Aces Guide to Gambling

Baccarat Strategy & Rules:

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About The Author

John Grochowski is the author of four gaming books including The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Casino Answer Book.

Grochowski was recently named by Casino Player magazine as one of the 100 best gaming authors of the 20th century.

He also runs a gaming column in the Detroit News and the Chicago Sun-Times, which examines issues ranging from blackjack and video poker strategy to casino etiquette.

John Grochowski

On a recent Tuesday morning, as I started to move from the blackjack table to the cashiers' cage, a gentleman approached.
"You're the guy in the newspaper, right? The one who writes about gambling?"

That's me.

"OK, tell me something. I've been reading your columns about how to play craps, and I think I understand now, but it still seems like too much to me. Is there an easier game that still gives me a better chance to win?"

What do you play now?

"Mostly slots, a little Caribbean Stud."

Have you tried blackjack or video poker?

"Well," he said, looking sheepish. "Those are only good games if you know the strategies, right? Is there something I could play until I get around to studying?"

Sounds like you need to try baccarat.

"Baccarat? I tried watching for a while once. I could never figure out when to hit or stand."

You don't need to. Hit/stand decisions are all made according to the rules of the game. All you need to do is decide whether to bet on banker or player, then watch as the hand is dealt out.

"That sounds easy."

There's nothing easier, unless it's pulling a slot handle. And your money will last longer at baccarat.

In the Midwest, baccarat usually is found on blackjack-sized mini-baccarat tables. Casinos catering to high rollers might have big 14-player tables, often in private baccarat pits.

Regardless of the number of players, only two hands are dealt, one designated as the player hand, the other as banker. Players may bet on either hand, or on a tie. The winner is the hand that comes closest to a total of 9. Each card is worth face value--Ace is 1, deuce 2, etc. If totals reach 10 or more, the first digit is disregarded, so 10, Jack, Queen and King can be seen as having a value of 0. A 9 and a 6, totaling 15, would then have a value of 5.

After bets are placed, player and banker are each dealt two cards. Taking a third card or standing on the first two is done according to rules available in a chart at the table. At mini-baccarat, the dealer hits or stands with no chatter. At a big baccarat table in the high-limit pits of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, a player may deal the cards, under instructions from the dealer.

The player hand is completed first. If the first two cards total 8 or 9, it is called a natural, and the player gets no more cards. Player also stands on totals of 6 or 7, and draws on all others.

Banker stands on 7, 8 or 9 and draws on 0, 1 or 2, but other hands depend on the value of the player's third card, in accordance with the chart above, the standard rules available to players at all baccarat tables.

There are a couple things not usually listed in the rules, but in force nonetheless. If the player holds a hand of 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 and banker has a natural, banker wins without player getting another card. If player has 6, 7, 8 or 9 and therefore does not receive a third card, banker stands on 6 as well as 7, 8 and 9.

When all that's done, the hand that totals closer to 9 is the winner. If the hand is a tie, both banker and player bet push, a bet on tie wins.

"Which should I bet, player, banker or tie?"

Definitely not tie. It pays 8-1, but has a house edge of 9.5 percent that makes it one of the worst bets in the house.

Either of the other two options is better than most other casino wagers. Banker actually wins more than it loses--a rarity in casino games--but the house charges a 5 percent commission on winning bets. That leaves a house edge of 1.17 percent, as close to an even proposition as you're going to get on any non-skill game.

There's no commission on winning player bets, but the house edge is a little higher at 1.36 percent. Even that's among the best bets around.

"I thought games of little skill always were big for the house.

Why such low house edges at baccarat?"

Baccarat is traditionally a high-rollers' game. Big bets more than make up for the low house edge. At mini-baccarat, the house makes up for lower minimum bets by adding speed to the game. Players make twice as many bets or more per hour at mini-bac than at big bac, which slows down when players deal the cards.

If you have a choice, slower is better. But if you're looking to move from slots to tables with minimal effort, the low house edge makes either mini-bac or big bac a good place to start.

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