Baccarat for common folks

Jan 18, 2005 6:14 AM

Baccarat is a game rooted in the continental elegance of Europe’s casinos but it is actually as simple as the American game of 52-pickup — there’s no thinking required.

A casino table game that dangles sizeable payoffs and good percentages to moderate-to-high stakes players, baccarat does not challenge the player with multiple options. There is one decision to make in each game and the outcome rests on a series of preset house rules.

The rules are fairly complex but those at the table don’t have to know or even understand them. If you can decide whether to bet on the banker or the player, you can play baccarat.

And the reason that baccarat has become the game of choice for high-stakes players is that it offers the best odds of winning, nearly even money, which is slightly better than blackjack and the pass line bet in craps.

The baccarat table is oval-shaped and most have spaces for 15 players. The dealer’s shoe, the card holder, is first passed to the player in seat number one who becomes the banker. Everyone places their bets on either the player or the banker. The player is the bettor who has wagered the most on his hand. The shoe is rotated counterclockwise, giving everyone a chance to act as banker.

Four cards are dealt, two each to the player and the banker. The numerical value of the cards is added with ace through nine carrying the face value of the card. The 10s and face cards have the value of zero.

The winner is the hand that has the highest total in the one’s column. For example, a five and a three add up to eight which would beat a king (value of zero) and a seven. The total of eight would also beat a nine and a six for the total of 15 has a five in the one’s column.

The highest possible hand is one which totals nine, such as a three and a six. This is called a natural and is an automatic winner.

In the absence of an automatic winner, the player and the banker must either draw cards or stand according to the rules. The player must draw a single card when his one’s column is an ace through five. He stands on a six or seven and also stands on an eight (also called a natural) and a nine.

The player draws before the banker and the question of whether the banker draws is partially contingent on what the player’s third card is.

The bank will always draw if his hand is zero, one, or two. He will stand if holding a seven, eight, or nine. For hands falling between two and seven, the rules that are posted at the table govern the draws and the rules say the banker is more likely to draw with a low total and less likely to draw if the player has a high total.

The involved draws create the illusion of a complex game, but with the lone decision — bet the banker or the player — it is a simple game wrapped in some complex procedures. Baccarat (the "t" is silent and is the French pronunciation of the Italian word for "zero") is a game with fairly high stakes as most tables have $20 minimums. Players usually play with $25 and $100 chips.

As befitting a game influenced by the casinos of Monte Carlo, dealers tend to work with a bit more of an aura of class and ceremony than at other table games.

While baccarat pits can be intimidating with the dealers dressed in tuxedoes and the tables roped off with velvet ropes, the mini baccarat table (much like a blackjack table) makes it easier to take a stab at baccarat.

However, while table minimums are higher, so are the chances of winning. The house winning percentages for baccarat are slightly better than those in craps, considerably better than roulette, and on a par with certain blackjack games. The house percentage is 1.36 on player bets and 1.17 on bank bets.

Because the banker bet percentage is so low, most casinos compensate by extracting a commission on every win which is payable when you leave the table.