How to Bet Baccarat
Even the betting rules are simple in baccarat. You only have three choices: betting that the banker's hand will win, that the player's hand will win, or that the two hands will tie. You have to place your bet before the cards are dealt, and each bet has its advantages and disadvantages. The house edge on baccarat is very slight for the first two betting choices — less than 1.2 percent on banker bets and about 1.35 percent on player bets.
At American casinos, the house usually takes a commission of 5 percent on winning banker bets. You don't have to pay this commission after each round; instead, the dealer keeps track of what each player owes the house and collects either at the end of the shoe or when the player is ready to leave the table.
A winning bet on the banker's hand pays even money, but the house usually charges a 5 percent commission on each winning banker's bet. This means that if you win $100 at the baccarat table, you'll have to give the dealer $5 before you leave. The probability of the banker's hand winning is about 50.7 percent. Even with the 5 percent commission, you're likely to lose less money betting on the banker than betting on the player. If the house commission is 6 percent or higher, you're better off betting on the player's hand.
The player's hand also is an even-money bet. The difference is that the house rarely, if ever, charges a commission on winning player bets. The player's hand is slightly more likely than the banker's hand to lose. If the commission on winning banker bets is 5 percent or less, your bankroll will last longer betting on the banker's hand.
Why should I bet on the banker, even with the commission?
In 100 hands of baccarat, the probability of the player's hand winning is about 49.3 percent, versus the banker's 50.7 percent. If you bet $100 over those 100 hands, you probably would lose $1.30 by betting on the player every time, but you would only lose $1.17, even after paying the 5 percent commission, if you bet on the banker every time.
The tie bet in baccarat is similar to the insurance bet at blackjack — widely considered a sucker bet because the house edge is so high. Statistically speaking, ties will happen less than once in every ten hands. Tie bets usually pay 8 to 1, which is a good payout. But the house advantage on this bet is at least 14 percent, astronomical compared with the tiny edges on banker and player bets. That's why the experts are more or less unanimous in steering you away from it.
Around the baccarat tables at many casinos, you'll find players busily keeping track of the outcome of each hand, scrutinizing the results for a pattern on which to base their next bet. Casinos actually encourage this, providing pencils and scorecards for the players' convenience. And some diehard players might tell you that they have accurately predicted the outcome of a baccarat hand by filling out the scorecard and discerning a pattern in the number of hands won by the player or the banker.
Analyzing baccarat hands like this can be amusing, but it is absolutely worthless as a predictive activity. Unlike computer-controlled games, where a flaw in the random number generation program can lead to repetitive and predictable patterns in the outcomes of the game, baccarat is a simple game of chance, like roulette or a coin toss. What happens in one hand has no bearing on what will happen in the next.
You may have read the last sentence in the previous section and said to yourself, “Wait a minute. Baccarat is a card game, and when cards are played and taken out of the deck, that changes the odds for the next hand.” That's true. But the change in the odds is infinitesimal, for a number of reasons. First, the maximum number of cards played in any one hand is six, and in an eight-deck shoe, six cards is only 1.5 percent of all available cards. Second, already-played cards are usually shuffled back into the shoe long before the last card of the shoe is dealt. So as a practical matter, the cards that are dealt in one hand of baccarat have virtually no impact on the odds for the next hand.
Another reason card-counting techniques don't work well in baccarat is that the betting rules are so rigid. In blackjack, you can alter your betting strategy in certain situations, so keeping track of the cards makes sense. But in baccarat, you have only three betting choices and you have to make your choice before the cards are dealt, so you don't have any opportunity to change your bet midway through the hand.
That said, some sharp mathematical minds have figured out that you might be able to give yourself a very slight advantage by keeping track of the 4s and 6s that are played. As 4s leave the deck, the banker bet becomes slightly more advantageous for the gambler. As 6s leave the deck, the player bet becomes slightly more advantageous. But even the minds that discovered this minute variation in the odds warn that the probability factors in baccarat never change significantly.
Winning and Losing Streaks
Baccarat requires no decision-making or skill from the player, and bets have to be placed before cards are dealt, so there isn't any strategy to maximize your payout per hand. The best you can do in this game is to try to take advantage of the occasional streaks that seem to show up in every game of chance, commonly called “following the shoe.” All the term means is that if the player wins one hand, you bet on the player for the next hand. If the banker wins one hand, you bet on the banker for the next hand. By following the shoe, you stay on the right of a winning streak when it appears.
Whether you want to adjust your betting pattern while you follow the shoe depends on the size of your bankroll and how long you want to make your bankroll last. You can use the following betting pattern independent of or in conjunction with following the shoe. This is a conservative betting strategy that involves increasing your wager after a winning bet, but only for the four hands following that win. This gives you the opportunity to maximize your winnings without unduly jeopardizing your bankroll. Here's how it works, based on a $5 wager per hand:
You bet $5 on the hand.
If you win, you bet $15 on the next hand.
If you lose this hand, you bet $5 on the next hand. If you win, you bet $20.
If you lose the next hand, you revert to your $5 bet. If you win, your next bet is $25.
If you lose the next hand, you revert to your $5 bet. If you win, your next bet is $30.
No matter the outcome of the $30 hand, you revert to your $5 bet.
Unlike some more well-known betting systems, this strategy has a built-in fail-safe to ensure you aren't wiped out on a single bet. First, you never increase your bet after losing hands, and second, if you keep winning, you repeat the cycle after five rounds rather than increasing your bet indefinitely. This is an important factor in sound wagering, because, as always, the house edge — slight as it is — will catch up with you eventually.