How to Play Baccarat
Baccarat is a two-hand card game well known and respected in the casinos of Europe, but much less popular in North America and Asia. It is somewhat similar to Blackjack, in that the object is to win by getting cards with a higher combined value than your opponent’s.
However, in this case Aces count only as one point (not eleven), tens and face cards have no value at all, and the best possible total for a hand is nine, rather than twenty-one.
In fact, for totals of ten or more, only the last digit counts, so a hand of 6+5 is not eleven, it is one (ignoring the tens place), and a total of 7+9 is just six, not sixteen. Newcomers are often confused by the game’s strict rules of play as well as its similarity to other games with the same roots, such as Chemin-de-fer and Punto Banco.
But as expert card players know, Baccarat is one of the few forms of gambling in which the house advantage is extremely low. The secret of success is to know the rules, carefully watch what cards have been played, and apply that knowledge to your bets.
Baccarat – The Train from France
Most experts agree that the Italians get credit for inventing the game of “baccara.” They most likely based it upon a Middle Ages game called Tarrochi, which was played with a deck of Tarot cards.
Baccarat migrated to France some time between after the reign of King Charles VIII (1470~1498) and before Louis XIV (1643~1715). It was played with great enthusiasm by French nobility by the time Napoleon Bonaparte (1769~1821) came to power.
And it remained a favoured pastime in Parisian homes even after public gambling was prohibited in France in 1837.
Throughout the 19th century, Baccarat was played mostly in privacy, until it found renewed interest in the casinos of the French Riviera as the next century began. By this time, the game had evolved slightly.
The sabot, or elongated “shoe” in which six or more decks of cards are held, had to be passed across the table. As it moved, it looked like a train passing by, so locals took to calling the game “chemin de fer” (the “railway”).
In Chemin-de-fer, also nicknamed “chemmy” or “shemmy,” the player controlling the sabot deals the two hands that make up the game. Who gets this opportunity is determined by how much is wagered in an opening auction.
The player willing to risk the most money becomes the “Banker,” places the winning “bid” on the table, and receives the sabot. A small commission is paid by the banker to the house for this privilege.
The banker then deals two or more cards face up, showing them to everyone before placing them in a discard tray. This act is known as the “burn.”
At this point, all of the other players are invited, starting with the player to the Banker’s right, to challenge the banker by matching the bid, in whole or in part. Any number of players may choose to bet, as long as the combined total of their wagers does not exceed the Banker’s bid.
Only after all bets have been placed on the table will the dealing begin. Two cards will represent all of the players, called ponte, and two cards will be for the Bank, known as banco. The honor of controlling the ponte goes to the player who has wagered the most against the Bank.
When this form of the game crossed the Channel, the English changed the rules slightly. It was this new “European Baccarat” that spread to South America. Once there, the rules were modified again and the game became known as “Punto Banco,” or “mini baccarat.”
Casinos in Havana adopted this version and exported it to the United States. Meanwhile, the tables of Monte Carlo embraced a variation called Banque à deux tableaux, allowing up to sixteen players to join in the game at a “double table.”
This last-mentioned form of the game is also called baccarat en banque, or “banker’s baccarat,” which is still played in many casinos across Europe.
The biggest difference between this and most other versions is that the house is always the croupier / banker, rather than auctioning off the deal and passing the shoe. The players may wager any amount up to the table limit, with the house covering all bets.
In baccarat en banque, two different sets of Player cards (ponte) are dealt face down, a pair for each half of the table. A third hand is dealt for the Bank (banco).
The cards themselves typically have no numbers on them, only suited spots appear on the valued cards, while illustrations are used for the valueless court cards.
Players are allowed to bet on either one of the two Player hands. The dealer uses a paddle called the pallet to deliver the cards to the two punters who have wagered the most for the Player hands. This gives them the right to turn the cards over. If no one wagers on a hand, it is taken out of play.
Choices in playing the hands, however, are even further restricted in baccarat en banque. The only decision that can be made regarding standing or drawing cards is when the Player has a total of five. Otherwise, everyone must follow a fixed set of rules.
If the Player has a total from zero to four, another card must be requested. With a total of six or seven, the Player must stand. A total of eight or nine is a natural and must be laid face up on the table.
Only when the Player has a total of five, can the decision be made to ask for another card, by saying “carte,” or to stay with this hand, by saying “pas de carte” or “non.”
When the Player requests another card, it is usually dealt face up—although some casinos deal it down for added suspense, even though it must be turned before the Banker’s turn.
Depending on the Player’s final hand value, the Banker will decide whether to take another card or not. However, if the Banker’s first two cards total eight or nine, play stops, all cards at the table must be held as dealt and the winner is immediately declared as the higher of the hands.
Profits on Baccarat are extremely low for the house compared to other table games.
As a profitable twist on this game, some Monte Carlo casinos decided to put the right to bank the game out to bid, thus guaranteeing themselves a commission and opening the door for one of gambling’s most colorful characters to earn a small fortune and a place in gambling history.
Baccarat without Limits
In 1919, Nicolas Zographos and his wife’s uncle, Eli Eliopulo, traveled from their Greek homeland to France, intent upon using their gambling skills at the Baccarat tables of Paris.
Once there, they met up with a professional gambler, an Armenian by the name of Zaret Couyoumdjian, who helped them raise funds for their growing wagers. The trio was quite successful, right from the start.
Soon, Zographos and Eliopulo were joined by another countryman, Anthanase Vagliano, a shipping magnate whose contribution to this “Greek Syndicate” was said to be 50 million francs.
With that kind of financial backing, the group could embark upon a truly daring plan, to purchase the right to deal baccarat en banque at an established casino and announce to the world “tout va”—“anything goes” or no limits.
So it happened that the Greek Syndicate set up shop in 1922 at the casino in Deauville, France. That gambling hall had been established a decade earlier, in 1912, and it was run by a former carnival operator, François André.
He was a French native who had “a flair for adventure.” When André learned of the Syndicate’s plan, he was more than happy to provide the Greeks with a room and a private table—for a fee, of course. Not long after, however, he formally joined their team.
The possibility of limitless winnings drew players to Deauville from far and wide. They included serious gambling professionals as well as continental millionaires who dabbled at cards.
Within a relatively short time, the Greek Syndicate established itself as Europe’s dominate force in Baccarat and turned Deauville into its pinnacle.
By the 1930s, the Greeks had spread their control to the most exclusive casinos of Cannes, Paris and Monte Carlo, taking over the highest limit tables available and removing the betting limits.
The wealthiest men and women of the world—including the Aga Khan and Baron Henri de Rothschild—sought out the Greek Syndicate. Single bets of more than 10 million francs were not uncommon.
At one point in 1923, the Finance Minister of Chili beat the group for 17 million francs, but rather than break them it only added to their allure.
French automobile mogul André Citroën reportedly lost 30 million francs to the Syndicate over the course of seven years. As members came and went, the group thrived during the Depression and even survived a forced hiatus in World War II.
The Way (and Will) to Win at Baccarat
Such success at Baccarat was not simply a function of having a big bankroll and a slight house advantage. The Greek Syndicate’s mastermind, Nicolas Zographos, was an extraordinarily gifted card player who had practiced for years before ever placing a bet.
He had a photographic memory and could remember the order of all 312 cards as six decks were played. He was said to be extremely cool, even when huge wagers were at stake.
And Zographos was a keen businessman, too. Entrance to his private rooms was never restricted to players. In fact, he welcomed onlookers, who were charged £4 apiece just to watch his high stakes games.
Many stories have been told of Zographos since his death in 1953. One of his biggest wins—drawing a nine of diamonds to a worthless pair of court cards in 1926—is legend. The nine of diamonds subsequently became his symbol, emblazoned on everything he owned from his cuff links to his yacht.
And Zographos’s influence on the game has reached far beyond his lifetime. Half a century later, Baccarat is still associated with high rollers, unlimited wagers, staggering wealth, and an air of mystery and sophistication.
But perhaps what Zographos really taught the world was that mathematical skills could be used to master the game of baccarat. By knowing exactly what has been played and what cards remain, it is possible to predict the last few cards to be drawn.
An observant player can use that information to know when to purchase the Bank and when to bet against it. It is also possible to know when to stop playing and avoid bankruptcy.
Zographos used his powers of observation to predict how others would bet, too, based upon how much they were up or down. He kept close track of his opponents’ winnings and losses.
Quite often, he could tell from the betting just exactly what cards were held. He took the game to a new level, and it has remained there ever since.
How to Speak Baccarat
As you spend time at the table, you will learn that Baccarat, like Craps, has its own special language, much of it derived from French. For example, the person who deals the cards and/or wields the pallet at the table is called the “croupier.”
A single round of play is called a “coup.” The best hand possible in Baccarat is a value of nine, referred to as “Le Grande.” And the word baccarat itself refers both to the game and to the worst hand possible, a “zero.”
Before a coup begins, you may hear the croupier call out “Faites vos jeux.” That simply means “Place your bets.” To announce “no more betting,” the phrase that is used is “Rien ne va plus.”
The act of drawing a card is called “tirer,” and to stand with a hand is known as “rester.” As mentioned previously, another card is requested during play by saying “carte.” To stand with the cards dealt, the person holding the Player’s hand may say either “pas de carte” or “non.”
The practice of ignoring the tens digit when adding up the value of a hand has a special name—“Modulo 10.” Picture cards, which have no value in the game, are sometimes referred to as “bûches”—which literally translates as “logs.”
Many of the terms used, however, are decidedly English. Those who gather at the table, for example, are known as “punters,” so as not to confuse them with the “Player” who holds one of the two hands.
A person who always wagers the same amount is referred to as a “flat bettor.” And the staff member who oversees all the action is called the “ladderman.”
A hand valued at eight or nine is a “natural,” and when the Banker and Player have the same result, it is simply called a “tie.” Ties can be wagered on and they pay out odds of 8-to-1 in some versions of the game and 9-to-1 in others.
Nevertheless, ties are considered a poor bet by experienced punters, mainly because the true odds against ties are even higher than the odds paid. The house’s edge on such bets is a whopping 15.75%.
Baccarat for Beginners
For those who are just starting out at the Baccarat table, perhaps the easiest version to learn and play is Punto Banco or “Mini Baccarat.” It is played against the house or casino, and it allows betting on either the Banker’s cards or the Player’s Cards.
The object of the game is to correctly bet on whether the “punter” (“punto”) or the “bank” (“banco”) will get closest to nine points with no more than three cards. The house sets the minimum and maximum wagers at a Mini Baccarat table, which may seat from one to seven players.
Bets may be placed for any amount between the two limits by putting chips directly on the areas marked punto and banco in front of each player. Bets for ties are placed on the corresponding “Tie” area.
At the very start, the croupier will shuffle six to eight packs of 52 cards, and then offer the “deck,” or stack of mixed cards, to one of the players. The player will in turn “cut” the cards by placing a blank-faced marker somewhere in the middle of the deck. When the deck is ready, it is placed inside the sabot or shoe.
Next, the dealer will draw the first card from the deck and show it to all of the players. Whatever value shows on its face will indicate the number of cards to be removed from the deck as discards or the “burn.”
If a valueless court card appears, the dealer must burn ten cards. After the burn, the shoe is set and play may begin.
All players now make one of three wagers: on punto, on banco or on Tie. The croupier will then deal four cards. The first and third cards go to the Player, located on the dealer’s right. The second and fourth go to the Banker, positioned to the dealer’s left.
If the Player obtains a hand totaling zero to five, the dealer will automatically give that hand a third card. For a total of six or seven, the punto hand must stand, and no cards are allowed to be drawn.
If the Player’s hand totals eight or nine, the dealer will lay down the cards, compare them with the banco hand, and the hand closer to nine will win. Again, no cards may be drawn.
As for the Banker’s hand, banco, slightly different rules apply. A total of seven, eight or nine requires the Banker to stand. A total of zero, one or two requires the Banker to draw. On a total of three, the Banker must draw against all punto hands, except a total of eight—in which case the banco hand must stand.
When the Banker is holding a four, five or six, the banco hand must stand against the Player’s zero, one, eight or nine. Holding a five or six, the Bank also stands against the Player’s two or three. And holding a six, the Banker only draws against the Player’s six of seven.
In most casinos, the house pays even money, 1-to-1, when the punto hand wins. When the banco hand wins, a commission is deducted from the winnings, typically 5%, which makes the actual payout 19-to-20. On ties, 8-to-1 is paid at Mini Baccarat.
Betting a Progression
Like all even money games, Baccarat lends itself to progressive betting strategies.
When using Martingale, you start out by betting one unit. If you win, put your profit (one unit) aside and begin a new series by betting a single unit again. If you lose, double your previous wager (two units) and bet once more.
You can continue doubling up in this way until you win. Then, put your profit (one unit) aside and start another new series by wagering one unit.
You have the choice, of course, of betting on either the Banker or the Player. But because there is a commission charged for winning banco hands, the Martingale progression is best played only on the Player’s hand. That is the only way to receive full 1-to-1 odds.
If you do choose to use Martingale to wager on the Bank, your winnings will be less than even money, i.e., 95%. You will not be able to recover your investment if the number of consecutive losses exceeds five in a row.
You will have lost 1+2+4+8+16 or 31 units. If you win the next wager of 32 units, your return will be only 32 x .95 = 30.4 units.
Also, you need to be aware of the table limits. Winning streaks for the Bank can pose a problem. If you lose betting on the Player seven times in a row, your accumulated loss will be 127 units.
Martingale will require a bet of 128 units on the next hand. Your total risk will come to 255 units to win just one single unit.
Even if you are willing to accept this high risk, there is another problem—you may reach the table limit and be unable to double your bet after one more loss. A table with a £5 minimum, for example, will often feature a maximum of £500.
If you lose seven times in a row, your progression will reach the table limit, because your next bet would have to be £620.
For this reason alone, many players prefer to use modified versions of the Martingale progression for wagering at Baccarat—strategies that offer less risk and lower betting thresholds.
Other Baccarat Progressions
Several progressive betting systems can be used to counter the effect of streaks. One of them is a progression named after the 18th century French mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert.
In the d’Alembert strategy, you increase your wager by one unit following a loss and decrease it by one unit following a win. The strategy avoids the huge wagers required by Martingale following series of losses, and it works well whenever the number of Player wins and Banker wins are about equal.
Another popular form of progressive betting is based upon a sequence developed by the 13th century Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci.
When using the Fibonacci progression, your objective will be to win one unit of profit, and the amount that you wager will always be the sum of your preceding two losses.
The sequence begins by betting one unit on the Player. If you lose, bet one unit again. If you lose a second time, bet two units (1+1). If you lose a third time, bet three units (1+2), etc.
Whenever you win, cross off the last two numbers in the sequence, and then continue playing by betting the sum of the preceding two losses. You should continue following this system until all numbers in the progression have been crossed off. At that point, you will have won one unit.
The Fibonacci progression is popular because you cross off numbers twice as fast as you add them. It works beautifully if you win at least 34% of your wagers, assuming the sequence does not contain many long losing streaks.
Eventually, you should complete the series and win one unit without betting anything close to the table limit.
Another progressive betting strategy that has been applied to Baccarat with success is called Labouchere. It was named after a prominent 19th century British politician who enjoyed playing Baccarat for recreation, Henry Du Pré Labouchère. This progression is sometimes known as the “cancellation system.”
The objective of Labouchere is to win X units in profit, where you decide how much X should be. You will set up your bets as a series of numbers that add up to that goal, X.
For example, if your objective is to win five units (X = 5), then the series could be set up as 2+3 or 1+2+2. It could also be longer, such as 1+1+1+2 or 1+2+1+1. No matter how many numbers are in the sequence, you will always bet the first and last ones.
When you win, cross off the two numbers wagered and bet the remaining first and last numbers. When you lose, add the total amount lost to the end of the series, and again bet the sum of the first and last numbers.
Once more, because you are crossing off numbers twice as fast as you are adding them, you will eventually finish the series and win your objective—in this case, five units.
Best Baccarat Strategy?
Baccarat, perhaps more than any other casino table game, is similar to wagering on the flip of a coin—“heads” is the Banker, “tails” is the Player. Only two outcomes are possible.
A tie—the rare event when the coin lands on its edge—has no effect on your wager. The house advantage for bets on the Player’s hand is 1.29%. Bets on the Banker’s hand carry a house edge of 1.01%, among the lowest of all table games.
For this reason, virtually any form of betting strategy that can be used for even money games can be applied to Baccarat. One of these is the Anti-Martingale, which requires doubling up on a win. You wager one unit each time until you win, and then you let the winnings ride (double up).
If you win again, let it ride once more, aiming to collect a healthy profit on three wins in a row. If you lose, however, go back to betting one unit. Your goal is to win three times in a row and gain enough profits from short winning streaks to cover all your losses.
One other common strategy deserves consideration. It is known as “flat betting,” which refers to the practice of always betting the same amount. Instead of changing a wager, the flat bettor simply moves it back and forth between the Banker and Player, often in a pattern, or by relying upon an educated guess.
Some players believe that a string of wins for the Player means a Banker win is inevitable, and vice versa. Others subscribe to the theory that streaks are inevitable, and they bet accordingly.
Knowing this, a player may use flat betting to take advantage of “mini streaks” of two or three repeat wins. For example, you can begin by placing a bet of one unit on either the Player or Banker.
If the bet wins, wager the same amount on the same outcome once again. If it wins again, start a new series, switching your bet to the opposite side to win “two in a row.”
However, if your wager loses, switch sides and back the winner for the next hand. The idea here is that the Player or Banker will often win two or three hands in a row.
You can practice this betting strategy by flipping a coin to simulate the Player and Banker wins. It may surprise you how many times it succeeds.
Flat betting typically doesn’t win or lose very much. Over time, however, the commissions paid on winning banco bets allow the house to collect its fare share of the money that crosses the table.
So the key to winning big as a flat bettor is not to win small amounts over the long term, but to win large amounts in the short term. That is why huge wagers are so common in the private salons of Monte Carlo. It takes big bets to win big at Baccarat. Flat bettors who wager $10,000 or more per hand are quite common.
Wherever gambling is involved, there will always be someone trying to beat the system, not with skill or luck, but with criminal intent. Baccarat is certainly no exception as a target for cheaters, although the perpetrators, no matter how successful they may be initially, almost always get caught in the end.
“Past-posting” is probably one of the most common ways players try to gain more than their fair share from Baccarat tables. This practice refers to slipping more chips or larger denomination chips into the stack wagered after the result is already known.
To combat this, Baccarat tables commonly have a “ladderman” in addition to the croupier or dealer, and it is this extra employee’s job to watch over the table.
Additionally, casinos in Monaco and France have chips of different sizes and shapes for different denominations, which makes it much more difficult to substitute high-value chips for lower value ones, or to infuse them into a stack.
Another attempt to defraud Baccarat tables that was once common was marking the cards by creasing them. But in high stakes parlours, players are actually encouraged to bend, fold and otherwise mutilate the cards they turn over, because the decks are only used once and immediately taken from play.
About the only successful way to cheat a Baccarat table is to have the dealer involved. Between 2003 and 2006, this approach was taken by a group of more than a dozen high-tech card cheats known as the Tran Organisation.
This Canada-based group would bribe Mini Baccarat dealers at casinos to set up a false shuffle, returning groups of cards to the deck in a known order. By knowing the sequence of cards, Tran members could anticipate what cards players would be dealt and bet accordingly.
At targeted tables, the Tram team would station one member as a “card recorder” or “tracker,” responsible for identifying the order of the unshuffled cards. Then, a wireless transmitter was used to relay the sequence to a computer operator, who could in turn use the data to formulate betting strategies.
Interestingly enough, the Tran group did not always win. Sometimes, their card recorders made mistakes. Other times, they choose to lose on purpose, so as to not be suspected.
Their fatal error occurred, however, when they attempted to bribe an undercover agent at the Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.
During trials conducted in 2007, it was discovered that the group had scammed at least 17 casinos around North America out of about $7 million. In one case, they allegedly made $868,000 in just 90 minutes.
As previously mentioned, very low odds favour the house at Baccarat, making it an excellent game for those who carefully watch what cards are played and apply that knowledge to their bets. The house advantage is just 1.01% to 1.25%. This is true online as well as at land-based casinos.
When playing baccarat online, it is very important to know exactly what rules the game is being played by—Chemin-de-fer, Punto Banco, Baccarat en Banque, etc.
Be sure to check the site’s terms and conditions to see what commissions are taken from winnings on the Banker, or how much is charged if the Bank must be bought.
See if ties pay 9-to-1 or 8-to-1. Look for the table limits, both minimum and maximum. And find out what choices the Player is allowed to make after the first two cards are drawn, or if the rules dictate all aspects of standing and drawing.
Of course, you will want to play at a reputable gaming site. You can use a search engine to pull up a list of blacklisted operators as well as a list of those who are trustworthy.
Typically, any online casino that has been in existence for five or more years has met the industry standards for fair play, but it never hurts to double check a site’s alleged credentials.
Most gaming sites will allow you to experience their Baccarat games without putting up any cash. Using the “for fun” mode is a great way to learn the game and become experienced as a Baccarat punter, before you risk any real money on punto or banco.
Also, many online casinos are now offering real-time multiplayer Baccarat games in addition to fixed one-player games, such as Mini Baccarat. Real live dealers are often employed, with video streaming to create an extremely realistic gaming environment.
This is a great way to gain experience and confidence in actual table play before heading off to a land-based casino, where the environs can be a bit daunting for newcomers.
Of course, if a web site has promotional offers, such as bonus cash for joining or deposit matches, you will want to take advantage of the opportunity to play with house money.
But be extra careful before joining any bonus scheme, as many gambling sites limit the use of promo credits to slots and other non-even-money games. Make sure Baccarat qualifies for the bonuses before you sign up.