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Baccarat is a card game played at casinos. It is a comparing card game played between two hands, the “player” and the “banker”. Each baccarat coup (round of play) has three possible outcomes: “player” (player has the higher score), “banker”, and “tie”. There are three popular variants of the game: punto banco (or “North American baccarat”), baccarat chemin de fer (or “chemmy”), and baccarat banque (or à deux tableaux). In punto banco, each player’s moves are forced by the cards the player is dealt. In baccarat chemin de fer and baccarat banque, by contrast, both players can make choices. The winning odds are in favour of the bank, with a house edge no lower than around 1 percent.
Valuation of hands
In baccarat, cards have a point value: the 2 through 9 cards in each suit are worth face value (in points); the 10, jack, queen, and king have no point value (i.e. are worth zero); aces are worth 1 point; jokers are not used. Hands are valued according to the rightmost digit of the sum of their constituent cards. For example, a hand consisting of 2 and 3 is worth 5, but a hand consisting of 6 and 7 is worth 3 (i.e., the 3 being the rightmost digit in the combined points total of 13). The highest possible hand value in baccarat is therefore nine.
The overwhelming majority of casino baccarat games in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and Macau are “punto banco” baccarat and they may be seen labelled simply as “Baccarat”. About 91% of total income from Macau casinos in 2014 came from punto banco. In punto banco, the casino banks the game at all times, and commits to playing out both hands according to fixed drawing rules, known as the “tableau” (French: “board”), in contrast to more historic baccarat games where each hand is associated with an individual who makes drawing choices. The player (punto) and banker (banco) are simply designations for the two hands dealt out in each coup, two outcomes which the bettor can back; the player has no particular association with the gambler, nor the banker with the house.
Punto banco is dealt from a shoe containing 6 or 8 decks of cards shuffled together; a cut-card is placed in front of the seventh from last card, and the drawing of the cut-card indicates the last coup of the shoe. The dealer burns the first card face up and then based on its respective numerical value, with aces worth 1 and face cards worth 10, the dealer burns that many cards face down. For each coup, two cards are dealt face up to each hand, starting from “player” and alternating between the hands. The croupier may call the total (e.g., “five player, three banker”). If either the player or banker or both achieve a total of 8 or 9 at this stage, the coup is finished and the result is announced: a player win, a banker win, or tie. If neither hand has eight or nine, the drawing rules are applied to determine whether the player should receive a third card. Then, based on the value of any card drawn to the player, the drawing rules are applied to determine whether the banker should receive a third card. The coup is then finished, the outcome is announced, and winning bets are paid out.
Tableau of drawing rules
If neither the player nor the banker is dealt a total of 8 or 9 in the first two cards (known as a “natural”), the tableau is consulted, first for the player’s rules, then the banker’s.
- Player’s rule
- If the player has an initial total of 0–5, they draw a third card. If the player has an initial total of 6 or 7, they stand.
- Banker’s rule
- If the player stood pat (i.e., has only two cards), the banker regards only their own hand and acts according to the same rule as the player. That means the banker draws a third card with hands 0–5 and stands with 6 or 7.
If the player drew a third card, the banker acts according to the following more complex rules:
- If the banker total is 2 or less, then the banker draws a card, regardless of what the player’s third card is.
- If the banker total is 3, then the banker draws a third card unless the player’s third card was an 8.
- If the banker total is 4, then the banker draws a third card if the player’s third card was 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
- If the banker total is 5, then the banker draws a third card if the player’s third card was 4, 5, 6, or 7.
- If the banker total is 6, then the banker draws a third card if the player’s third card was a 6 or 7.
- If the banker total is 7, then the banker stands.
The croupier will deal the cards according to the tableau and the croupier will announce the winning hand, either the player or the banker. Losing bets will be collected and the winning bets will be paid according to the rules of the house. Usually, even money or 1-to-1 will be paid on player bets and 95% or 19-to-20 on banker bets (even money with “5% commission to the house on the win”).
Should both the player and banker have the same value at the end of the deal the croupier shall announce “égalité — tie bets win.” All tie bets will be paid at 8-to-1 odds and all bets on player or banker remain in place and active for the next game (the customer may or may not be able to retract these bets depending on casino rules).
In the U.S., the full-scale version of punto banco is usually played at large tables in roped off areas or private rooms separated from the main gaming floor. The game is frequented by high rollers, who may wager tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single hand. Minimum bets are relatively high, often starting at $100 and going as high as $500. Posted maximum bets are often arranged to suit a player. The table is staffed by a croupier, who directs the play of the game, and two dealers who calculate tax and collect and pay bets. Six or eight decks of cards are used, normally shuffled only by the croupier and dealers. The shoe is held by one of the players, who deals the cards on the instructions of the croupier according to the tableau. On a player win, the shoe moves either to the highest winning bettor, or to the next person in clockwise order around the table, depending on the casino’s conventions. The shoe may be refused or the croupier may be requested to deal.
Odds and strategy
Punto banco has both some of the lowest house edges among casino table games, and some of the highest. The player bet has an attractively low house edge of 1.24%, and the banker bet (despite the 5% commission on the win) is even lower, at 1.06%. Both are just slightly better for the player bet than chances at single-zero roulette, and comparable to playing blackjack without employing strategy.
In contrast, the tie bet which pays 8-to-1 has a high house edge of 14.4%. Most casinos in the United Kingdom pay the tie at 9-to-1, resulting in a more lenient house edge of approximately 4.85%.