The world of casino games invites us to dream of sophistication and elegance as well as cold, hard cash, and no game is more enticing in this respect that baccarat, the French card game is the piece de resistance of online casino play.
It’s also quite a complex game and has a number of different names and identities as well as rule variations around the world. It’s been a favourite of high rollers and in real-life casinos is often played behind the curtain to the VIP room.
The three most popular games are North American baccarat, or Punto Banco, Chemin de Fer, and Banque.
Punto banco gives almost no choice to the players, whereas the other Baccarat casino games allow some wriggle room.
Baccarat generally has a house edge of around 1%, but, as with all games, you should check the facts and figures at the Baccarat online casino site you are actually playing at.
The History of Baccarat
In common with a lot of gambling games, baccarat’s history is a little murky. It may well have roots going back to the 15th century, and, like most card games is probably much older than its “official” history can account for.
It was certainly common in France in the 19th century, and with its big stakes, complicated gameplay and the need for paid dealers was very much the preserve of the aristocracy.
Baccarat Banque is probably the older variant of the game, with chemin de fer (that’s French for railway) coming along behind, and punto banco being developed in American casinos in Cuba in the 1940s. (It is worth noting that much of the gambling scene in Cuba was mafia-run and that “American versions” of games almost always involve more profit for the house and a less good deal for the player.)
Baccarat hands for Beginners
Baccarat games are played with point values for cards and use a standard 52-card deck.
- Aces are worth 1 point.
- Twos to nines are worth their face value.
- Tens and court cards have no points value.
The total value of a three-card hand is calculated by adding up the points value of all the cards in it and then using the last digit in the hand as the total.
So, a hand with a points value of 14 scores only four, and is worth less than a hand with a points value of seven, which scores seven.
With only single-digit scores, nine is the highest value in the game.
Yes, it’s weird.
Playing Punto Banco
Punto Banco is the most popular casino baccarat game. If no variant is specified on the game you are playing, it is almost certainly punto banco (or American baccarat). It goes without saying that you should make sure you know the variant and the rules of any game you’re playing before you start staking money on it.
The prime differences in Punto Banco are that the casino holds the bank and players bet on the outcome of the hands rather than actually playing them themselves.
On the baccarat table for punto banco, you’ll see a card shoe like a blackjack shoe that should contain between six and eight decks of cards.
Each deal is called a coup, and a card indicates when the last coup from the shoe will be made so that the game doesn’t run between shoes.
The baccarat casino game starts with a single card being dealt. The points value of this card by baccarat rules then determines how many cards are then dealt face down.
Then the hands are dealt.
Two face-up cards are dealt to the “player” and the “bank”, player first.
Hands that score 8 or 9 in this stage of the game win – the game can be tied.
If neither hand hits that total then a third hand can be dealt depending on a set of house rules.
Then the hand with the highest total is awarded the hand.
Baccarat rules, the tableau
The third cards are dealt according to these rules:
- If a player scores between 0 and 5 he will be given a third card. With 6 or 7 the hand stands.
- A banker uses the player’s rules if the player’s hand stood on two cards. If the player took the third card then the banker:
- Takes a card if he has a total of 2 or less,
- On a total of 3, he takes a third card, unless the player drew an 8,
- On a 4 the banker takes a third card if the player’s third card was a 2 to a 7,
- On a 5 the banker takes a third card against a 4 to a 7 third card,
- On a 6, the banker deals again against a 6 or 7 third card,
- The banker stands on a total of 7.
Bets are paid as evens when the player’s hand wins.
Winning bets on the dealer’s hand are usually paid out as 19/20 (95%)
On a tie, bets on either hand are left in play and bets on the tie pay 8/1. Standing bets may have to ride into the next hand.
There’s a wide range of returns on the bets in baccarat, despite the relatively small range of bet choices.
These figures are based on our general examples from above and may differ.
But using those figures, betting on the player winning has a house edge of 1.24%.
Betting on the banker (which includes an automatic 5% gift to the house as “commission”) gives a house edge of 1.06%.
Betting on the tie is a house edge of 14.4% when the pay-out is at 8/1. (Some casinos offer different odds, for example, UK real-life casinos pay 9/1, cutting the house edge to less than 5%.)
Punto Banco baccarat has inspired a number of variations. This is common with all casino games. Most of these innovations simplify the game and improve the returns to the house, often doing so by offering an eye-catching long odds bet as an option.
Always check the rules and know what you’re playing.
EZ baccarat was invented in 2004.
The rules offer two extra bets with catchy names.
The Dragon 7 pays 40/1 on banker’s hands winning with a three-card hand that totals 7.
Panda 8 pays 25/1 on winning player’s hands that have a total of 8.
Banker hands’ do not pay a commission on winning bets.
This game is very popular in Macau, the gambling enclave on China’s east coast, where baccarat is the biggest game and has gone global largely thanks to massive support from Far Eastern gamblers.
It is by no means the only variation or the only branded version of baccarat, so check you know what game you’re playing.
Chemin de fer
When baccarat had its first golden age in France, the railway (the chemin de fer) was a byword for high-speed, high tech. It remains France’s favourite baccarat variation, and it’s often available as a live dealer baccarat game online and in online baccarat rooms.
The game usually uses six decks of cards.
In this game, a player is a banker and dealer, with other players playing the hands.
The banker (the position moves anti-clockwise) declares the amount up for grabs in the game before he deals by saying how much he’s happy to bet himself.
A player who wants to play will declare that they want to “go bank”, meaning that they will match the wager. If nobody does then players can pool their total bets to match the bank, and even add in side bets. Bets that go over the bank amount can be matched or removed in reverse order that they were laid at the banker’s discretion.
The banker now becomes the dealer and deals two cards to himself and two to any players who oppose him. The highest wagering player plays the hand on behalf of the table.
The cards are checked and hands with an 8 or 9 total are called and the game ends, with a win for that hand, or perhaps a tie.
The player is then offered the choice of a third card. There are not always rules on when they must do this – remember, they could be playing on behalf of a group of people – but usually the rules are similar to those enforced in punto banco, with convention dictating that hands lower than 4 should call for an extra card, and hands over 6 should not.;
The baker then makes the same decision and the hands are compared.
The banker pays out evens on winning hands to all players if his hand loses. The bank then moves around the table.
If the banker’s hand wins then all the bets are paid to him and he remains as a banker.
Tied hands leave bets on the table for the next round.
The banker can retire at any time, handing over to any player who can match the amount currently in the bank. If no-one does then the bank hands around to the next player and they set the new bank amount.
The final main way of playing baccarat is baccarat Banque.
Here, there is a player-banker, but she remains in place until the end of a shoe of cards, which consists of three packs of cards.
Bankers can retire before this if they chose to, and are deposed if they run out of cash!
Banking is seen as a privilege, and the player who bids the most at the start of the game holds the bank.
A short ritual of shuffling and cutting – a croupier is assumed – sets up the baccarat play before the banker becomes the dealer.
He deals a single card to the player sitting to her left. One to the player to her right. And then one to herself.
Players to the left of the dealer are all considered to be playing that hand. Players to the right the opposite.
The dealer deals a two-card hand to these three positions before the game is played.
The player to which the hands are dealt moves down the table away from the dealer as players lose the hand.
A banker can split hands – a cheval – to set up a two-hand game with her stake split between the two. A banker can only lose two hands before the bank must move.
When the banker retires she must say how much money they have left, and the new banker must match this amount to take over banking. Bankers can put more money in the pot if they lose the funds they started with.
Bettors who contribute bets that go over the amount in the bank may not be paid if their bets win, although the banker can add more money to meet the bets if she chooses. Doing so, however, sets a precedent, and the bank must cover all bets from then on.
The final variant of baccarat we will look at is baccarat squeeze.
The squeeze isn’t really a variant, it’s more of a gimmick, to be honest.
Squeezing basically just means peeking at your card by turning over a corner to look at part of the card.
By so doing you’re hiding your card from other players and from the dealer – in the case of dealer-only games. But, hiding your card doesn’t alter gameplay in any way, especially when you’re playing online baccarat.
So why do people play baccarat squeeze?
Because it’s fun! We can overlook fun in these analytical articles, but beyond the odds and the baccarat strategies, we should never forget that most people play gambling games for fun!
And squeezing is fun because it involves an element of skill.
Many cards are easy to spot. But spotted cards can look the same, with the 6, 7 and 8 all having three dots down each side and different numbers of spots in the centre of the card.
In online baccarat games, you can turn the card around and look under each side of the card.
So, this is a nice feature in online games, including online live dealer baccarat games but it shouldn’t be a big deal if a live baccarat online site is good quality and offers everything you want except for baccarat squeeze.
The baccarat squeeze that does give a slight advantage to the player is “dealer flash” baccarat, in which the dealer flashes the side of a card before dealing the final card. This opens up a whole new level of odds and possibilities and should inform your playing strategy. But it’s very rare in the online world.
After trailing the sophistication of baccarat we’re now at the time in our story where we reveal that – like all gambling games – baccarat casino game is also fairly simple!
Despite the fancy French names and calls, the swish of the cards, the rituals of cutting and dealing dead cards and the smart equipment there are only three bets in baccarat punto banco.
These odds apply to standard baccarat games, as described above. It is possible that the casino you play at will have a slightly different system. The main variable here is the number of cards in the game. We’ve covered six and eight deck games, but there’s nothing to stop an online casino site set up with almost any number of cards, including an “infinite deck” that represents the classic deck proportionally.
Here then are the baccarat odds on those three bets.
- A banker win has odds of 6/5 and a probability of 45.87%.
- A player win has odds of 5/4 and a probability of 44.63%.
- A tied hand has odds of 9/1 and a probability of 9.5%.
Already you can see how the house edge plays into baccarat. Because pay-outs on bets are evens – that is, you get back the amount you put in – and things both the evens pay-outs bets are likely to happen slightly less than half the time you will lose out.
This usually translates like this:
- When the banker’s hand wins, you receive 95% of your stake back, making a house edge of 1.06 per cent.
- When the player’s hand wins you get all of your stakes back, giving a house edge of 1.24%.
- For ties (at most Baccarat online casinos), you get 8/1 pay-out or eight times your stake, that gives a house edge of 14.44%.
So, there’s more profit for the house. Not only are the events you’re betting on less likely to happen than the evens odds appear to reward, but the event that is most likely to happen – banker’s hand winning – has a 5% tax on it too.
The long odds pay-out is tempting but has an even higher house edge because of that one point difference between the likelihood of it happening and the pay-out. That’s massively reduced in casinos paying the UK style 9/1 on baccarat punto banco ties.
There are also the variant games to consider, but you can be sure that they too offer the house an advantage both in probability terms and in pure financial terms.
Baccarat betting tips and strategy
Anyone who plays online slots and reads reviews will have noticed that even with the house edge in the commonest game as we’ve described it, baccarat offers a much better potential deal than most slots, which have a house edge of 3 to 5%.
So baccarat is still good value.
We’re not big fans of betting strategies and game tips because most of them are – to be frank – scams of some sort.
That is, honest gambling games rely on genuinely random events that it is impossible to predict. Events that are impossible to predict simply cannot be planned for. There is a likelihood that things will happen, and that is known down to the last decimal point by the casinos, who have set up their games to provide an entertaining playing experience with a genuine chance of winning while still providing a profit.
The games are straight, it is most of the baccarat strategies that are scams. In the long term, no betting strategy can do any better than slow your rate of loss, and the easiest and surest way to do that is this:
Just always bet very small amounts!
If anyone would like to pay us for this amazing baccarat strategy then they are welcome to send their credit card details.
We will look at one strategy here though. It has been designed with a particular game in mind, one with a reduced commission that promised to make baccarat an even chance game (it didn’t quite do that, but it did make it much closer to being completely even).
This game has a lower commission, the 5% on banker’s hand wins.
This system is the 1, 3, 2, 4 system.
All you have to do is multiply your bet by these numbers, so to make things simple we’ll imagine a bet of £1 as the base.
As long as you keep winning you continue through the system. When you lose a bet you return to the beginning of the four-number sequence. When you get to the end of a sequence then you run through it again.
To play the numbers most effectively on a particular table you might want to use a base number that allows you to approach the table limit for the highest bet of your sequence.
Just to be clear, this is simply a betting system that should manage your losses. There is no way to beat the randomness of a random system.
Most baccarat casino games are relatively complex. Even the “mini baccarat” games that started the online baccarat revolution and took the games out of the VIP rooms and into the hands of the ordinary player by cutting down stakes (and in the real world staffing and table size) need a certain amount of skill to get started with.
That said, going online was a natural step for baccarat. The game is “expensive” in casino terms because it requires a lot of staff. The house edge is also not very good from the casino’s point of view. Turning this into an online baccarat simulation is a very obvious way to make the game more profitable.
But the real breakthrough for games like baccarat is in live dealer baccarat sites.
There is something special about playing a game like this live, either in a group or as a one-on-one game with a dealer.
All of the baccarat games are now available in online versions and with most variations. These are delivered by live streaming video of a dealer playing the game, while you play your side. You can’t actually see or touch the cards, but apart from that, live dealer baccarat is the best experience you’ll get outside of a Macau casino.
How to Play Online Baccarat Safely and Securely
Gambling strategies are of very limited use in baccarat games. Actual playing strategies are also very limited in their utility to players.
However, we do have some advice for you to play the game safely and for fun.
First of all, scroll back up and check the rules. You should not play a game the rules of which you do not understand.
Always play baccarat online only at casino sites that are safe, secure, legal and legitimate. Never play at a casino that you personally – for reasons of geography or age or legislation – are not permitted to play at.
Knowing the rules is a good start, but any free play you can get in before you start betting is an added bonus. Most simulator games are available with a free demo mode and you’d be wise to invest a little time in playing on these, as making decisions you don’t fully understand while playing with real money – particularly in a live baccarat game where time is limited – is not ideal.
Play safely within your financial limits. Read up some safe gambling advice and follow it. Don’t gamble to pay off debts, don’t gamble to alter your mood, don’t gamble when you’re unhappy or upset, and don’t gamble when you’re intoxicated. To this will add an extra warning on live dealer games: don’t gamble because you find the dealer attractive! Always treat dealers with all the respect you’d expect to be treated with, and put any ideas about relationships with them out of your head.
Once you’re playing you can add a few more tips.
Don’t bet the tie. OK, those 8 or 9/1 pay-outs are tempting, as they’re designed to be, but the house edge on this bet is by a long distance the worst in the game and one of the worst in the casino. If you want a long playing session then stick to the player or banker bet.
Fewer cards generally give the player a better chance. A six-deck game with consistent betting on banker’s hands reduces the house edge considerably.
However, the player bet has a lower house edge. It is less likely to happen, but because of the lack of the commission is a better value when it does pay out.
Play online baccarat for fun!
All of the strategies in the world won’t help you enjoy a game, and is very unlikely to make much of a difference to your returns.
So, perhaps the best strategy of all is just to have fun.
Seriously. Set yourself a limit on your spending and then go to town! A game where you simply bet the best value, most likely bet every time is extremely boring to play.
And we gamble for fun, so we should play online baccarat for fun.