Baccarat

Introduction

Baccarat, also sometimes known as Baccara, is a banking game available in casinos worldwide, and also as an online game. The aim of the player is to form a hand whose point value is nearer to 9 than the hand of the banker. Pip cards count as face value, pictures and tens as zero, and only the last digit of the total counts (so that for example seven plus six is worth 3, not 13). In casinos, Baccarat is traditionally played in a luxurious Baccarat pit – a sealed-off area protected by security guards – on a specially designed table. Baccarat has the reputation of being the most exclusive casino game and of attracting a lot of high rollers, including James Bond himself.

Baccarat first appeared in France in the early 19th century. The first known published description is in the book Album des jeux de hasard et de combinaisons by Charles Van-Tenac (1847). This earliest version of the game is now known as Baccarat à Deux Tableaux or Baccarat Banque to distinguish it from later streamlined variants. One famous variant is Baccarat Chemin de Fer (railway Baccarat), later just known as Chemin de Fer or in the America as Chemmy or Shimmy. Its name may refer to the way the dealing shoe travels around the table like a train, or maybe just because it is faster than the original game and railways were the fastest available form of transport in the mid 19th century when it was invented. The most widely played version of Baccarat nowadays is the further simplified game Punto Banco, which is said to have originated at the Capri Casino in Havana, Cuba in the 1950's. On this page these three games will be described in reverse order, beginning with Punto Banco since that is now the best known form of the game.

There are many implausible legends about the origin and etymology of Baccarat. It is often claimed that the game originated in 15th century Italy, even though there is absolutely no contemporary evidence for its existence before the 19th century and the earliest references to the game of Baccarat all come from France. There are surviving records of the operations of Italian casinos in the 18th century including details of the number of players and the games they played, and Baccarat is never mentioned. However, legends of the game's antiquity began to circulate quite soon after its appearance in France. For example the second edition of Duckett's Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture (1867) asserts without evidence that Baccara was an Italian game imported into the south of France after Charles VIII's Italian war (1494-1498), and this dictionary entry may perhaps have led to many of the later elaborations of the myth. Another popular belief is that the word 'baccara' means 'zero' in some Italian dialect, but no one has been able to substantiate this. The most plausible explanation of the name that we have seen is the suggestion by Thierry Depaulis that it originates from the Provençal expression 'fa bacarrat' which means 'go bankrupt'.

Note. Gambling can be dangerously addictive. You can find information and advice on our Responsible Gambling page.

Our thanks to the editors of thepogg.com and to Ján Kovac of casino.gura, who contributed some of the material for this page.

Punto Banco

The version of Baccarat that is most often played in casinos nowadays is commonly called Punto Banco. This is a house backed card game particularly popular with Asian cultures and favoured especially by high rollers. Although many players may bet on the outcome, it is essentially a two-player game between the 'Banker' and the 'Player'. The game process has been streamlined to the point where all decisions are completely automatic. Neither the players nor the house have any option in how to play the cards. The only choice for the player is how much to bet and on which side, and the outcome of the game is pure chance.

Baccarat uses a number of standard 52-card decks shuffled together. For the purposes of the game every card rank is given a numerical value. The 2 through 9 pip cards are valued by their pip denomination. Aces carry a value of 1. Face cards and 10-pip cards carry a value of zero. Offline Baccarat is typically played with 8 decks of 52 cards while online it is more common for the game to be dealt from 6 decks of cards.

Unlike most casino banked card games Baccarat allows the player to wager that either the Player hand or the Banker hand will win. Where the player chooses to bet on the Banker hand the casino charges a 5% commission on the bet and this ensures that there is a House Advantage regardless of the way the player bets.

Mechanics of the game

When playing offline the dealer will shuffle the shoe then draw the first card showing the player. This card is read as its pip value with face cards counting as 10. The dealer will then draw the corresponding number of cards from the top of the shoe and immediately discard, or ‘burn’, these cards. A plastic card, called the ‘cut card’ will be inserted 16 cards from the bottom of the shoe. When this card is drawn it signifies that the next round of play will be the last before the shuffle.

Online the game is automatically shuffled after every hand and the above process of burning cards and placing the cut card are abandoned.

Once all players have placed a wager the dealer will then deal 2 cards to the Player hand and 2 cards to the Banker hand. It should be stressed that only a single Player hand is dealt regardless of how many players there are on the table. Each hand value is determined by adding the value of the two cards together and only considering the units column of the resultant figure. For example, if the player hand was dealt a 9 and a 7 you would add these together giving 16, then only consider the units column, so the hand value would be 6.

baccarat deal

In the above image the Player’s hand has a total of 7+4 = 11 and as such is considered to have a value of 1 and the Banker’s hand has a total of 10+7 = 17 and is considered to have a value of 7.

The procedure for play after the initial deal is fixed. Neither the player nor the house makes any decisions. The following rules are followed:

  • If the Player or the Banker receive an 8 or a 9 then both hands stand.
  • If the Player hand has a value of 6 or 7 then the Player hand stands.
  • If the Player hand has a value of 5 of less another card is dealt to it.
  • If the Player hand stands the Banker hand will draw another card if it has a value of 5 or less.
  • If the Player hand draws an additional card the Banker hand will act according to the following table, which shows whether the Banker must draw a third card ('Hit') or play with just the original two cards ('Stand') according to the value of the Banker's 2-card hand and the value of the third card drawn by the Player:
  • banker play table

The result is decided by comparing the final hand values: the higher hand wins. If both hands have the same numerical value the round is considered a Push and all Player and Banker wagers are returned.

The conclusion of the above example hand could be like this:

baccarat result

As the Player hand had a value lower than 5 it drew an additional card. The extra card was a 4 giving the hand a total of 7+4+4 = 15 and a value of 5. As the Player’s 3rd card was a 4 and the Banker’s hand had a value of 7, the Banker stood. As such the Banker hand won with a value of 7 compare to the Player hand value of 5. You can also see that the winning Banker bet has been paid out at 1 to 1 minus the 5% commission on winning Banker bets.

Note. Some players may be puzzled by the rules on when to draw a card. For example if the dealer has 7 and the Player has 6, why should the Player not draw a card, since otherwise the Banker is certain to win? And why do the banker's decisions take account only of the player's third card and not the first two? The answer is that Baccarat was formerly played with the Player's and the Banker's two-card hands concealed: only the third card if called for was dealt face up. The original hands were only exposed after all draw decisions had been made. The decision tables represent the best basic strategy for the Play and Banker with this limited information. Once the entire decision process was formalised into rules and the players no longer had any freedom of choice, it no longer mattered if all the cards could be seen from the start, and many people found the game more exciting with all cards face up. The older games Chemin de Fer and Baccarat à Deux Tableaux, where players still have some freedom of choice in whether to take a third card or stand, are played with the first two cards of each hand concealed from the opponent, and the above decision tables are still a good guide to basic strategy in those games.

Tie Bet

Alongside the Player and Banker bets, the majority of casino Baccarat games also offer the Tie bet. This is a wager that both the Player and Banker hands will result in the same value and typically offers odds of 8 to 1 against a tie. In some places slightly better odds of 9 to 1 may be found.

Payouts and House Edge

The payouts for each of the bets alongside the House Edge are shown in the table below. Note that there is a small difference in House Edge depending on the number of decks that are in play:

 
Payout
House Edge
1 Deck 6 Decks 8 Decks
Player 1 to 1 1.29% 1.24% 1.24%
Banker 19 to 20 1.01% 1.06% 1.06%
Tie 8 to 1 15.75% 14.44% 14.36%

As can be seen from the table above, the best bet for the player is the Banker bet and the Tie bet is not only significantly more costly but also a more expensive bet than the vast majority of wagers you can place in a  casino. Even the majority of slots games, which are known to be high cost, charge the player less than the Tie bet. In short, playing the Tie bet at 8 to 1 is not a good idea. Even at 9 to 1 the house edge is almost 5%, making it more expensive than betting on the player or banker hands.

It can also be seen that a lower number of decks in play slightly reduces the House Edge of the Banker bet, and makes the Player and Tie bets more expensive for the Player.

Side Bets

Offline casinos around the world offer a wide variety of side bets which vary from place to place. There are far too many of these to provide a comprehensive list in this article.

Surprisingly, online casinos provide only a very limited range of side bet options in Baccarat. In fact only a couple of software providers, Playtech and Dragonfish (part of the 888 group) offer any side bets at all. These two providers offer the following side bets. Payouts and House Edge figures can be found in parentheses at the end of each option:

Player Pair – A bet that the first two cards that the Player hand will receive will be of matching rank. (11 to 1, 11.254%)

Banker Pair – A bet that the first two cards that the Banker hand will receive will be of matching rank. (11 to 1, 11.254%)

Either Pair – A bet that the first two cards that either the Player or Banker hand receives will be of matching rank. (5 to 1, 14.54%)

Perfect Pair – A bet that the first two cards that either the Player or Banker hand receives will be of matching rank and suit. (25 to 1, 17.07%)

Big – A bet that a total of 5 or 6 cards will be dealt over the full round of play (0.54 to 1, 4.35%)

Small – A bet that only 4 cards will be dealt over the full round of play (1.5 to 1, 5.27%)

As can be seen from the above list, the side bets available on online Baccarat games cost significantly more than the main bets and are best avoided. This is fairly typical of side bets offered on casino games in general.

Chemin de Fer

According to Jean Quinola in his Nouvelle Academie des Jeux (1883) Chemin de Fer was originally a kind of dealer's choice game where the players took turns to be banker at the game of their choice, for example Lansquenet or Baccarat, continuing to deal so long as they won, and passing on the banker role when they lost. Since Baccarat was the most popular choice of game, it evolved into Baccarat Chemin de Fer where the game was always Baccarat. This variation of Baccarat was featured in early James Bond movies, notably the early Casino Royale but the game also appeared in Dr. No and Thunderball.

In contrast to Punto Banco described above, both the banker and the player have some limited choice of whether to draw a third card to their hand. Chemin de Fer also features a more complex betting process, where the bank can pass from one player to another, and the other players take turns to place bets up to the total staked by the bank. Chemin de Fer proceeds much more slowly than Punto Banco, as players may take time deciding on their bets and whether to draw or stand. This is probably why the simpler game has superseded it in many places. Nevertheless Chemin de Fer can still be played in several Italian casinos such as the Casino di Venezia, the Casino di Campione d’Italia and the Saint Vincent Casino.

Setup

The table has 8 or more positions for players. In order to start the game, usually at least 6 players have to be seated and willing to play. Some casinos require the table to be fully occupied before the game can begin.

Chemin de Fer is usually played with six 52-card decks, sometimes with eight. Traditionally, cards without corner indices are used. The casino provides a croupier who directs the play and takes a commission for the casino when the banker wins. The amount of commission depends on the casino but is usually 5% of the amount won by the banker, sometimes less. The croupier uses a long paddle made of wood, known as a palette, to move the cards and casino chips at the far ends of the table. Before the game starts the dealer shuffles the decks of cards. One of the players has to cut them before they can be placed into the dealing shoe.

palette and cards
Baccarat palette and cards - image by Roland Scheicher from Wikimedia Commons

Betting

One of the players at the table acts as banker, receives the dealing shoe from which cards are dealt under instruction from the croupier. Before any cards are dealt, the banker must put up a stake and the other players bet against the banker. Each deal is known as a coup, and in each coup the total amount staked by the other players must be less than or equal to the banker's stake. Just two hands of cards are dealt, one for all the players and one for the banker.

  • If the players win, the banker pays them each the amount of their stakes, keeps anything that is left in the bank, and loses the right to be banker.
  • If the banker wins, the banker collects all the players' stakes, less the casino's commission, adds this money to the bank, and may continue banking.
  • In case of a tie, the player's stakes are returned and the banker may continue banking with the same bank.

The player to the right of the croupier is entitled to be the first banker, after which the right to be banker rotates counter-clockwise around the table. A banker is entitled to keep the bank so long as he or she wins or ties the coup. When the banker loses a coup, the right to be banker is offered to the next player in rotation. A player who does not wish to be banker when their turn comes may decline the offer, and the right to be banker passes to the next player in counter-clockwise rotation, or if they do not want it to the following player, and so on.

Once the banker has put up a stake, the other players place their bets. If any player wishes to bet the entire value of the bank against the banker, they call 'banco'. If more than one player calls 'banco', the one whose turn was earlier in counter-clockwise rotation from the banker has priority. If no one calls 'banco', then each player in turn, beginning to the banker's right and continuing counter-clockwise, can bet any amount provided that the total bets are not more than what is in the bank. If a player's bet makes the total equal to the bank then no further bets can be placed, and any players whose turns are later have no stake in the coup.

After all the players have had a turn to bet, if the total amount of their bets does not cover the bank, spectators may also be allowed to place bets until the total of reaches the bank value. If the total of the bets is still less than the value of the bank, the croupier removes the difference from the bank and keeps it on behalf of the banker.

A banker who wins or ties a coup and wishes to continue as banker is not allowed to withdraw money from the bank. In the next coup the banker must stake the entire amount that was covered by the player bets in the previous coup, plus any winnings. The banker can however add more money to the bank, subject to any maximum limit imposed by the casino, for example by reclaiming and putting in some of the money being held by the croupier because it was not covered in a previous coup.

A banker who does not wish to continue can retire, keeping all winnings and reclaiming any money being held on behalf of the banker by the croupier. In this case another player may take over the bank provided that they are willing to stake at least as much money as the retiring banker would have had to stake. The opportunity to take over is first offered to the player to the retiring banker's right, and then to the other players in counter-clockwise rotation until someone accepts. If a banker retires and the next player to the right takes it over, this counts as that player's turn to run the bank. If any other player takes over, then the player to the right of the retiring banker will have the next turn to bank after the bank loses a coup. If a banker retires and no one is willing to take over and put up an equivalent stake, then the right to run the bank for any amount within the casino limits reverts to the player to the retiring banker's right.

Example. The first player A puts up a bank of €1000. The players between them bet the whole €1000 and the banker wins the coup. The casino takes its €50 commission (5%) so the banker now has €1950 and in order to continue as banker must stake this whole amount. In the second coup the bets total only €1600, so the croupier saves the remaining €350 for player A. The bank wins again, and the casino takes its €80 commission and A's next bank must be at least €3120. It cannot be less, but player A could add some of the €350 that the croupier has reserved to make it larger. Player A decides to continue with a bank of just €3120 and this time the whole bank is covered by players' bets. The bank wins the coup again, the casino takes €156 commission leaving €6084 for the next bank. Player A decides that this is too much to risk and retires, reclaiming the €350 reserve from the croupier for a total of €6434. Now the other players are offered the chance to take over the bank. The next two players B and C refuse, but player D is willing to put up the required stake of €6084 for the next coup. The players bet a total of €4600 against this and the banker loses the coup and pays the players. D loses the bank and keeps just the €1484 that was not covered by player bets. The turn to be banker now returns to B, who puts up a stake of (say) €1500 and the game continues.

In some places, at the start of a session and when a banker retires or loses, instead of offering the bank to the next player in rotation the casino may auction the bank and give it to whoever is prepared to put up the highest stake.

If a player who calls 'banco' to bet the whole amount of the bank loses the coup, he or she may then call 'banco suivi', claiming right to call 'banco' on the next coup with priority over all the other players, irrespective of position at the table.

When several players have bet, the player who placed the largest bet against the banker is designated by the croupier as the active player or punter. This player makes any decisions required on behalf of the players.

Note that in Chemin de Fer, unlike Punto Banco, players do not have a choice on which side to bet. The banker's stake is for the banker's hand and bets by other players are on the players' hand.

Play

The banker deals one first card face down to the active player, then one to the banker, then a second card to the active player and a second card to the banker.

The active player looks at the players' two cards and if the total is 8 or 9 places them face up, announcing 'la petite' for 8 or 'la grande' for 9. In this case the banker's cards are turned face up and the hands are compared. The higher hand wins the coup, or if they are equal it is a tie and the players' stakes are returned to them.

With a total of 7 or less the active player has to decide whether to ask for a third card by saying 'carte' or to call 'pas de carte' or 'non' to play with just the original two cards.

  • If the active player is playing alone, with no one else having bet against the banker, the only constraint is that the player must call 'carte' if the hand total is zero (sometimes known as 'baccarat').
  • If other players have also placed bets, then the active player should call 'carte' with a total of 4 or less, and 'non' with a total of 6 or 7. With a total of 5, the active player has a free choice whether to call for a card or not.

After the active player has called 'carte' or 'non' it is the banker's turn to look at the banker's two cards.

  • If the total is 8 or 9 the banker automatically wins the coup - the player cannot have a third card in this case.
  • If the total is 7 or less and the active player has called 'carte', the banker deal's one card face up, which will be added to the players' hand.

Now, if the banker's total is 7 or less, the banker must decide whether to draw a third card. Note that at this point, the banker has not seen the player's first two cards. The only information available is that the player has a total of 7 or less (otherwise the player would have called 'la grande' or 'la petite'), whether the player called for a third card, and if so what the player's third card was. The banker decides whether or not to draw using a decision table similar to the one for Punto Banco, but with freedom of choice in just a couple of cases.

  • If the player did not ask for a card, the banker draws a third card with a total of 5 or less, but not with 6 or 7.
  • If the player asked for a third card and the banker has a total of 0, 1 or 2, the banker always draws a third card.
  • With a total of 7, the banker never draws a third card.
  • If the banker's total is 3, 4, 5 or 6, the decision depends on the player's third card as follows.
    Banker's
    hand
    Player's third card
    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    3 H H H H H H H H S O
    4 S S H H H H H H S S
    5 S S S S O H H H S S
    6 S S S S S S H H S S
    where 'H' means hit (draw), 'S' means stand (do not draw), and 'O' means the banker has the freedom to choose whether to draw a third card or not.

Both players now expose their cards and the higher valued hand wins. If the total it is a tie and players' stakes are returned.

Baccarat à Deux Tableaux (Baccarat Banque)

This is, so far as we know, the original 19th century form of Baccarat. The earliest 19th century descriptions mention only this version. Please not however that the name “Baccarat Banque” may in some places now be used to refer to Punto Banco, so the name Baccarat à Deux Tableaux (Two Table Baccarat) is more unambiguous. According to John Scarne, this version of Baccarat fell out of favour in the USA because the freedom of choice given to the banker in the play enables a form of cheating in which players collude with the banker by signalling their card count.

Setup

This game is usually played with three 52-card decks. It is somewhat similar to Chemin de Fer but the banker has more freedom in the play and the banker position is permanent. The same person keeps the bank until either all the cards have been dealt or until the banker loses everything or retires voluntarily.

As suggested by the name of the game, the table is divided into two halves, to the left and right of the banker. The players sit around the two halves of the table, some on the left and some on the right. Three hands are dealt, one hand for the players on the right, one hand for the players on the left and one hand for the banker. Each of the two groups of players plays against the banker, not against each other.

First the cards are shuffled, usually by the banker. Players on both sides of the table can shuffle the deck again. However the banker has the right to shuffle the cards last, and to offer the cards to any player or spectator to cut.

Betting

Then players then place their bets. As in Chemin de Fer the total value of the bets cannot be greater than the amount staked by the banker. Some casinos allow a player to bet on either of the player hands or to bet 'à cheval', meaning that the bet is divided equally between the two hands. Others may allow players only to bet on the hand on their own side of the table.

The players act in turn, beginning with the nearest player to the right of the croupier and continuing counter-clockwise around the table so long as the total of the bets is less than the total size of the bank. After all the players have had their turns, if there is still money in the bank that is not covered by player bets, spectators may also be allowed to bet.

As in Chemin de Fer, a player who wishes to bet the entire amount of the bank calls 'banco' and has priority. If two players call 'banco' each bets half the bank, one on each hand. If more than two players call 'banco', the two who are earliest in counter-clockwise order have priority. A player who loses a 'banco' bet can call 'banco suivi', claiming priority to play for the bank again in the next coup, to try to win back the loss.

Traditionally, on each side of the table the players take turns to be the active player. If the active player wins the coup, the same player continues to play for that side of the table in the next coup. If the player loses, the turn to play the hand passes to the next player on that side in counter-clockwise rotation.

Deal and Play

The banker then deals the cards face down in the following sequence: one to the right hand player, one to the left hand player, one to the banker, then a second card to the right hand player, then the left hand player, and finally the banker.

The banker and the two active players look at their hands and if any of them has a total of 8 or 9 they show their cards. In this case all three hands are exposed, and the banker settles up separately with each side, paying out if the players' hand is higher than the banker's, collecting the players' stakes if the players' hand is lower, and returning the players' stakes if there is a tie.

If all the hands have a total of 7 or less, then each of the active players must decide in turn whether to ask for a third card, which is dealt face up. As in Chemin de Fer, if the hand total is 4 or less the player must ask for a card, if it is 6 or 7 the player must stand and play with the two cards as dealt, and if it is 5 the player has a free choice whether to stand or ask for a card. The player of the right hand acts first, followed by the player of the left hand.

After this it is the banker's turn to choose whether to draw a third card or stand. In this version of Baccarat the banker does not have to follow any rules but has a completely free choice, based on the available information. The banker knows whether each of the two players stood or asked for a card, and if they asked for a card the banker knows their third card, but not the first two. Importantly, the banker also knows how much has been staked on each of the player hands. If the bets are very uneven, the banker will try to play so as to beat the hand with the larger bet.

When the banker has either decided to stand or taken a third card, all the hands are exposed. The banker's hand is compared separately with each of the player hands, and the banker pays out, collects or returns the players' bets according to the results.

Baccarat Systems and Strategies

The most widespread Baccarat game Punto Banco is purely a game of chance and there really is nothing you can do to increase your chances of winning, apart from avoiding the tie bet. Betting on the Banker's hand is slightly more attractive than betting on the Player, especially on those rare occasions when you may stumble upon a casino that charges less than 5% commission on a banker bet.

Although older Baccarat variants offer some scope for choice in the play, any extra freedom provided is generally only freedom to make the wrong choice, and the odds for the player are no better. The bank is the only potentially profitable position, and this profit will normally be negated by the commission charged by the casino.

Beware of betting and pattern spotting strategies that involve varying the size of bet according to previous results. Since the result of each game is independent of the outcome of previous games, all these Martingale-based systems are seriously flawed: even if they result in a win most of the time, this will always be more than counterbalanced by the risk of an occasional large loss.

It is possible to improve one's results slightly by counting cards and placing larger bets when the distribution of cards remaining to be dealt is more favourable. However, the counting techniques required are extremely complicated and unlike in Blackjack the opportunities for profit are so small and rare that the effort is not worthwhile. Detailed analysis of this can be found on the Wizard of Odds site.

Other Sites for Baccarat rules, information and advice

  • The Pogg's Baccarat Guide provides information on Baccarat including a House Edge calculator, with advice on strategy and places to play online.
  • Casino Guru also has a Baccarat guide with rules, variants and advice.
  • Roland Scheicher has written an article for the German Wikipedia about Baccara and related games, including Macao.