Baccarat is a casino card game. The word baccarat is derived from the Italian word baccara, meaning zero, and refers to the zero value given to all of the face cards and tens. In Europe it is one of the most popular casino games especially among the very wealthy. In the United States the game is usually seen in the form called mini-baccarat which is played at a smaller table. There are still a few Baccarat rooms in the United States, but they are mainly open only at night and on weekends. Some of the baccarat rooms maintain the European oversized chips (called plaques or jetons). The limits are generally much higher in the rooms than on the mini-baccarat tables.

The first reliable record of the game is from Italy in the middle of the 19th century. The game is an offshoot of the French game Vingt et Un (Twenty-One or Blackjack). It is similar because in both games the players try to get as close as possible to a specific number. The game is almost identical to Chemin de Fer with the main difference that in baccarat the players wager against the casino instead of each other. Also note that Chemin de Fer is the version of baccarat that James Bond 007 liked to play. He can be seen beating his enemies for very high stakes in Casino Royale.

A baccarat table has seats for 14 players numbered from 1 to 15 (excluding the "unlucky" 13 seat). The game usually has three dealers. Two of the dealers, each working a particular end of the table, pay bets when a player wins and takes bets away on losses. The third dealer, the croupier, directs the play of the game.

Baccarat is played with either six or eight complete decks of cards that are shuffled and placed in a shoe. All cards, ace through nine, are valued according to their count. Tens and face cards count as zero. The goal is to get as close as possible to a total count of nine. You cannot go bust in Baccarat by going over the total of nine. If the count is above nine you just subtract 10 from the count and proceed. (e.g. you hold a 6 and an 8 your count is 14 minus 10 or just 4).

The shoe is passed around all the players in turn clockwise. The person with the shoe is obligated to bet the part of the bank (banco). The players betting on Player are called punters. The option to handle the shoe can be passed if so desired. Before each deal the players must make a wager on the spots marked Player, Bank, or Tie (if they wish to play). The dealer then deals two cards to a hand marked Player and two cards to hand marked Player. (Baccarat can also be played on a table with a double layout (a deux tableaux). In this case, the banker deals out two player hands, one to the left and the other to his right, as well as his own hand. Bets can be placed for or against either player hand or both)

The highest total any baccarat hand can have is nine. A two-card total of nine is called a natural and cannot lose. An eight is the second best hand and it is also called a natural. If both player and bank are dealt identical hands, it is a tie and neither bank nor player wins.

If neither hand has a natural, the player's hand is always the first to be played, followed by the dealer. If the first two cards total five or less, another card is drawn. If they total six or seven, no further cards can be drawn. (In some places if the total is exactly 5 the player and bank can either accept or decline the third card at their option).

No more than a total of three cards can be drawn for either hand, and when both hands have been played out, the hand closest to nine wins.

The dealers then collect or pay off all the wagers on the table for the casino. Winning bets on Player get paid even money, Bank gets even money minus a 5% commission, and Tie gets paid at 8 to 1 (in some places at 9 to 1). The casino normally just keeps track of the commissions owed by each player (if any) and players settle their debt at the end of each shoe. The Player and Bank are the best bets in the game and if a gambler sticks with these bets they can limit the house edge to 1.24% and 1.06% respectively. The house edge on Tie is an outrageous 14.1%. (In places where Tie pays 9-1 the house edge is still over 5%).

There is little strategy in Baccarat because card counting is of virtually no use in the game. The game has been fully analyzed by mathematicians. The effect of the modulo 10 rules makes it so that neither Player or Bank will receive any advantage by knowing what cards remain in the deck (assuming of course they remain in a random unknown order).

Mini-Baccarat is the form most commonly seen in American casinos. An advantage with mini-baccarat is that the high roller expectations are discarded. You can dress casual and the table minimums are smaller than behind the velvet ropes of the baccarat rooms. It was developed because Americans didn't feel comfortable playing in the overly formal rooms. It is played on a standard seven-person blackjack table that has been outfitted with a mini-baccarat table layout. A single dealer handles the cards for the casino and handles all of the payouts. The players just chooses from the three spots (Player, Bank, and Tie) on which he can place his wager. The dealer only deals two hands -- one for the player and one for the bank. The Player hand receives a third card if their total is 5 or below (as in regular baccarat). There is a complicated set of rules to determine if the Bank hand receives a third card. You can ask the casino for the rules if you are interested. The payouts and strategy for mini-baccarat are the same as in regular baccarat.

Baccarat Optimal Strategy?

The "optimal strategy" for this game (like all other casino games): DO NOT PLAY THIS GAME! Take whatever chips you have remaining and cash them in at the cashier cage. Baccarat is not a beatable game using any strategy over the long run (barring cheating).

If perhaps you should find yourself "forced" (by gunpoint or coercion) to play this game then the optimal strategy changes somewhat. To get the lowest house edge you should bet the table minimum on Bank. The bet on Player has nearly the same edge but it is slightly worse. The bet on Tie is terrible and should be avoided like the plague.

Bac`ca*ra", Bac`ca*rat" (?), n. [F.]

A French game of cards, played by a banker and punters.


© Webster 1913.

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