Baccarat is a casino card game that requires no real playing decisions on the part of the player, but it offers a low house edge when compared to most other gambling games. Like blackjack or casino war, it’s a “comparing” game—you compare your hand to the banker’s to determine who wins. At one time, it was one of the most popular games in the casino, but (even though it still has its devotees) its popularity has been eclipsed by blackjack and slot machines.
This page offers the general rules for playing and the variations that are most commonly found on the Internet. It’s meant to be a complete “how to play baccarat online” guide. I’ve also included a tips for winning section at the end.
Baccarat resembles blackjack. The cards have point values, and the player compares his point total with the dealer’s to see who the winner is. Here’s how the cards count for scoring purposes:
To get your total score, you add the point values for each card. Your final score ignores everything except the digit to the right. So your final point value for each hand will always be a number between 0 and 9.
The hand is played similar to blackjack. Each player and the banker get 2 cards. Based on the initial 2 card total, a winner is declared. If not, there’s a drawing round. All cards in baccarat are played face up, including the banker’s. If anyone has a total of 8 or 9, a winner (or a tie) is declared. If no one has an 8 or 9, additional cards might be dealt, depending on the total score. This 3rd card is determined according to a set of rules—you don’t get to decide whether or not to take an additional card—another difference from blackjack.
These rules vary based on how many cards are in play. If the player has a total of 0-5 on his initial hand, he gets another card. If he has a 6 or 7, he stands. The dealer follows these rules for drawing an additional card, but only if the player stood (didn’t get extra cards). If the player got another card, the dealer rules get more complicated.
Here's a table that shows what the banker does after the player has drawn a 3rd card:
|Banker Total||Player's 3rd Card|
|2 or less||Doesn't matter|
The player’s 3rd card compared to the banker’s total determines whether or not the banker draws an extra card. If the banker has a total of 2 or less, he always takes an extra card. If the banker has a total of 7, he never takes a card. If the banker has any other total, you look at the table—the banker takes an extra card unless the player has one of the cards listed in the 2nd column. Here’s an example:
The banker has a total of 3. The player takes an additional card and gets an 8. The dealer does not take an additional card, because the 8 is the number listed in the column.
It’s not necessary to get too wrapped up in how this is determined, by the way. In a real casino, the dealer will know the rules for drawing and standing and will act accordingly. The computer program in an online casino is also programmed to follow these same rules. Since there are no decisions to be made, the player can just relax and enjoy the flow of the game.
You’re allowed to bet on the player or the banker. If you bet on the player and win, you get paid off at even money. If you bet on the banker and win, you get paid off at even money less a 5% commission. You can also bet on a possible tie, and if you win that bet, you get paid off at 8 to 1. The house edge for these bets are 1.24%, 1.06%, and 14.36%, respectively. The best bet is always to bet on the banker, because that’s the bet with the lowest house edge.
There are 3 main baccarat variations to be aware of:
Here’s how they vary:
Punto banco is the most common variation—it follows the rules as outlined above. The casino banks all the action in this version of the game. Players have no decision-making, and skill and strategy are irrelevant. You will find players who track the results of previous hands on scorecards, but they’re just victims of the gambler’s fallacy—the belief that previous events affect the odds of future events. This is the version you’ll play online 95% of the time, unless you’re playing at an unusual live dealer casino which offers one of the other 2 main variants.
Chemin de fer is how the game is played in France, and it’s also the original version. In Chemin de fer, the casino allows a player to be the banker. (This is not an option in Punto banco, and it’s the main difference between these 2 variations of the game.) In Chemin de fer, the player is allowed to make decisions about how to play his hand, but he usually just follows the rules as he would if that weren’t allowed. That’s because other players at the table have money on the hand too, and if the banker went against the smart play—let’s just say he wouldn’t be popular.
Banque, or Baccarat en Banque, is almost the same game as Chemin de fer. The main difference is that once a player becomes the banker, he continues in that role until he decides to not be banker anymore—or until he goes broke, which sometimes happens. The banker role is auctioned off to the highest bidder. So if you have the biggest stack of chips at the table, you get to be banker first. In Chemin de fer, players have to take turns being the banker.
You’ll occasionally see references to mini-baccarat. For the online player, this game isn’t significantly different than Punto banco. In a land-based casino, it’s played at a smaller table for smaller stakes.
The house edge for baccarat is relatively low compared to most games. Some players like to use the Martingale System for this game, and with bonus offers, that can sometimes be an effective strategy. But most online casinos disallow wagers on baccarat from counting toward their wagering requirements.
There’s really only one tip which can improve your odds of winning, and it’s this:
Always bet on the banker.
This is the bet that offers the lowest house edge (1.06%). The other 2 bets (the player and the tie bet) have a higher house edge. You should avoid bets with a high house edge.
The only other tip I can offer is to only gamble with money you can afford to lose. If you play any negative expectation game long enough, you’ll eventually lose all your money. That’s the nature of casino games. If you stick with money you can afford to lose—entertainment money—you can enjoy the game even if you don’t walk away a winner.
Author: Steve Mitchell