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Introduction to Baccarat

Baccarat is a casino card game that has been glamorized by James Bond movies. Casino Royale and Thunderball have significant casino scenes with baccarat being played. The version of Baccarat in these movies is Chemin de Fer, which is an elitist game requiring large bankrolls. The more common form of baccarat is called Punto Banco, which is the basis for online baccarat as well.

The defining feature of baccarat is that there is a designated Player and a designated Banker and the card game is played out between the two. The regular players wager on who will win, the Player or the Banker.

History of Baccarat

It is said that an Italian gambler named Felix created a game using Tarot cards that later evolved into modern day baccarat. This game was based on an ancient legend in which a Virgin rolled a nine sided dice and depending on the number displayed she drowned herself, lived a normal life or became a high priestess. Incidentally baccarat means zero in Italian. Perhaps it is the only card game named after the worst hand.

Baccarat came to France from Italy at the end of the fifteenth century. The Chemin de Fer variant of baccarat evolved in France and was popular among the nobility. It involved the players taking on the function of being the banker in turn and therefore necessitated that the participants have large bank rolls. Whenever gambling was made illegal in France Chemin de Fer went underground but always bounced back.

In the New World baccarat first came to Cuba. When Fidel Castro shut down the casinos in Cuba in the middle of the twentieth century, baccarat was brought to Las Vegas. This version of baccarat is called Punto Banco meaning Punter and Banker. In this game the casino retains the function of the banker and all players wager against the casino.

Rules for Baccarat

Card and hand valuation are the basis of baccarat. Cards from ace to nine are valued at face value and ten and the picture cards are valued at zero. The hands are valued by adding the value of the cards and then dropping the tens digit from the total. Hence the lowest hand value is 0 and the highest hand value is 9. The game is played out between the designated Player and Banker positions, with the one whose hand being closer to 9 winning. The players place bets on either the Player winning or the Banker winning and are paid if they guess right.

In Punto Banco the game is played out as follows. After the bets are placed two cards each are dealt to the Player and the Banker positions. The players in turn perform the functions of the dealer. These cards are turned face up. If the value of the Player’s hand is six or more then no additional card is given to the player. If the value of the Player’s hand is five or less then a third card is given to the player. Whether or not a third card is given to the dealer is determined by a complicated set of rules. In land casinos the casino employee overseeing the game instructs the dealer and in online baccarat the software is programmed to act according to the rules.

The designated Player or Banker with the higher hand value wins. If the hand values are the same then it is a tie. Players who bet in favor of the winner are paid even money, except that in the case of the Banker a 5% commission is taken by the casino. In Punto Banco players can also bet on a Tie. The payout for this is 8 to 1 in most casinos.

General Strategy

The Punto Banco version of baccarat has a very simple strategy. The only decision that players make is whether to bet on the Player, Banker or Tie Bet. Though the Tie Bet offers the largest payout of 8 to 1 it is the worst bet to choose because it has the highest house edge of 14.36%, which is really absurd. Some casinos offer a better payout of 9 to 1. This reduces the house edge to 4.84% but this still does not make the bet attractive.

The tendency among novice baccarat players is bet on the Player because of the 5% commission levied on the winnings in the Banker bet. This however is not the correct strategy. Despite the commission the Banker bet has a lower house edge. The house edge on the Banker bet is 1.06%, whereas the house edge on the Player bet is 1.24%. Therefore the simple but correct strategy is to always bet on the Banker.

Baccarat is generally played with eight decks and the above house edges are based on this. Some land casinos offer games with six decks and some online casinos offer baccarat with even fewer decks. The important thing to note is that the house edge for the Banker bet decreases with a decrease in the number of decks. Hence to the extent available players wagering on the most optimum Banker bet should select games with lower number of decks. Some online baccarat games have higher minimum table bets for single deck games. Since the reduced house edge advantage is only minimal this factor cannot be ignored. On the other hand the house edge for the Player bet and Tie bet increase with a decrease in the number of decks. For the sake of completion the house edges for single deck baccarat are as follows: Banker bet 1.01%, Player bet 1.29% and Tie bet with 8 to 1 payout 15.75%

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