Baccarat, baby!

Mar 30, 2010 7:09 AM

  (This is the second in a series of articles on how to play and win at baccarat.)

Last week we described how baccarat is played in the casino. It’s really very simple; the game lacks the myriad of bets that other casino games offer, such as craps and roulette.

The beauty of baccarat is that there are only two basic bets to worry about – the "bank" and "player"– plus a "tie" bet, which we will explore in-depth next week.

Because the game is so simple, there’s no complex strategy to memorize, and the casino’s edge is fixed at about 1.5 percent, so you can’t make a silly mistake and increase it any more.

There are two types of baccarat offered in casinos. One is played on a large oval table, usually set apart from the main casino (known as the baccarat pit). Players take turns dealing the cards, so the game moves pretty slowly.

The other version is known as mini baccarat, and it is located on the main casino floor, usually next to the blackjack tables. The table is the size of a blackjack table. One dealer runs the game and also deals all the cards. The stakes for mini baccarat are usually lower than the regular game, and it moves more quickly. This is where you want to get your feet wet if you’re a newcomer.

To play mini baccarat, simply take a seat, and in front of you on the layout will be two betting spots for making your bet prior to the dealing of the cards. One spot is known as betting on the bank hand; the other, the player hand.

Just place your chip on either the bank or player hand spot. (The tie bet will be discussed next week and, contrary to some players, it is a viable bet that can pay large dividends.)

That is all there is to know to play baccarat. The rest is done automatically by the dealer. The dealer will deal two cards face up to each hand, then announce the total of the two hands. One or both hands may draw a third card.

Not to worry though, because the dealer will determine which hand requires a third-card draw. Tens and picture cards count zero in baccarat. All other cards count face value. A hand cannot exceed a total of nine. If it does, subtract 10 from the total to get the adjusted total (for example, a seven and eight is a five rather than 15).

Whichever hand totals higher than the other is the winner. If you bet on the winning hand, you will be paid even money. Wins on the bank hand must pay a 5 percent commission, which the dealer will keep track of with markers. You are expected to pay your markers when you are finished playing or at the end of a shoe. The third-card draw rules are different for the bank vs. the player hand, which is why the bank hand (which has a slight edge) must pay the 5 percent commission.

Baccarat can sometimes be a streaky game with several consecutive wins for bank hand and sometimes the same for the player hand.

So we will start with a simple betting strategy to capitalize on those streaks. Just always bet on the hand that won last. If bank just won, bet bank the next hand. If it was the player hand, then bet it. This way, you will always be betting on the hand that is streaking.

When you win consecutive hands, increase your bet gradually. As soon as you lose, bet the minimum again and wait for the start of the next streak to start.

This notion of increasing your bet, that is, progressive betting, can be scary at first. But players who are successful are good at exploiting the frequent opportunities that arise during a streak, whether it’s the player, the bank or the tie.

And there will be favorable opportunities to catch a streak. And to capitalize, you need to be aggressive in your betting. If you’re not willing to take the risk of making higher wagers, then your wins will be at a minimum.

Remember, aggressive and bold betting is not stupid unless it is done chasing losses. In the game of baccarat, one must always be aggressive when there is a favorable opportunity.