In the 1953 novel Casino Royale, secret agent James Bond and criminal kingpin Le Chiffre were immersed in a high stakes game of baccarat. If you are more familiar with the 2006 movie, you’ll immediately notice a fundamental difference that was made for the big screen. In the 50s, baccarat was the game of choice in sophisticated casinos, but by the 90s, it had all but disappeared. The WSOP, however, had popularized Texas Holdem. In short, the game was changed to poker so that more viewers would understand what was happening.
Today, baccarat is back. It recently broke into the top 5 casino games in Australia, a position it has held in the UK for the past three years. Ready to unleash your inner James Bond and try the game for yourself? It’s easier than you might think.
Different types of baccarat
Like most card games, baccarat has different variations. Bond’s game, chemin de fer, is still mostly restricted to physical casinos in continental Europe. If you play baccarat online in Australia or the UK, you will almost certainly play punto banco against the house, and that is the baccarat variation on which we will focus here.
Punto banco is played against the dealer, a little like blackjack. The dealer will deal two hands face-up, one for “player” and one for “banker.” These are notional names, they could as easily be James and Peter or Alpha and Beta. Two cards are dealt to each, and according to rules that we don’t need to explore, the dealer might or might not deal a third. The winning hand is the value closest to nine.
Baccarat uses a unitary counting system, meaning you only consider the unit value, so the number after nine is zero. Face cards are worth zero and other cards face value. So for example, a hand with an 8 and a 7 is worth 5, as 8+7=15. Suits are irrelevant.
How to play punto banco baccarat
When you sit down to play baccarat, you are betting on who you think will win, so you can back banker, player or the tie. Those somewhat convoluted rules we mentioned that dictate whether or not a third card is dealt mean that banker has a very slim advantage – the probability of banker winning is 45.86% and the probability of player winning is 44.62%. When you correctly back the banker, the payout is 19/20, and when you back player, it is even money. Another way to express it is that both pay even money, but the house takes a five percent commission on banker wins. A tie usually pays out at 9/1.
When it comes to strategy, the house edge is marginally lower when you back banker, even with the five percent commission. However, both banker and player win bets have a house edge of less than 1.3 percent, and most players alternate between them according to their preferred type of trend analysis. The house edge for the tie is higher, at just under five percent, so is a bet that is usually ignored.