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Nothing closer to 50/50
than baccarat

Feb 17, 2004 1:01 AM

High rollers’ game of preference is the big-time betting game of baccarat, the highest limits in the casino. It takes big bucks to finance all the enticing amenities proffered.

There is nothing closer to a 50/50 game in the entire casino. It has the smallest house percentage, even less than craps. It is also the simplest, "no-brainer" game to play. The card drawing ritual to determine the winning side (bank or player) follows fixed rigid rules conducted by the house and the only player option is the size and placement of the wager.

With something almost as simple as a coin toss, it’s still surprising that the majority of casino patrons seem intimidated by the game. This may be due to a few factors: the opulence of the surroundings, the pseudo mystery of the card-dealing ritual, or the prevalence of large wagers. People like to play where they are comfortable and where they can avoid the possibility of embarrassment by their novice actions. That’s too bad, they are denying themselves a helluva good game.

Of all games, I believe the casino player stands the best chance of making a big score.

That’s because baccarat is the most streak-prone game of them all. That’s what attracts the deep-pocket, high roller whose only enemy is "hitting the limit." With very high limits going in, ol’ "money bags" can negotiate even higher limits as his action is sought after by the casinos.

The less-choppy game of baccarat can also be the small player’s mecca as well. The mini-tables (seven-stool blackjack-style without all the ritual folderol) with their low minimums can provide a less antagonizing game than most. Most of the mini-tables offer a $5 minimum wager which enables the "bank" winning wager to pay only a 25-cent commission (5 percent). A few offer $2 tables which is okay if you only play the "player" side but is a bad bet to the "bank" win, giving up a minimum 25 cents or 12½ percent commission.

The learning curve for baccarat is very short unless one wishes to monitor the rules of decisional play and verify the correct 5 percent commission box assessments. This is not necessary in the better casinos or when there are many players at the mini-tables. However, in some of the less professional environments, the dealers are either clever or amateurs as well and most often the "mistakes" are house favored. In a very short house game, these "mistakes" compound the player’s disadvantage.

The 5 percent "bank-win" aspect has been the "bane of the game." In order to speed up game play, the "bank" side is paid at 1 to 1 rather than the true 95 cents on the dollar. So, the 5 percent commission is accumulated in a special box on the table and the bettors are obligated to divvy up when they quit or the shoe is shuffled. This divvy-up is the primary source of misunderstanding, consternation, and even temper controversies. It’s what has limited the games popularity. Even with it, the "bank" wager is still a better low-vig proposition than the "player’s" side, yet few of the small bettors can visualize it as such.