Baccarat, a game that appears so serious and elegant that it might seem intimidating to average players, is actually quite simple. It’s also one of the best casino games to play, with a house edge well below that of other table games like blackjack and roulette. Baccarat is played on a large table in the high-roller rooms of casinos for minimum bets of $25, $50, or even $100 per hand.
It is often referred to as the “game of nines,” and it’s not uncommon for a round to take an hour or more to complete. The game is a combination of luck and skill. The objective is to get a hand that totals close to 9 without going over. Players can bet on either the Player or Banker hands, or a tie bet. Two cards are dealt to each hand, and sometimes a third card is drawn. The winner is the hand that totals closest to 9.
After all players have placed their bets, the dealer announces “no more bets.” Then a card is revealed at the Player box, followed by another at the Banker box. The winner is the box with a higher-ranked combination. The cards are drawn from a six or eight-card shoe. A third card may be dealt to the Banker or Player hands in some circumstances, but only if either hand has a total of four or five. A pair bet is also available, in which case a bet is paid out at a rate of one to eleven.
If the player’s or banker’s hand wins, the bet is paid out at 1:1. However, a 5% commission is usually charged by the casino. If a tie bet is won, the payout varies from 8:1 to 9:1. The best strategy is to always bet on the Banker hand because the house edge on this bet is the lowest.
The game was first offered in Nevada casinos in 1959, a year and a half after chemin de fer. It’s now one of the most popular casino table games, accounting for about a fifth of all casino gross revenue. Unlike poker, which requires some skill, baccarat is a game of pure chance. It offers no opportunity for logic or creative thinking, and it doesn’t have the high-roller glitz of horse race betting or noncasino card games like bridge or hearts.
The New York Times obituary of John Fairfax, a lifelong adventurer and gambling enthusiast, claimed that baccarat is a “game that combines equal parts skill and chance.” That’s not true. Baccarat is 100 percent chance and zero percent skill, but it’s still a very fun game to play, especially when you’re on vacation in Las Vegas or New Jersey. But don’t get cocky, because baccarat is also a highly volatile game, with revenues plummeting one month and soaring the next. Fortunately, baccarat’s volatility is mitigated by its small house advantage and the fact that smart players never make the Tie bet.