Enter the Dragon

Oct 3, 2005 4:03 AM

Over the past decade, sidebets have been added to many casino table games as a means of bringing more money into the casino. Not only do these sidebets increase the amount of money the average player wagers per hour, but also they also frequently have paybacks far lower than the base game.

So, for example, while you can achieve a payback of 99% playing blackjack, you’ll find most sidebets for blackjack have a 95% or less payback.

The Dragon sidebet that accompanies mini-baccarat is an interesting paradox to this rule. This sidebet allows the player to bet on either the player’s hand or the dealer’s hand, just as in the regular baccarat game. The player is betting that his chosen hand will either win or tie with a natural (an initial deal of 8 or 9), or will win by more than four points.

For those not familiar with baccarat, here is a quick description. Each player can bet on the player hand or the dealer hand. These are the only two hands that are dealt.

The names are really a bit misleading because the player making the wager can bet on either hand. The dealer will deal two cards for each hand from an eight-deck shoe.

Tens and picture cards count as zero. All other cards count as their face value. A hand’s value is the total of the cards, but you only look at the right most digit. So, if dealt an 8 and a 7 for a total of 15, the hand’s value is 5.

If after the initial deal, either hand has a value of 8 or 9, it is deemed a natural, and no other cards are dealt and the hand ends there, with the higher ranking hand winning.

If the hands have the same value, it is a push. Players may also wager that the hand will end in a tie, but as you will soon see, this is pretty much a sucker bet.

If neither hand is a natural, and the player’s hand is a 5 or less, a third card is dealt to this hand. If no card is dealt to the player’s hand, then the dealer’s hand is dealt a third card if its total is 5 or less.

If the player’s hand is dealt a third card, then there is a set of rules that determine if the dealer’s hand is dealt a third card based on the value of the dealer hand and the value of the third card dealt to the player. Whichever hand has the highest value is the winning hand.

If the player wagered on the player’s hand, he is paid even money if the hand wins. If the player wagered on the dealer’s hand, he is paid 19 to 20 (i.e. a 5% commission) for all winning hands.

If the player wagered on a ”˜tie, he is paid 8-to-1. Running a computer simulation of more than 28 million hands, we find that the player’s hand will win about 44.64% of the time, while the dealer’s hand will win about 45.85% of the time. This discrepancy is the reason why the casino takes the 5% commission on wagers winning while betting on the dealer’s hand.

Ties will occur about 9.5% of the time, which equates to an 85.63% payback, which is why I referred to it as a sucker bet. Betting on the player’s hand will return 98.79%, while wagering on the dealer’s hand will return 98.92%, even after accounting for the commission.

So, the proper strategy would be to bet on the dealer’s hand, although it has only a small advantage over betting on the player’s hand. Both are very respectable paybacks for a table game.

Now, back to the Dragon Bonus sidebet. The paytable for the Dragon Bonus is given in the table attached

Based on the fact that the dealer’s hand wins more often, the first inclination would be that wagering the Dragon Bonus on the dealer’s hand would make the most sense.

However, based on the results of our simulation, we find that because of the rules of drawing cards, the dealer’s hand may win more often, but the player’s hand tends to win by a larger margin.

As a result, betting on the player’s hand has a payback of 97.35%, which is still considerably lower than the main baccarat game, but still reasonable. More importantly, the Dragon Bonus payback for the dealer’s hand is a paltry 90.67%, which is in the avoid-at-all-costs range.

When I first saw this payback, I figured that the rules of play would not allow the player to bet the dealer’s hand for the main baccarat game, while betting on the player’s hand for the Dragon bonus.

Figure again, dragon boy! After inquiring, I found out that this betting structure is actually allowed, which in fact becomes the way to maximize the payback from this game, if you’re inclined to play the sidebet.

You’d actually maximize your payback if you avoid the sidebet entirely, but then again, using that logic, you’d maximize your payback completely if you stayed home!

Since you’ve come to gamble, you want to make sure you play smartly. For this game, the expert play is to bet on the dealer’s hand for the main game and on the player’s hand for the Dragon Bonus.

Good luck in any case.