suggest. Or you might start betting on the dealer hand, thinking that the results will “even out” soon.
Either strategy is an example of “The Gambler’s Fallacy,” which is the erroneous belief that previous results somehow affect the probability of future events. The truth is that every hand of baccarat is an independent event.
The probabilities don’t change based on what happened previously. Trying to use these trends to predict what you’re going to do next is a fool’s errand.
With the Martingale System, you double the size of your bets after every loss. At a high roller game like baccarat, this can result in huge bets really fast.
Let’s say you’re playing for $100. You lose, and then you must bet $200. You lose again, and must next place a bet of $400. And… you lose again. Now you have to bet $800.
And even if and when you eventually hit a win, your net profit is only a single unit–$100. You recoup all your previous losses and get up by one unit.
Of course, the problem with this system is twofold:
One, you’ll eventually need to place a bet that your bankroll can’t handle. If you only brought $2000 with you, it only takes 5 losses in a row before you can’t place your next bet.
Two, even high roller tables have minimum and maximum bet sizes. In this respect, baccarat is superior to other games, because the betting spread is usually larger than the spread at the roulette table, for example.
You can find casinos offering a $10 minimum bet with a maximum bet of $5000. This makes it harder to bump into that maximum bet.
Here’s how many bets you’d have to lose in a row to hit the table minimum:
The Martingale System does increase your probability of having a winning session, but it also ensures that most of those winning sessions are made up of smaller wins.
But you’ll also have the occasional big losing session. During that session, you’ll lose a massive amount of money, wiping out your wings from your previous sessions and then some.
Still, The Martingale System can be a fun way to play. You just need to go into it with the understanding that it can’t make you a long-term winner.
Do You Need a Different Strategy for Mini-Baccarat or Punto Banco?
Mini-Baccarat uses the same rules as baccarat, but the setting and limits are different. You play at a smaller table with fewer players. The betting limits are lower. And the players don’t handle the cards.
You’d use the same strategy for Mini-Baccarat:
Always bet on the banker.
Punto Banco is just another name for baccarat. So you wouldn’t need a new strategy here, either.
Can You Count Cards in Baccarat?
Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a big fan of counting cards in blackjack.
But can you get an edge in baccarat by counting cards?
The answer is short and to the point:
Baccarat is dealt from a shoe with 8 decks of cards in it. The effect of each card being dealt is minimal compared to the effect of a card in a blackjack game.
This means that even if you could count cards perfectly in baccarat, it wouldn’t have much of an effect on the house edge. You might be able to get an edge of 0.5%.
But the other problem is that you’d only see situations where the count made a difference on rare occasions. Most of the time, you wouldn’t get to raise your bets.
Even an expert at counting cards at baccarat wouldn’t be able to make $1 per hour making huge bets and having a huge betting spread.
Baccarat is a great game with a simple strategy. But it’s not a game that can be beaten—not even by advantage players or card counters.
This introduction to baccarat strategy really contains the entirety of baccarat strategy within it. The fact is that the best strategy for playing baccarat is to just relax and bet on the banker every time.
If you enjoy the socialization aspect of playing cards in a casino but don’t enjoy the demands of learning basic strategy in blackjack, baccarat might be the game for you.
Don’t be intimidated by the high stakes baccarat area and players, though. Just look for a mini-baccarat table. They’re becoming more common all the time.