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The casino floor is the epitome of the expression “to each his own.”

When guys try to invent games, many think they can get the casinos to remove all the other games and place just theirs. This shouldn’t even remotely be the goal, because it isn’t going to happen.

You could give a game away for free and it still won’t happen. I’ve never taken to Pai Gow Poker or to Baccarat. I’ve played the former perhaps twice (for a total of 20 hands?) and the latter not at all. I find the games very slow, and well, boring. To me, they are the casino equivalent of watching paint dry. But, these games are very popular overall. People play hundreds of dollars on a single hand.

The game of baccarat has always been shrouded in a type of mystery. I’ve always attributed this to James Bond movies. How many times did he wind up in Monte Carlo playing baccarat for thousands of dollars (or pounds or whatever). That amazing MI-6 mind of his seemed to always make the right decision.

Of course, that’s the ultimate irony. The only decision in baccarat is whether to bet on the Banker or Player hand. There is no draw decision made by the player and there is at most three cards per hand.

The basic play of baccarat is that each of the two hands are dealt two cards each; 10’s and Faces count as 0. The hand total is the single digit of the hand total, so a 7 and a 5 are added to make 12 and only the 2 counts. The hand with the highest point total wins.

If one of the two-card hands is an 8 or a 9, the hand ends. If both hands are 7 or less, then a table is used to determine which hand hits. The player’s hand decides first and then the Banker hand will decide based on the total of the Banker hand, whether or not the player hand took a card and the value of that hit card. Game over. Highest point total wins.

One of the most intriguing parts of baccarat is the shoe is dealt right down to the nub (the last few cards). In blackjack, this would scare the daylights out of the casino. But not in baccarat. Aren’t they worried about counting? Quite the opposite. They give players little pads to help them keep track of which cards have been dealt.

They basically dare the player to count. Unlike blackjack, the value of each card is not as heavily skewed to the player or dealer. In blackjack, we know that 10’s and Faces are bad for the dealer and little cards are good for the dealer. In baccarat, what is good for one is nearly as good for the other. While there is some difference, there simply is not enough for the player to take advantage of.

We may know the deck is full of 0’s, and that there is a strong likelihood the first four cards will all be 0’s. The problem from there is the player and the dealer now have equal probability of winning. The probability of a tie in this case will go up and you could reduce the house edge there. But, with a 10%-plus house edge on the tie wager, you’re not going to overcome this with some counting.

A few months ago, I described the process by which blackjack counting methods are developed. Similar methods have been used for baccarat and they have determined that counting baccarat is nearly impossible. I say nearly because each card does have a value in a counting scheme.

It is just a relatively tiny value compared to blackjack. As a result, the frequency by which the count gets to a point where the payback of baccarat goes to over 100% is very rare. And even when it does, the expected win is simply not worth it.

In other words, there’s a reason why we haven’t seen a movie about a bunch of guys from M.I.T. who beat the casino at baccarat. Who knows, maybe the guys from Harvard will do it instead.


About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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