Baccarat is a casino card game which has multiple variations. It’s traditionally considered a high roller game, and it’s also a little old-fashioned. It offers gamblers no chance to affect the odds via decision-making, but it might be a reasonably fun guessing game for a certain type of person. This page provides an introduction to the history of the game, some advice for learning how to play, and some thoughts on winning strategies.
The History of Baccarat
The name of the game means “zero” in both Italian and French. I’ve seen sources that claim that version of baccarat date back to the late 15th century, making it one of the oldest games played in modern casinos.
Baccarat didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1950s, and some might argue that it’s not especially popular there now. For years, baccarat was presented as the game of choice for James Bond, but eventually it became so old-fashioned that they updated Bond to a poker player. (See the movie Casino Royale, where Bond plays Texas hold’em for the first time onscreen—in most of his previous appearances, he played baccarat.)
How to Play Baccarat
In some respects, baccarat is similar to blackjack. Both games feature playing cards, and both games have the player comparing her hand with the dealer’s to see who wins. That’s where the similarities end, though.
Numbered cards are scored according to their face value. Face cards are worth 0, and aces are worth 1. These points are totaled, and the value of the right digit in the total is the determining factor for winning. So the final score on any baccarat hand is a total of 0 through 9.
The casinos have elaborate rules and procedures for how the hands are played. If the player or banker has a total of 8 or 9, then the hand is considered a natural. If the player has a total of 5 or less, the player has to hit—otherwise the player has to stand. If the player stands, the banker must hit a total of 5 or less, but if the player hits, the banker has to consult a chart to determine whether or not to hit.
The winner is the person with the higher score. Winning bets pay off at even odds, UNLESS the player is betting on the banker to win. In that case, the casino takes a 5% commission.
How to Win at Baccarat
The player doesn’t get to make any decisions besides how much to bet on each hand, and on what, so there’s not much strategy to baccarat. In fact, the only strategy worth mentioning is to take the one bet at the table with the lowest house edge.
A bet on the banker in baccarat has a house edge of 1.06%. A bet on the player has a 1.24% edge.
Players can also bet on a tie, but that’s such an outlandishly bad bet that I’d be surprised if anyone exercises the option. The house edge on that bet is 14.36%.
Some people might try to use a Martingale System strategy on baccarat, but that strategy doesn’t work for baccarat any more than it does for roulette or any other game.
The Martingale Strategy requires a player to double her bet after every loss. When she eventually wins, she’ll recoup all of her losses plus a single betting unit.
The problem with this strategy is that it would only work if the player had an infinitely large bankroll and no betting limits.
The fallacy behind the Martingale Strategy is that it assumes that long losing streaks are much rarer than they actually are. The Martingale is particularly ill-suited for baccarat because the game is traditionally played at fairly high limits to begin with. Doubling a $100 bet three or four times in a row results in some very high wagers indeed.
Look at what $100 turns into when double eight times in a row. $100, $200, $400, $800, $1600, $3200, $6400, and $12,800. Just to place all those wagers would cost a player over $25,000. And if, after that losing streak, the player won…well, she’d only be up by $100. I don’t know anyone who thinks that risking almost $13,000 to net a win of $100 is a good strategy.
Besides that, few casinos will allow bets beyond a certain limit. I don’t know of any online casino which would accept that kind of action, but even a high roller who found a brick and mortar casino who did accept that kind of action wouldn’t be able to change the immutable negative odds.
Baccarat might be a fun little guessing game, but it’s got about as much strategy as flipping a coin. Only when you’re flipping a coin, you’ve got even odds—in baccarat, the house has an edge. Play it for fun if you want to, and don’t be afraid to walk away a winner, but forget about finding a way to gain an edge over the casino with this game. It’s not going to happen.