If there’s one game in the casino that’s associated with high rollers, it’s baccarat, sometimes known as “punto banco“. High limit rooms are filled with baccarat tables, making it seem like a game that’s only for the rich and pretentious – or James Bond.
But in reality, it is a very simple game that anyone can play. Casinos often spread “mini-baccarat” tables in the main casino floor that offer the exact same game played in the VIP rooms for regular customers, but without the same level of ambiance. In online versions of the game, there’s no such distinction; whether you’re betting $1 a hand or risking your life’s fortune, you’ll be playing at the same tables.
If you’ve ever seen the game in action, you may have been bewildered by the scoring or how the bets work, but it’s actually relatively easy to follow along – and since the dealer does all of the work, you won’t need to memorize any complex strategies to play, either.
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Online Baccarat for Real Money
From what we’ve seen, nearly every online gambling site that offers baccarat for real money does so with the standard rules we’ve come to know and love. This means that these websites are using six or eight deck shoes, and have a 5% commission on Banker bets.
That commission is the one place where you might get to differentiate some gambling sites. Of course, you should never play online baccarat (or live games for that matter) at a casino that takes more than 5% on Banker bets. However, you may occasionally run into promotions or deals for high-stakes players that offer reduced commission. If, for any reason, you find a game offering 0% commission with otherwise standard rules, jump on that as soon as possible – without a commission being taken, the Banker bet has a player edge of over 1.2%!
Learning the Fundamentals
When playing at an online casino, at the beginning of each hand, the player may make a bet on the Player, Banker, or Tie bets. It’s important to note that the player and banker names for the two hands are remnants of older forms of the game; the player may choose to bet on either hand, and the dealer will control both hands at all times.
After players have made their bets, the dealer deals two cards each (all cards are dealt face up) to the Player and Banker hands. Hands are scored by adding the value of each individual card, and dropping the tens place; in other words, a hand of 15 points is scored as a 5. Each numbered card is worth its printed rank, aces are worth 1, and tens and face cards are worth 0. The best possible hand is a 9; the worst possible hand is a 0.
After both hands are dealt, it is possible that one or both hands may receive a third card. First, the dealer checks to see if either the Player or Banker hand is worth 8 or 9 points. If this is the case, the hand ends immediately without either player receiving additional cards.
If neither hand is an 8 or 9, the Player hand is dealt with first. If the player’s hand has a score of 5 or lower, the Player will take a third card.
Next, the dealer assesses the Banker hand. If the Player stood, then the Banker will take an additional card with a hand of 5 or less, and stand with 6 or higher. If the Player hit, the Banker will follow a more complex set of rules based on what card the Player received as their third card. Those rules are as follows:
- If the Player received a 0 or 1, the Banker will stand with 4 or more, and hit on hands of 3 or less.
- If the Player received a 2 or 3, the Banker will stand with 5 or more, and hit on hands of 4 or less.
- If the Player received a 4 or 5, the Banker will stand with 6 or more, and hit with 5 or less.
- If the Player received a 6 or 7, the Banker will stand on 7, and hit with 6 or less.
- If the Player received an 8, the Banker will stand with 3 or more, and hit with 2 or less.
- If the Player received a 9, the Banker will stand with 4 or more, and hit with 3 or less.
It may seem completely arbitrary for the Banker hand to react to the Player’s third card rather than to the overall score of the Player hand, but that once again dates back to older forms of baccarat. When the game was commonly played between individual players, both hands were dealt face down. However, the Player’s third card would be dealt face up, giving the Banker some clue as to what they were up against. This has survived in the modern version of the game as the trigger for when the Banker will take a third card.
After all hands have been dealt any necessary third cards, bets are paid out. The hand with a higher score wins; all other bets lose. If the two hands tie, the tie bet wins, while both Player and Banker bets push.
Payouts on the Different Bets
- Player: 1-1
- Banker: 1-1, minus a 5% commission taken by the house (essentially, this means that a $20 bet pays $19)
- Tie: 8-1
There isn’t much strategy in baccarat, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see people trying to formulate strategies when you play in a casino. Tracking numbers is a popular habit, with players attempting to divine patterns in the results of each hand. What people often forget is that each hand is an independent event, meaning the odds of the player or banker winning the hand remains the exact same regardless of previous results.
A popular example of this is the belief that the player (or banker) “is due a win” after the banker (or player) has won 3 or 4 hands in a row. The fact of the matter is that the odds of the player winning the next are the exact same and do not change, even if the banker has won 100 times in a row. I’ve played in games where the banker has won more than 15 times in a row, so it’s important to be aware of the true odds.
So, if you want the best possible odds, just bet on the Banker every hand. For more details on why this is your best bet, read on!
Even with the 5% commission that the house takes, the Banker bet still has the lowest house edge of any of the bets on the table, coming in at a very low 1.06%. The Player bet isn’t half bad either, carrying a house edge of just 1.24%.
The bet to avoid is definitely the Tie bet. This bet has a house edge of 14.36%, making it one of the worst bets you’ll find in any table game! Even if you find a baccarat game offering 9-1 on tie bets, the house edge is still much higher than on either the Banker or Player bets.
Some online baccarat sites offer a side bet on whether the player or banker will receive a pair in their first two cards. Usually, these bets pay 11-1, and have a house edge of over 10%. It goes without saying that this is another bet you should stay well clear of.