A Guide to the Game of Baccarat
When you visit a casino and see the roulette wheel, the poker table and slots machines, you may not think of playing baccarat right away.
As casino games go, it's one of the lesser-known entities – a game that few infrequent casino visitors have heard of, and even fewer know how to pronounce it correctly (the 't' is silent, as in 'baccara'). It's a game that lives in the shadows of other famous card games like poker and blackjack.
Yet despite this, baccarat can be fun to play. Its rules are relatively simple, you can play with your friends, and it has a couple of twists and turns that you might not expect.
If you've seen baccarat games online or in person, then you may want to know more about it. This guide aims to do that, by providing a detailed look at the game and what makes it popular among some casino players. You'll read about the history of the game, the various types of baccarat you might see, and what you should look out for while playing.
Once done, you'll know enough to give the game a try for yourself, which you can do by playing baccarat for free online if you don't want to bet money.
Read on to find out more about the game that attracted figures as diverse as Napoleon and James Bond.
What's the history behind baccarat?
If you're a fan of historical tales, then baccarat has a dramatic tradition wrapped up in its history. According to legend, young maidens in Ancient Rome had to throw nine-sided dice to decide their fate: if they cast an 8 or 9, they would become a priestess, a 6 or 7 then they kept their lives, but lower than a 6 and they would be drowned at sea.
Thankfully, today's game isn't quite as dramatic – drowning customers doesn't make good PR for casinos – although the legend does make sense in terms of the game's rules, where a player normally loses the game, but not their life, if they roll less than a 6.
A 15th century Italian called Felix Falguiere is said to have built upon these simple rules, combining it with elements of other games like Macao and Le Her. He's probably the person who christened it Baccara, with it being an old Italian word for zero: most of the cards in the game are worth nothing.
As the game spread to France via soldiers returning from conflict in Italy, the game tagged the letter 't' onto the end, which has since been adopted universally. It became a pastime for the French nobility, particularly in the 18th century when Napoleon himself probably played it. They even developed their own version called Baccarat Banque, a variant that is still around today.
1907 was a big year for baccarat. It was when France legalized casino gambling, paving the way for the widespread play of baccarat among the general public. Frequent playing led to offshoots of the game, such as Chemin de Fer and Punto Banco, both of which we'll come to later.
Baccarat's popularity continued through the 20th century, and the game was immortalized in a series of James Bond movies – with it being a favorite of 007 himself. While it doesn't enjoy the same popularity as roulette and blackjack, you'll find a baccarat table in most present-day casinos, including online versions – so, if you'd like to know how to play, read on for information on how to get started.
What are the rules in baccarat?
Whichever version of baccarat you choose to play on, they all have a series of fundamental rules in common.
First of all, it's important to understand the main objective, which is: to predict whose hand will get a total closest to 9 – the player's or the banker's – or whether it will be a tie.
Important note: Players bet on this outcome before the cards are dealt, making baccarat a pure game of chance.
Once the bets are made, the designated player and the banker receive their hands, consisting of two cards each. To calculate the hand total, the game uses the following system:
|The 'face' cards (i.e., King, Queen and Jack) and 10s||0|
|All remaining cards||Their face value|
If the two cards score higher than a 9, then 10 is deducted from the total to make a new score.
The winner is then who is closer to a total of 9 – the player or the banker – or it might be a tie. Players around the table either win or lose, depending on which outcome they bet on.
Here are a few scenarios to illustrate:
- Player hand = 5 and Ace = total of 6
- Player hand = 2 and 3 = total of 5
- Player hand = 8 and 7 = total of 15 (minus 10) = total of 5
Banker = two 9s = total of 18 (minus 10) = total of 8
Banker wins – all players who backed the banker win, the rest lose.
Banker hand = King and Queen = total of 0
Player wins – all players who backed the player win, the rest lose.
Banker hand = 2 and 3 = total of 5
Tie – all players who backed the tie win, the rest lose.
The third card rule in baccarat
Some casinos have a rule where the banker deals a third card when neither total equals 8 or 9, although this varies depending on the casino. Either way, the maximum cards you'll ever receive is three. Casinos should offer a detailed description of the game rules, so that you know exactly why a third card is involved.
A quick overview of baccarat payouts
To talk generally of baccarat payouts is problematic as, like with some of the rules, they vary by casino.
However, a rule of thumb is that a winning player hand pays out to the tune of 1 to 1: that is, a $20 stake would give you $20 back in profit, making a total return of $40.
A winning banker hand pays out the same, but often minus a commission. So, a winning $20 stake subject to 5% commission would give you a $19 profit ($20 minus 5%), making a total return of $39.
The tie is significantly less likely than either of the above, and this is reflected in the payout. It's often put at odds of 8 to 1, so that a $20 stake would generate a $160 profit, making a total return of $180.
Are there different types of baccarat games?
Baccarat's long history has meant several variations have evolved, often relating to the country they are played in.
Chemin de Fer, for example, is typically played in France and harks back to the Napoleonic era. It differs from typical baccarat in that it gives the player more influence in the game – they can shuffle the card decks and draw the cards themselves, both normally part of the banker's duties, and, crucially, choose whether to accept a third card or not. This means it's possible to use a strategy, with a very limited efficiency, as there is still so much out of the player's hands.
A sister version to Chemin de Fer is Baccarat Banque, which differs in that players take turns being the banker, depending on who has the most money, giving them even more power.
Punto Banco, on the other hand, leaves everything up to chance and is closer to the rules outlined in the previous section. This is the North American version, probably devised sometime in the 19th century after the game was imported by French-speaking immigrants. Punto Banco is also the most common baccarat variant, and you'll likely see it in an online casino.
Note: The digital age has also led to different playing environments for baccarat. We all know about online baccarat, or course, where you can play from the comfort of your own home, but you can now also play the game on your mobile or tablet via mobile-friendly casinos – and even combine the live experience with the pleasure of lying on your sofa with live-dealer baccarat. Again, rules can vary between different online baccarat titles, so it's important to check these before you play.
Which baccarat strategies should I use?
Instead of talking about strategies we should use, maybe we must focus on ones we shouldn't use, or at least, only use them for fun and not as a way of making money.
The reason for this is that baccarat is classed as a game of chance, so any mathematical strategies are almost pointless. Every game depends on luck, and there's very little we can do to alter that.
You may see a 'tactic' that some players use of trying to look for patterns or trends while playing. These attempt to predict future outcomes by looking at previous results and consist of techniques with names that probably tell you how seriously we should take them: Bead Plate, Big Road, Big Eye Boy, Small Road, and Cockroach Pig.
As you probably know, making predictions based on past results in a game of chance is pointless and possibly dangerous. Every outcome is independent of past results and putting faith in patterns is an example of Gambler's Fallacy, a cognitive bias where we mistakenly believe that past influences current or future random events. While it might just be a bit of fun for some people, I strongly recommend you not to stake money on baccarat using trend analysis.
There is one approach to baccarat that could be classed as a sensible strategy: in fact, I recommend it for all types of gambling. Safe gambling principles are pieces of sensible advice that are designed to keep betting in its place as a form of entertainment and not as a way of making money. They also help to prevent the destructive habit of problem gambling.
Here are three examples:
- Only gamble with money you can afford to lose.
- Don't chase losses.
- Don't combine gambling with drugs or alcohol.
Following tips like this may seem like common sense to many people, but many gamblers don't follow them. They're also the best option for your bank balance – in that people typically don't lose as much when using them.
How does baccarat compare to other games?
Baccarat is a casino table game, so often appears in the same category as roulette, poker and blackjack, despite being completely different.
People often compare baccarat to blackjack because of its use of cards and a table, but blackjack is more a game of skill and has a basic strategy that might give you a better chance of winning.
It's not as popular as other casino games, rightly or wrongly, which has earned it the status of being a kind of 'niche' game, popular with certain people. However, it can be very entertaining to play, with the excitement of not knowing which cards are coming next and the thrill of taking on the banker. You don't have to play for money, either: there are many free baccarat games to try out online, and these are a great way of learning how to play the game without risking money.
Why should I play baccarat?
Card games have been around for a long time. The reason people came up with many of them was to have fun and to socialize with friends – and the same is true for baccarat. Rather than give it too much importance, we should see it as a nice way to pass time in good company – no one's going to end up like those Ancient Roman maidens, after all!
Baccarat is popular today because it is such a sociable game that brings several people together at once. If we keep this communal idea in mind, rather than aggressively pursuing prizes, then we'll probably have a pleasant baccarat experience to tell our friends about.