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Baccarat isn’t a game that many casual gamblers think of trying when they walk into a casino. That’s surprising when you consider that it’s definitely one of the easiest games in the casino, especially if you’re only taking about games where the odds are quite good for the player. You shouldn’t let the aura that surrounds baccarat fool you: far from a game that’s only for high rollers, anyone can win and play this popular game.
If you’ve never played before, you can learn how to play baccarat in a matter of minutes. And while your local casino might only offer the game with high minimum bets, you can play online baccarat at sites like Platinum Play for as little as a dollar.
Like blackjack, baccarat is played using a shoe that contains several standard decks of playing cards (usually six or eight). The object of the game is to guess which of two hands will win each game: the player hand or the banker hand. Despite the names, the dealer actually controls the play of both hands, so the players never handle the cards in baccarat (except in some VIP rooms, where the players will take turns dealing with help from casino staff).
At the start of each hand, the player may make one of three bets. They can, of course, bet on either the player or the banker hand to win. They may also bet on a tie outcome, which pays out at much higher odds.
Once players have made their bets, the dealer will deal two cards out to each hand. Scoring hands in baccarat is simple: aces are worth one, twos through nines are worth their printed numerical value, and tens and face cards are worth zero. To get the score of a hand, add up the value of all cards in that hand, but only take the final digit; that number is the score. For instance, a hand with a seven and an eight would total 15; the final digit in that total is five, so the hand is scored as a five. The lowest possible score is zero, and the highest possible score is a nine.
After each hand has been given two cards, the dealer considers giving a third card to each hand based on some simple rules. First, if either hand has a score of eight or higher, the hand ends immediately without referring to any of the other rules. This is true regardless of which hand has this total or if there’s a tie between the hands.
If neither hand is scored as an eight or nine, then the player hand is the first to act. If the player has a score of five or more, they will stand. Otherwise, the player will hit.
Next is the banker hand, which determines its strategy partially based on what the player hand did. If the player hand stands, then the banker will use the same rule as the player: hitting on four or less, while standing on five or more. If the player hits, however, the banker hand will choose to hit or stand based on a combination of the banker’s hand value and the value of the card the player received when they hit (a simulation of an older version of the game, in which the starting cards were face down, but the banker would see the card the player had taken). The banker rules in this situation are as follows:
Once the player and banker hands have been played, the scores of the two hands are compared. If the player hand wins, all bets on that hand win at even money, while all other bets lose. If the banker hand wins, all bets on that hand win at even money minus a five percent commission (i.e., a $100 bet pays out $95), while all other bets lose. Finally, if the two hands tie, the tie bet pays out at 8-1 (9-1 in some casinos). In the case of a tie, bets on the player and banker hands both push.
While you may see a lot of players at a baccarat table carefully tracking the numbers that are coming out on each hand, this is unnecessary: those players are simply being superstitious. A simple strategy you can use at the baccarat table is to bet on the banker every hand, but this can take away from the fun of betting on instinct.
While the banker bet offers players the best return, even after accounting for the 5% commission, winning around 45% of the time (with an eight-deck shoe), and holding a house edge of 1.06% (one of the better bets in the casino), the player wager holds a house edge of about 1.24% and is only minimally less likely to win.
While the 8-1 payout for the tie bet may seem enticing, the bet does hold a massive house edge of over 14%. A 9-1 payout on a tie reduces the house edge to 5%. This is an entertaining novelty bet, but should not be played consistently.