But what about counting cards in baccarat?
Gamblers who are experienced with baccarat and blackjack sometimes wonder if the latter can be beaten through card counting. Reasons why include that baccarat is dealt from a shoe, and players can track card values as the shoe is dealt.
Baccarat maintains some similarities to blackjack in terms of card counting. The real question, though, is whether you can profitably use this advantage technique in baccarat.
I’m going to look at both sides of the subject, including why card counting is and isn’t worthwhile. But first, I’ll discuss the process of counting cards in baccarat.
How Does Baccarat Card Counting Work?
As you may know, baccarat features three bets, including the banker hand, player hand, and both hands tying.
The banker wager is the best for basic strategy purposes. Despite the house taking a 5% commission from winning banker bets, this wager only has a 1.06% house edge.
A player bet features a 1.24% house advantage, which makes it a worthy proposition if you ever get tired of the banker hand.
The tie bet carries a 14.36% house edge when 8:1 payouts are offered. This edge drops down to 4.85% if you receive 9:1 payouts for successful wagers.
You can see that the banker and player hands are the only reasonable bets when using basic strategy.
The same holds true for counting cards in baccarat. Your main objective when doing so is to figure out whether the banker or player hand has a better chance of winning.
Before you begin counting cards, you need to find a table with a new 6 or 8-deck shoe. Starting with a fresh shoe allows you to track cards from the beginning and make better informed wagers on the banker or player.
Here’s how the baccarat counting process works:
- Add 1 (+1) to your count when an ace, 2, or 3 are dealt.
- Add 2 (+2) to your count when a 4 is dealt.
- Subtract 1 (-1) when a 5, 7, or 8 are dealt.
- Subtract 2 (-2) when a 6 is dealt.
- 10-value cards (10, J, Q, K) are neutral.
You should bet on the player hand when the count is +16 or higher. You should wager on the banker hand when the count is +15 or lower.
Note that making wagers at these specific points doesn’t mean that you’ll beat the house edge (explained later). Instead, it only increases your odds of winning when compared tousing normal strategy.
Why Counting Cards in Baccarat Is Totally Worthless
Earlier I discussed reasons why blackjack and baccarat card counting are similar. But the key difference is that aces and 10-value cards boost a blackjack player’s chances of winning.
When the deck is rich in these cards, players gain the following advantages:
- Better chance of forming a natural blackjack (21 on first two cards).
- More valuable double down opportunities.
- The dealer has a better chance of busting out when hitting towards a customary hard 17.
Blackjack players want more low value cards to exit the shoe, and more high value cards to remain in the shoe. Subsequently, the Hi-Lo blackjack system involves assigning +1 when 2-6 are dealt; 0 (neutral) when 7-9 are dealt; and -1 when 10-A are dealt.
Blackjack card counters have a clear-cut template on what cards do and don’t help their cause. Baccarat players, on the other hand, have a more difficult task in this regard.
A baccarat natural is a 9 being dealt on the first two cards. But unlike blackjack, baccarat naturals don’t offer a bonus payout for this hand.
Therefore, the reward for knowing when there are higher chances of a baccarat natural being dealt is diminished considerably.
Based on baccarat card counting methods, we know that 2-4 help the player score, while 5-9 help the banker score. But the advantage in knowing this information is so small that few gamblers will find it worthwhile.
Famed advantage gambler James Grosjean once explained that baccarat cards are too symmetric and don’t offer enough of an advantage one way or another.
Gambling author Peter Griffin once wrote that good baccarat countersonly make around $0.70 every hour. Plus, these gamblers must bet $1,000 per hand when the count is at the perfect point.
Considering the massive bets involved and how much work goes into baccarat counting, it’s easy to see why this is such a terrible advantage play method.
Advantages to Baccarat Card Counting
The idea of counting cards in baccarat seems ridiculous when considering that it results in so little money. I completely understand if you want to forgo this section and give up on the matter.
It’s true that baccarat card counters don’t earn nearly as much as blackjack pros. But there’s at least a little value to be gained when you keep an accurate baccarat count.
Earlier I mentioned how a +16 count or higher calls for making the player bet, while a +15 count or lower calls for the banker wager. But this only reveals when your chances of winning with one option or the other increase.
To truly gain the edge over casinos, you actually need a count of +235 for the player hand, and a count of -200 for the banker. The perfect scenario also involves only betting when you have the edge, while avoiding wagers when you don’t have an advantage.
The following shows your average profit when waiting for the perfect situations:
- $0.76 per hour (100 hands) when betting $1,000 per hand on the banker.
- $0.95 per hour (100 hands) when betting $1,000 per hand on the player.
Obviously this isn’t a great profit rate. But the alternative is that you theoretically lose money in these same situations without counting.
You’d lose $1,060 when risking $1,000 on the banker for 100 hands.You’d lose $1,240 when betting $1,000 on the player for 100 hands.
By keeping an accurate count and only wagering when you have the perfect player (+235) or banker (-200) advantage, you save well over $1k per hour.
Should You Count Cards in Baccarat?
Whether or not you should count cards in baccarat is a subjective matter. One player may think that it’s a fun opportunity to make a few dollars on a game they love, while others will see it as a complete waste of time.
I’m personally in the latter category, because I can’t understand focusing so intently on counting cards when the reward is so small. Furthermore, I don’t like waiting hundreds of hands before I can finally bet on a favorable opportunity.
Odds are that the casino will only let you do this for so long before they say something about it. After all, casinos don’t want you lurking around the baccarat tables for hours when you’re only going to make a few bets.
It’s not that gambling establishments actually care about the $0.70 that you can win off them every hour. Instead, it just creates an awkward environment when you’re observing a baccarat game for this long and offering no value to the casino.
I won’t fault you for trying baccarat card counting, though, if you think that it could be a fun experience.
Counting cards in baccarat doesn’t have to be as weird as standing off to the side for hundreds of hands before taking a seat. Instead, you can merely count just to increase your chances of winning.
It’s not difficult to maintain your counting until deciding whether the banker or player is offering slightly more value. You only need +16 or higher to determine a good player bet, or +15 or lower to determine a solid banker wager.
Again, counting to these points won’t help you overcome the house edge. But at least you can trim the house advantage and improve your odds.
To summarize, I don’t recommend the hardcore card counting approach of sitting out hands until you reach +235 for the player and -200 for the banker.But casually counting until you reach +16 for the player,or less than +16 for the banker isn’t so bad.
Edge Sorting and Cheating Are the Main Ways to Beat Baccarat
Card counting isn’t a viable way to become a professional baccarat player. But there are ways to beat this game that can make you a fair amount of money.
The most-obvious way to beat baccarat is by cheating. Baccarat cheating methods include marking cards, past posting, and false shuffling.
Marking cards is a simple cheating technique where you mark specific card values with ink so that you can later recognize them.
Most players use an invisible ink that only be seen with infrared contact lenses. Keep in mind, though, that casinos have caught on to this method and now use special machines to check for invisible ink.
Past posting is another simple technique, whereby you add chips to a winning wager after the outcome is determined. If you bet on the banker and this hand wins, you can quickly add more chips when the dealer isn’t looking.
The difficulty in past posting with baccarat, though, is that you must be extremely good at sleight of hand so that the dealer doesn’t notice.
False shuffling is a more complicated cheating method that requires a dealer and players to work together. The dealer performs a false shuffle, whereby they leave a certain group of cards (a.k.a. slug) in the same order that they were dealt in the previous round.
The players, meanwhile, track card values throughout each round on a piece of paper. Casinos allow this because some players like tracking cards in order to bet on trends.
But those involved in a false shuffling plot are merely doing so for the sake of tracking any potential slug. Dealers normally leave the slug towards the beginning of the shoe, so that the players have a better idea on when to expect unshuffled cards.
False shuffling can be extremely lucrative. A group called the Tran Organization made an estimated $7million with this cheating technique.
But they were also caught after trying to bribe an undercover agent. 47people were indicted, with some spending several years in prison after being convicted.
Considering the legal implications of being caught in any casino cheating plot, I don’t recommend that you use any of these methods to beat baccarat.
Edge sorting is the only quasi-legal technique to beat the game. This strategy involves identifying a deck with defective card backs and using this info to guess card values before they’re revealed.
Here’s an example on how you could pull off edge sorting:
- Gemaco manufactures a purple deck with inconsistent patterns on card backs.
- You study the card backs to find what values the inconsistencies reveal.
- You look for a casino baccarat game that uses the same purple Gemaco deck.
The main problem with baccarat edge sorting is that it’s extremely hard to identify card back patterns from any sort of distance. You need extremely good eyesight just to have a chance of identifying irregularities on defective card backs.
Professional gamblers Phil Ivey and “Kelly” Sun won over a combined $20 million through edge sorting. But they needed to use other sketchy methods to successfully pull off their plot.
The duo requested a mandarin-speaking dealer, allowing Sun to speak to them without the other casino staff understanding what was being said.
Sun used this advantage to tell the dealer to rotate cards 180 degrees, because Ivey is a superstitious player. But the real reason for this request is that it makes spotting defective card backs easier.
Neither Atlantic City’s Borgata casino nor London’s Crockfords casino caught onto what Ivey and Sun were doing until it was too late.
The Borgata lost $9.6 million to the pair, while Crockfords lost over $11 million. However, both gambling establishments fought Ivey and Sun in court and won.
Judges in both cases noted that they didn’t think Ivey and Sun did anything illegal to win. But their plot was deceptive enough to where the judges didn’t think they used fair advantage play methods to win.
I think that had the duo would’ve kept their money in both instances had they won entirely through edge sorting. But requesting the Mandarin-speaking dealer and cards being rotated 180 degrees are what lost both cases for Ivey and Sun.
Is it worth the effort to count cards as a baccarat player?
My final thoughts are that it’s okay to casually count cards and boost your odds. But don’t waste your time trying to earn profits with this advantage play method.
Given that you can’t even make a dollar per hour under perfect circumstances, it’s just not worth spending the time on baccarat card counting.
The truth is that there’s no really good way to beat baccarat. Your choices include either cheating or using edge sorting.
The latter is legal in a sense, but edge sorting is so difficult to pull off that you may must use unsavory tactics to win. Considering that Ivey and Sun have already exhausted these questionable tactics, your chances of successfully using them are almost zero.
If you really want to become an advantage player, then you should choose a more worthwhile pursuit like blackjack card counting, hole carding, poker, or sports betting.
None of these games and advantage gambling techniques are easy. But at least you can be assured of profits if you master any of them.