One of the most alluring games in the casino gambling world is baccarat, which uses a series of props and rituals to dress up relatively simple game play.
In a hand of baccarat, players have only one task: to guess which hand - the Banker or the Player - will wind up with the closest total to 9 using either two or three cards. But just as you'll find at the roulette table, another famous guessing based gambling game, the casino has added several flourishes to make baccarat more interesting.
At a traditional baccarat table, you'll be passing around the "shoe," or a rectangular case used to hold multiple decks of playing cards. Players take turns dispensing cards from the shoe, and some savor the sweat of the final card by slowly "squeezing" it - or lifting it slightly to see the pips which signify rank. And overhead, a brightly lit display keeps constant track of previous results, arranging the wins and losses for Banker and Player hands in elaborate scoreboards.
Taken in together with the baccarat table's sheer size and scope, along with multiple dealers and croupiers on hand to supervise the proceedings and the game conjures images of sophistication and refinement. Indeed, those classic images of superspy James Bond cleaning out the villains in a sultry casino scene are invariably set at the baccarat table.
Baccarat is beloved by casual gamblers and sharp players alike, but if you've never played, it can be easy to confuse this classic game of chance for a lark based on luck alone.
After all, no skill or strategies can help one player perform better than the next, and you can't work harder to shave down the house's all important edge.
Those observations about baccarat game play are technically true, but that doesn't mean you can't help yourself at the tables. Once you've realized how baccarat really works, it's that much easier to make your own luck.
I touched on this concept briefly during the introduction, but it bears repeating. The idea of baccarat strategy is, for the most part, an oxymoron.
And to see why that is, just visualize how a hand of baccarat plays out.
You place your bet, backing either the Banker or Player hand (or on the Tie bet, which will be explored later in the page). Next, two cards are dealt out to form the starting Banker and Player hands. From there, the complex system of drawing rules known as the baccarat "tableau" is used to determine whether or not those hands take a third and final card.
After putting the chips at risk, baccarat players have nothing else to do with deciding the outcome. You don't get a choice on which hands draw a third card. You can't swap cards out or do anything else to change the Banker or Player hand's total. And you're not allowed to place additional wagers based on the cards you see in an attempt to extract value from favorable situations.
For all intents and purposes, you might as well sit back and close your eyes after making a baccarat bet - as the hand will play out exactly the same with or without your presence.
All of which is to say one thing: when somebody claims to play baccarat "better" than average, their boast simply can't be backed up.
In other words, it's all about the luck of the draw when betting on baccarat, hence its status as a pure game of chance alongside roulette and craps.
At this point you might be asking, "If that's true, then why are there so many baccarat strategies and systems for sale online?"
That's a good question, and like so many other unpleasant aspects of life, it's all about greed.
The "Baccarat Bandit" system promises to unlock the secrets to sustained baccarat success, all for the low, low price of $869.95. Why not make an appointment with the "Baccarat Doctor," who charges $700 for a full diagnosis of his winning plays? Or you might try the "Baccarat Knockout" system sold by Jay Silva for just $500, which is a bargain considering it "never loses."
The folks peddling these strategies and systems use different gimmicks to get their marks, but they all share one central attribute: they're B.S., for a lack of a better term.
Some rely on betting progressions (double your wager after losses and cut it in half after wins), or pattern tracking (if Banker wins three times in a row, bet BIG on Player), but a little logic and common sense should tell you why they won't work.
In the case of betting progression systems, they all stem from the Martingale approach, which is an age old theory of gambling based on doubling your wager after a loss. As the Martingale theory goes, doubling your bet after a losing play - or even a long streak of losers - ensures that you'll clear a tiny profit when the win finally comes in.
The standard Martingale betting system works like this. If you bet $1 and lose, betting $2 on the next hand guarantees a $1 profit on the session if you wind up winning. And if that second bet is also a loser, putting you $3 in the red, just bet $4 on the third hand to ensure that same $1 profit on a win.
In the case of baccarat offshoots like the 1 3 2 6 and 1 3 2 4 betting progressions, the basic premise remains the same, with only the wager amounts varying slightly from system to system.
Progression bettors are simply hoping to leave the casino with a profit, no matter how small it may be. And at first glance, that appears to be an admirable approach to gambling, especially on games of chance where the house holds a healthy edge.
But unless you have an unlimited bankroll to work with, trying something like this at the baccarat table can quickly spell disaster. After all, losing streaks are part and parcel of the game itself, and baccarat veterans know quite well that losing 10 straight hands isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Well, if you were to start with a wager of just $1, losing 10 straight hands would leave you down $1,023 in total - meaning you'd need to bet $1,024 on the 11th hand (and win it) to bring back that humble $1 profit.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the table below to see just how steep a Martingale based betting progression can get when a losing streak strikes:
Martingale System Betting Increases
As you can see, the expenses can add up quickly when using a baccarat betting system - all with an end goal of earning a measly $1 profit by night's end. Chasing small wins with continually increasing bet sizes may work for some well-heeled players on the conservative end of the spectrum, but it's simply not feasible for the rest of us.
And it's even worse when you look into the pattern tracking strategies, or those that claim to predict how the next hand will go based on previous results.
With a betting progression system, the end goal of a $1 profit is actually attainable, provided you're willing to put in the ever increasing string of wagers.
But with a pattern tracking approach, the whole premise is nothing more than nonsense, plain and simple.
Knowing how the last hand went down, or the last 10 hands for that matter, can't possibly give players an extra edge going forward.
First of all, that entire premise defies the laws of logic - and you can use a basic thought experiment to see why.
Let's say I've flipped a coin 10 times, and it happened to land on tails all 10 times. Then, before the 11th flip, I offer you a proposition. If the coin lands on tails again, I'll pay you $1 - but if it lands on heads, you have to pay me $2.
And why not? The coin should be "due" to land on heads after so many times falling on tails, right?
Nope, not even close. You'd reject that proposition out of hand, knowing instinctually that the odds for the 11th coin flip remain exactly the same as they were on the previous 10 tosses - 50/50.
Knowing what happened before doesn't do a thing to impact the next result. That's because every flip of a coin - and every hand of baccarat - represents a completely independent event.
When you read about any pattern tracking approach to baccarat, the same caveat applies. Remember, this isn't blackjack, where players have the opportunity to act on their knowledge of exposed cards. You could park a robot programmed with perfect memory and recall at the baccarat table, but knowing exactly which cards came out on previous deals wouldn't give them any ability to play "better" on subsequent hands.
Secondly, and most importantly, ask yourself one crucial question: Would the casino ever make information available if it could actually improve the player's chances of success?
Of course they wouldn't, as the entire point of running a casino is offering players a negative expectation gamble.
In other words, casinos rely on their games being set up in such a way that players are always faced with an uphill climb. The steepness of that climb can change - as blackjack is a much better bet than roulette - but you'll always be at a disadvantage when gambling against the house.
For this reason, when you see the brightly lit screens attached to baccarat tables that record and display previous results, you should know the information is meaningless. These "scoreboards" are an insidious aspect of the casino industry, one used to offer games of chance the illusion of skill.
You'll see them at roulette tables too, with extended streaks of red or black winners marked with flames and whatnot to signal a "hot" color. In the world of baccarat, the scoreboards are much more complex, owing to the game's status as a favorite for folks of Asian heritage.
Baccarat scoreboards come in various styles, from the Big Eye Boy to the Small Road and even the Cockroach Pig. In each case, the previous results from the current shoe are tracked, sorted according to a traditional Asian system, and displayed above the table.
Ask around and you'll hear baccarat regulars swear by their own scoreboard watching. In fact, many old timers eschew the casino scoreboards entirely, using their own pad and paper to scribble the cards that came and winning hands one after another. According to this superstitious crowd, knowing how the cards have come can give them insight into whether it'll be the Banker or Player that wins on the next deal.
By now you exactly why that belief is mistaken. Just like the flipped coin, randomly dealt cards have no relation to what has already happened. The Banker hand could win 10 times consecutively, but on that 11th hand, it'll still have the exact same odds of success as it did before.
Speaking of the odds against, it's vitally important to develop a firm understanding of baccarat's underlying probabilities.
Fortunately, the game's inherent simplicity makes that task quite easy to accomplish. In fact, you only need to know a few numbers to have the mathematics of baccarat down pat.
Take a look below to see what I mean:
Baccarat Bets by House Edge and Probability of Success
|BET||HOUSE EDGE||WIN PROBABILITY|
|Banker||1.06 percent||45.86 percent|
|Player||1.24 percent||44.62 percent|
|Tie||14.40 percent||9.52 percent|
We'll dive into the details of the Tie bet in the next section, so for now, let's worry about the game's two base bets: Banker and Player.
On any given hand of baccarat, the Banker bet is always the best play from the perspective of probability.
When betting on the Banker hand, the house edge stands at 1.06 percent, and it'll wind up as the winner 45.86 percent of the time.
But when you bet on the Player hand, the house edge increases slightly to 1.24 percent, while the probability of success dips to 44.62 percent.
But how can that be? Dealing out two random hands from a shoe and seeing which one gets closest to a 9 total shouldn't offer any advantage either way, right?
That would seem to be the case, but when you look closely at the rules of the game, it becomes clear why the Banker hand is always the best bet.
After the initial two card starting hands have hit the table, the dealer always examines the Player hand first to determine whether it should draw a third card.
Based on the baccarat tableau of drawing rules, the Player hand has to stand pat with totals of 6 or 7, or draw another card when the total is 5 or lower.
When the Player hand stands pat, the tableau dictates that the Banker hand has to draw a third card on totals of 5 or lower. And if the Player hand did draw a third card, the Banker hand has to take a third card on totals of 0, 1, or 2.
The various guidelines for drawing can get a bit complicated, but every hand of baccarat follows the same basic structure: Deal > Player hand acts > Banker hand acts.
Because of this dichotomy, the Banker hand holds a slight advantage over the Player hand - and if you're familiar with blackjack game play, you might already suspect why that is.
In blackjack, the dealer always gets to act last, examining their hand and taking more cards only after all player hands have done the same. And in blackjack, the house always holds a slight edge of between 0.50 percent (for basic strategy players) and 1.50 percent (for everyone else).
The house's edge in blackjack is derived from the advantage of acting last, because as you know, the player can go bust before the dealer ever looks at their cards. Acting last puts the player at risk first, which is where the house extracts its precious edge over the players.
Hands don't go bust in baccarat, but the premise remains the same. By acting last, the Banker hand is offered a slight advantage insomuch as the Player hand must draw (or not draw) beforehand.
Casinos charge a small commission of 5 percent on winning Banker hand bets to make up for this discrepancy. Thus, for every dollar you win by betting on Banker, you'll be forced to hand a nickel over to the house. This helps to level the proverbial playing field, because without the commission charge, players would wind up betting on Banker every time out.
Now that you know the numbers, why would you ever bet on the Player hand?
In a vacuum, the perfect strategy for betting baccarat becomes quite clear: back the Banker hand at all times. In doing so, you'll ensure yourself a house edge of 1.06 percent, as opposed to the 1.24 percent alternative incurred on the Player hand.
But gambling isn't done in a vacuum, and most recreational players enjoy the give and take of attempting to guess correctly. Simply betting on the Banker hand by default- and winning 45.86 percent of hands over the long run - may be mathematically correct, but it would also be quite boring. And you'd still be losing 44.62 percent of hands you see, with the other 9.52 percent counting as ties - so you'd still be up against a negative expectation.
The decision is up to you of course, but if you're looking to increase your "luck" at the baccarat tables, the only effective strategy involves betting on the Banker hand above all else.
By betting on the Player hand, you immediately add 0.18 percent to the house's edge, while decreasing your chances of winning by 1.24 percent. Those are small margins I'll admit, but success in the world of casino gambling is always based on exploiting the smallest margins imaginable.
On the same note, players who tend to succeed at baccarat never waste a chip on the Tie bet.
Oh, I know... it can definitely be tempting to chase that 8 to 1 (or 9 to 1 in some casinos) payout when the Banker and Player hands wind up in a tie. Especially when you see other players at the table cashing in on the long shot and dragging huge stacks of chips their way.
And hey, that table above did say the Banker and Player hands will tie 9.52 percent of the time, so why not take a shot every 10 hands or so?
Well, because the payout odds don't match the true odds, that's why.
With a payout of 8 to 1 awarded on something that occurs just under 10 percent of the time, you're just not getting the right price on your money when backing the Tie bet. And even in casinos where the payout hits 9 to 1, the discrepancy between that payout and the odds against success is just wide enough to make it a terrible play.
Consider this. The two base bets on the board both come with house edge rates that are extremely reasonable, at 1.06 percent for the Banker and 1.24 percent for the Player. But that Tie bet carries an obscene house edge of 14.40 percent - making it one of the worst "sucker" bets in any casino.
You know that silly wheel spinning game you walk by after entering the casino? No, not roulette, I'm talking about the Big Six wheel, a pure game of chance in which players simply guess what number the wheel will land on after a spin.
In that game, which is known as the ultimate sucker bet, players face a house edge of 11.11 percent when betting on the most abundant space - the $1.
As you can see, even that awful wager is better than the Tie bet in baccarat - and it's not even close. Other unfavorable games like slot machines (2 percent to 12 percent), the Hard Eight in craps (9.09 percent), and double zero American roulette (5.26 percent) all offer much better odds than the Tie on the baccarat table.
The only game to offer worse odds is keno, what with its unbeatable 25 percent house edge rate.
I don't need to mince words here... if you bet on the Tie while playing baccarat, you might as well light the money on fire and get it over with. Sure, that longshot has to come in here and there - just under 10 percent of the time as has been established - but even when it does, the payout doesn't live up to the risk you just took.
I can understand firing one or two chips towards the Tie bet over the course of a lengthy session, if only to spice things up - but it's still a terrible play. And putting any amount of money on the Tie with regularity will wreak havoc on your baccarat bankroll.
There's just no need to chase a 14.40 percent house edge when gambling in the casino setting. You might as well go buy a scratch off lottery card and hope for the best, because in the long run, both long shots have the same level of viability: none at all.
Baccarat can be a fun and entertaining gambling game, and while it doesn't include skill or strategy, you can always try to play it correctly. A purely optimal approach to baccarat would be based on betting the Banker hand at all times, but even if you prefer to mix things up a bit, avoiding the Tie bet at all costs is crucial.
And whatever you do, steer clear of those systems and strategies promising the world and then some. The only people making money off those are the snake oil salesmen hawking them online - and if they really worked, those folks would be at the tables taking the house for all it's worth.