Thrust into the spotlight by none other than 007 himself, baccarat is one of the most popular casino card games in the world with simple rules that take just minutes to learn.
Like many of the most popular casino games of the 21st century, baccarat developed in Europe in the middle ages but experience real growth after it was exported to the USA. In the case of baccarat specifically, the game appears to have been developed in France in the 1400s, but the original form was invented in Italy.
How do we know it's from Italy? Well, the name baccarat actually comes from an old Italian word for the number "zero". "Baccarat" refers to the fact that all tens and face cards (jacks, queens and kings) are valued at zero. Taking this even further, any hand that equals ten also has a value of baccarat - this is the constant rule that has remained since the game's early days.
There are several theories about the precise location and century of baccarat's invention, but we like the one that says it was invented by an Italian gambler Felix Falguierein in the middle ages and was played with Tarot cards. As the theory goes, it was based on based on an old Etruscan ritual of the nine gods, who prayed to a blonde virgin on their tiptoes waiting for her to throw a nine-sided die. Her fate was decided by the die: eight or nine meant she became a priestess, six or seven banned her from religious activities, and any number less than six meant she would walk into the sea.
What is certain is that the game made its way to France in the 1400s, and was one of the most popular games among French royalty for the next 500 years. However, the French version of chemin de fer failed to make it across the seas, while the English version of punto banco did, migrating to the US via South America.
The US took the lead in gambling in the 20th century, and as a result Punto Banco became the most popular version around the world. One thing the US kept in common with France of the previous five centuries was that Baccarat was the game for the rich and famous - in France it was for the royals and the nobility, while in the US it is for the self-made high-rollers who like to spend big in Vegas and Atlantic City.
Online gambling has ushered in the latest revolution in gambling, and baccarat has been a big part of this. Any online casino worth its salt offers mini baccarat tables - most play the game under standard American rules, although some offer multiple forms of the game. As is the case with poker, roulette and other casino games adapted to the online environment, baccarat cards are dealt randomly on your screen.
Live Baccarat is the latest development in the world of online baccarat. Now online gambling operators have combined the best of land-based casinos and online casinos. Just imagine what the French royals of the 15th century would have thought if you told them that one day they could play baccarat at a real casino through their personal computer or smartphone!
Baccarat has a rich vocabulary of unique terms. Not surprisingly, the origin for many of these words is French and Italian - the languages spoken by those who founded and developed the game
Baccarat: Of course, this is the name of the game. But it is also used to mean that the total of a player's hand is zero, which - in case you were confused - is a bad thing.
Banco: Another name for the banker.
Banker: Betting on the banker's (dealer) hand, one of the three possible bets in a standard game. This pays off at 1 to 1 minus the banker's commission, giving the house an edge of just over 1%.
Bankroll: As in other forms of gambling, the amount of money you have available.
Coup: A single round, consisting of a player hand and a banker hand.
Dealer: The person who draws the cards. This person is known as the "croupier" in France.
Mini Baccarat: A version of baccarat in which the dealer draws all the cards. Mini Baccarat tends to be offer lower limits and is widely available at online casinos.
Natural: A term which describes a situation in which the player's first two cards total either eight or nine.
Player: Betting on the player's hand, one of the three possible bets in a standard baccarat game. Like a bet on the banker's hand, it pays off at 1:1 with house advantage of just above 1%.
Punto: Another name for the player.
Run: A side wager which may be placed on a number of successive winning player/banker hands or a number of successive winning Tie hands.
Standoff: A tie, in which the player's cards and the dealer's cards have the exact same value.
Tie: The third possible bet during a coup, meaning to bet on a tie between player and banker. This has the biggest payoff of 8:1 but it also gives the house a massive advantage of just under 15%.
Modern baccarat is played with 4-8 decks at a time and anywhere from 5-14 players seated at a table. The value of the cards is as follows: cards from 2-9 are counted at face value; tens, jacks, queens or kings are given a value of zero; and ace has a value of one (it cannot alternate between one and 11, as in blackjack).
At the beginning of the each hand (or coup), players bet on either the banker, player or a tie, depending on who they thing will be dealt the higher hand (or if they believe they will be dealt equal hands). The best possible hand is a nine. If a player receives cards totalling eight or nine, no more cards are dealt. If the cards total more than 10, only the second digit is counted (for example: 7 and 6 = 3; 5, 5 and queen = 0, which is baccarat, the lowest possible total).
Each player, including the one dealing, may bet on either the player or the banker. However, it is customary at some establishments for the dealer to bet on the banker. The deal rotates around the table as in Poker or Craps, although a player may pass the "shoe" to the person to their left if they do not want to deal. The dealer does not change if the banker wins a hand.
In standard baccarat, the dealer may deliver both the Player hand and the Banker hand to the player who places the highest wagers on these hands. If the player with the highest wager on either Player or Banker refuses those cards, the dealer may offer those cards to the next highest wagerer. In the event that two players have made an equal wager on either Player or Banker, the dealer settles this dispute by offering the cards to the player who is sitting in the lowest numbered seat. If both refuse, the dealer offers the cards to the next player with the highest wager.
Two hands are dealt - a Player hand and a Banker hand. After the initial four cards have been dealt, if the point count of either hand is 8 or 9, no more cards are dealt to either hand. But if the point count is 0 to 7, the player hand will draw or stand.
Mini Baccarat, a form of baccarat which is very common at online casinos, follows the same basic rules and same odds as standard Baccarat but implements different dealing methods. Unlike the standard version, the dealer turns over all the cards, making the game much faster. Mini Baccarat is often dealt from a six-deck shoe, which can change the odds ever so slightly.
One of the reasons for baccarat's popularity is that it is quite simple. There are really only two things you can do - bet on the player hand or bet on the banker hand (you can also bet a tie, but this is rare and risky). The only basic strategy to remember is that both the player's hand and banker's hand return 1:1 on wins, but the banker hand actually returns less because of the 5% commission.
Back in the early days of American baccarat, Las Vegas casinos used to allow players to bet on a natural (card value of 8 or 9), paying out 9:1 odds. However, a man named Edward Thorp developed a card-counting strategy that was later written about in Life Magazine in 1964, and as a result the casinos stopped offering this type of bet. It was around this time that mathematicians started devoting their energies to other card games such as poker.
Therefore, the main strategy you need to think about when you enter a baccarat game is how much you spend. This, of course, depends on your personal preference and financial situation. Check the size of your bankroll, make sure you're having fun, and remember to bet responsibly.
While punto banco is a game of chance with no skill or strategy involved, it is worth noting that the other versions of the game - baccarat chemin de fer and baccarat banque - allow players to make a certain number of choices (while maintaining roughly the same odds between player and banker), which brings skill and strategy into the picture. So if you like baccarat but also want to use a bit of math and strategy, then these games may be for you.
- Baccarat does not require any complex strategies. The best way to improve your game is to try out the free-play versions offered by many online casinos before spending actual money on the game (this is a generally good strategy to follow when it comes to any casino game).
- Stay away from making the Tie bet. It may pay out juicy odds of 8:1 but it is considered very risky, and you will rarely see a serious baccarat player take a chance on it.
- Try out the different versions of baccarat and see which one suits you. The American version is the online casino standard, but you'll also be able to find Mini Baccarat and often will get the chance to try the French version - chemin de fer.
- Speaking of Baccarat chemin de fer, this one features in a number of James Bond 007 books and movies. Baccarat players would be aghast to find out that the game featured in the 1953 novel Casino Royale and was replaced by Texas Hold'em Poker in the 2006 movie adaptation. It is well worth reading the novel, as the plot revolves around a baccarat game between Bond and his enemy Le Chiffre. The original version even includes its own guide to game.
- Shop around for casinos or online casinos where the house charges less or where there are baccarat-related promotions. Standard commissions are 5%, but if you're smart with your choice of casino operator, you can find good deals that boost your bankrolls or your payout percentages.
- We said it before, but we'll say it again. There are a limited number of options that you can choose in a baccarat game, which makes how much you spend all the more important. So make sure you only spend within your limits, and hopefully you'll come away with some extra coin at the end of the game.