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Baccarat is a card game for gamblers that's best-known to United States citizens because of its role in James Bond movies. The game tends to attract high rollers, and Asian players also love the game. Mini-baccarat is a newer version of the game with a broader appeal. It's more appropriate for low rollers.
Like blackjack and craps, baccarat offers some of the best odds in the casino. But only if you place the right bets. Some of the bets at the baccarat table have downright lousy odds.
It's also a casino game, so the bets do have a house edge which can't be overcome with any amount of skill. Our definition of winning baccarat players must be different from our definition of winning blackjack or poker players. You can get an edge in those latter two games, but you can't get an edge at baccarat.
Smart players can and often do walk away from the baccarat table with some winnings in their pockets. These winning baccarat players do certain things repeatedly-they have habits. This post examines those habits so that you can emulate them when you play.
Winning Baccarat Players Know How to Play the Game
Baccarat seems more complicated than it is. But you really don't have to make any decisions besides how you want to bet. You should still understand how the game is played. It's no fun gambling if you don't understand what's going on.
In every game of baccarat, there are only 2 hands:
- 1. A banker hand
- 2. A player hand
Each of these hands has two cards in it (in this respect, baccarat resembles blackjack).
Your goal is to bet on either the player or the banker to get closer to a total of 9. Each card is worth between 1 and 10 points. Aces are worth 1 point, and never 11 points, which might confuse blackjack players. The other cards have a point value equal to their value. Face cards are worth 10.
To get the final point value of the hand, you add the points together and only look at the right-most digit. The final hand value is a number between 0 and 9.
For example, if you're dealt a king and a queen, that hand is worth 0 points. (10+10 is 20, and you only look at the digit on the right.)
Hitting and standing are determined by the rules. There are no player or banker decisions.
If either hand has a total of 8 or 9, no one gets any more cards, regardless of the total in the other hand.
Otherwise, if the player has a total of 5 or less, that hand gets an additional card.
If the player stands (doesn't take another card), the banker takes another card if the hand totals 5 or less.
If the player takes another card, the banker hits or stands based on the banker's total and the value of the player's additional card, as shown below:
|Player's Hit Card||The Banker Draws if the Total is|
|9, 10, or Ace||0-3|
|6 or 7||0-6|
|4 or 5||0-5|
|2 or 3||0-4|
You don't make any decisions here. All the action is prescribed by the rules, and the dealer at the table ensures that the action proceeds accordingly.
The hand with a total final value of 9 is the winner.
You can bet on the banker hand, the player hand, or you can bet on a tie.
They Understand How the Odds Work and Which Bets to Place
With any bet on a casino game, the house has a mathematical edge. This is a long-term expectation of how much the player is going to lose out of every $100 he bets. It's almost always expressed as a percentage.
The house edge in baccarat varies based on which bet you place:
- The house edge is 1.06% on the banker bet.
- The house edge is 1.24% on the player bet.
- The house edge is 14.35% on the tie bet.
What does this mean to a player who understands the probability behind the game?
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It means that you expect to lose $1.06, on average, every time you bet on the banker.
It means that you expect to lose $1.24, on average, every time you bet on the player.
It also means that you expect to lose $14.35, on average, every time you bet on a tie.
In the short run, you expect to run hot or cold and either have a winning or losing session. The predicted results only happen in the long run.
But generally, you're more likely to win when you place bets with a low house edge.
In this game, the bet with the best odds is the banker bet.
If you're betting $100 per hand at baccarat, and you're at a table dealing 70 hands per hour, you're putting $7000/hour into action.
You can predict the amount you'll lose if you stick with any one of those bets throughout your session:
|Bet||House Edge||Hourly Action||Expected Hourly Loss|
If you look at gambling on baccarat as an entertainment expense (which you should), you should consider the average cost of that entertainment. In this case, it's clear that you're getting the most entertainment for your dollar by sticking with the banker bet on every hand.
You'll see plenty of baccarat players tracking results with a pencil and paper. This seems like it might be useful, because baccarat results-like any gambling game's results-run in streaks. The problem is that you can't predict these streaks based on previous results.
Every hand of baccarat is an independent event. What happened on the previous hands doesn't change the odds of what's going to happen on the next hand.
Losing players might find some benefit from changing their bets based on previous patterns, but those patterns-even though they exist-aren't useful as a predictor in any way.
They Manage Their Money Well
Money management has earned a justifiably bad rap among legitimate gambling writers. Most money management systems try to convince you that you'll increase your odds of being a winner by quitting when you're up by a certain amount or down by a certain amount.
These amounts are called win goals and stop loss limits.
What these money management proponents often ignore is that gambling odds are a long-term prospect. You're not really playing multiple sessions. In reality, your life as a gambler is one long gambling session. If you play any game long enough, your eventual, actual results will start to resemble your predicted results.
Does this mean money management techniques are useless?
I don't think so-not as long as you understand that they don't really change the odds of the game.
From a practical perspective, though, money management techniques do give you a chance of walking away a winner-at least some of the time.
Here's an example of how money management might work for a baccarat player:
You're playing baccarat at Circus Circus for $10 per hand. You sit down with $500. Your goal is to quit when you've met one of the following two conditions:
- 1. You've won $50.
- 2. You've lost $100.
The $50 is your win goal. If you're up by $50, you call it a night and walk away a winner. You can find something else to do. Maybe see a show.
The $100 is your loss limit. Once you've lost $100, you call it a day. You don't feel like a total loser, because you still have some money left.
You'll walk away a loser more often than you will a winner. The casino uses long-term math to ensure this.
But if you're like a lot of losing gamblers, you're apt to stay at the table until you've lost everything, unless you put some arbitrary conditions on the starting and stopping time of your play.
They Understand What Their Real Goal at the Baccarat Table Is
Your real goal at the baccarat table is to have a good time. If your goal is to make money, you need to find another activity. The math behind baccarat ensures that in the long run, you will NOT make money.
Different casino games suit different temperaments. Baccarat has a sophisticated atmosphere. It's slow-paced, even elegant. It's not an adrenaline junkie's game. It's also not a thinking man's game.
If that sounds like the kind of gambling game you'd enjoy, give baccarat a try. Compared to a lot of other casino games (ahem, roulette), baccarat has a low house edge and a low expected loss per hour.
Losing baccarat players are the ones who go into the casino hoping to win enough money to make up for the shortfall in their rent payment or electric bill. They're playing with scared money.
Scared money always loses.
Players on the Internet Stick with Legitimate Casinos
I personally don't think that online baccarat at an online casino compares well with baccarat in the brick-and-mortar casino. It lacks the social element. In fact, if you're going to play baccarat online, I recommend playing at a so-called 'live dealer casino.'
Most online casinos use random number generators and video game animation to emulate the casino experience. But live dealer casinos use webcams and real people to deal card games like baccarat and blackjack. If those are your preferred games, give a live dealer casino a try.
But no matter which kind of online casino you try, do some due diligence first to make sure you're dealing with a legitimate company that's not going to make it hard for you to withdraw your winnings.
Some online casinos cheat, but they don't rig their games. They don't have to. The games already have a mathematical edge for the casino. They don't have to cheat to get a mathematical edge.
Illegitimate casinos will make it hard for you to withdraw your winnings, though. They'll delay your cash-out requests with multiple requests for information and documents you've already provided. They're hoping that as long as the money stays in your account, you'll reverse the withdrawal and play some more.
Avoiding those kinds of online baccarat casinos is as easy as finding a gambling information site you trust and looking at the recommendations there. For example, this site offers detailed reviews of dozens of online casinos. They're real reviews, too, listing the pros and cons of each casino.
You can also spend some time on gambler forums to see what kinds of experiences other players have had with the customer service at some of these companies.
They're Not Superstitious
I touched on this briefly earlier, but it bears repeating and emphasizing. Winning gamblers understand probability and how it works. This means that they also understand that their hunches don't matter.
I made a case earlier that what had happened on the previous baccarat hand has no effect on what happens on the next baccarat had.
I'd like to make the case now that when it comes to random events-like the outcomes of gambling games-you don't really have any kind of special mental powers that change the odds of winning or losing.
If you could use some kind of ESP to predict gambling game results, you'd never have to work again. It would be impossible to keep that kind of ability a secret, though. And casinos are famous for looking for countermeasures.
No, the odds are the odds, the math is the math, and your hunches don't matter.
If you want to play baccarat, stick with the banker bet and enjoy yourself. Don't play with money you can't afford to lose.
They Take Advantage of Casino Comps
Casinos love to comp players who put a lot of money into action. You'd think the opposite would be true, but comps are a cost-effective way for a casino to generate more profits.
You should always ask the pit bosses and the dealers to make sure that your play is rated and tracked so that you can get the comps that the casino wants to give you.
At their most basic level, comps come in the form of free food and drink. But you can also get show tickets and travel perks, including lodging.
Most of these comps have a value exceeding the casino's cost for them. A buffet comp might have a retail value of $15, but the casino's restaurant only spent $5 on the food. A room might normally sell for $199, but if it was going to be empty anyway because the hotel is under-booked, it didn't cost the casino anything.
You won't get enough in comps to compensate for the money you're losing at the baccarat table. But those comps will offset some of your losses, which means that you're getting more entertainment for your money.
And that's what winning at baccarat is really about.
Baccarat is a great gambling game offering better odds than many games. Winning baccarat players understand that there's no way to guarantee a profit. They also know that the game is meant for entertainment.
But they also understand how to walk away from the table a winner more often than others.
Now you understand how to do the same.
Baccarat gives amateur gamblers one of the best opportunities to win. Its banker bet features just a 1.06% house edge.
The only problem here, though, is that gamblers are still facing a house edge, no matter how small. They still need some luck to beat the casino.
Unlike blackjack, baccarat doesn’t lend itself to advantage play. But can professional gamblers still beat baccarat just like in blackjack?
Actually, baccarat does offer a couple of routes towards long-term profits. I’ll discuss these methods along with if they’re feasible for aspiring baccarat pros to pull off.
How Can Baccarat Be Beaten?
Real money baccarat features two advantage gambling methods in hole carding edge sorting. The latter allows you to predict face-down card values by looking at the long edges.
Hole carding involves trying to see one of the face-down cards before they’re dealt. Below, you can see more on how to pull off either of these techniques.
Edge sorting revolves around exploiting flaws on card backs. Of course, you can’t find these irregularities if they don’t exist.
Therefore, you must find a flawed deck. Luckily, many manufacturers produce decks that have slight imperfections.
The most famous flaw includes when some cards feature a full-diamond pattern on one long edge. Meanwhile, the other cards have a half-diamond pattern on this same edge.
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These differences don’t mean much on the surface. However, they pay big dividends when you can use them to separate card values.
For example, seven is an important card because it improves a hand’s chances of reaching eight or nine (top score). If you know which side will receive the seven ahead of time, you can wager on that side.
The problem, though, is that you need specific conditions in place to successfully sort edges. Here’s what you’ll need to pull off this technique:
- High-value cards (6, 7, 8, 9) rotated at a 180-degree angle so that the relevant edge is showing.
- All other cards also rotated 180 degrees so that the relevant edge is revealed.
- This arrangement helps you differentiate high from low/mid cards.
- This arrangement can’t be changed, or else you’ll need to start over.
Casinos don’t use these specific setups in baccarat games. With that said, you must negotiate for these rules ahead of time.
Dealers are supposed to keep face-down cards a secret. Otherwise, you’d gain additional information and boost your chances of winning.
Most dealers are very good at not showing hole cards. They keep face-down values hidden during both deals and following shuffles.
Certain croupiers, though, do struggle with this aspect of the game. They might carelessly expose the first card in the shoe before dealing it.
Knowing just one card ahead of time provides over a 6% edge for that hand. You just need to know how to properly use the information.
As explained in the edge sorting section, you can gauge which side has a better chance of winning based on the card they’ll receive next.
Obstacles to Baccarat Advantage Play
Beating baccarat is extremely difficult. Otherwise, every gambler and their mom would be crushing the house. Here are the biggest roadblocks that you’ll run into when trying to win in baccarat.
Most Casinos Know About Edge Sorting
I have to be honest about edge sorting—it’s nearly impossible. The biggest problem is that casinos are well aware of this technique.
The entire gambling world learned about sorting edges through Phil Ivey. With the help of Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun, Ivey dominated casinos to the tune of $21 million in profits.
He had to give the money back after losing two lawsuits, where judges stated that he essentially “cheated.” Ivey actually just tricked the casinos rather than blatantly cheating, but that story is for another time.
Anyways, the gaming industry got a lesson about edge sorting through this incident. They learned how it works and what rules to avoid agreeing to when negotiating with high rollers.
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The latter aspect is key. You must ask the house for special rules in order to properly pull off edge sorting. In Ivey’s case, he made special requests for “superstitious reasons.”
The Borgata (Atlantic City) and Crockfords (London)—the two casinos that Ivey hit—likely didn’t know much or anything about edge sorting beforehand. Now, just about every casino knows of it and will refuse to grant high rollers certain rules (e.g. rotating cards 180 degrees).
Bad Dealers Are Hard to Find
Unlike sorting edges, hole carding isn’t some pie-in-the-sky advantage gambling method. It still works under the right circumstances.
The difficult part, though, is finding these circumstances. Most dealers are adept enough to avoid showing cards. They typically only expose a face-down value every now and then.
Estimates suggest that the odds of finding a bad dealer who consistently reveals hole card values (a.k.a. “flasher”) is only 1 in 200. You’ll need to play at lots of tables and during many shifts to find what you’re looking for.
Unfortunately, you can’t sift through countless baccarat tables for flashers just anywhere. Only gambling destinations like Las Vegas and Macau provide realistic route towards locating flashers.
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Both locations feature dozens of casinos that run three daily shifts. If you’re not prepared to move to Vegas or Macau, then you’ll have more difficulty finding bad dealers.
Spotting Hole Card Values Is Extremely Hard
Even when you find a flasher, you need a well-trained eye and plenty of skills to capitalize on the situation. You must also know how to sit to spot card values.
Here are points to consider on which way to sit:
- Slouch back in a casual manner.
- This position puts your eyes more level to the table without looking awkward.
- Practice trying to look at hole-card values without fixating.
The goal is to appear as a casual player who’s just relaxing at the table. This way, nothing looks out of the ordinary to pit bosses or surveillance when you start winning big.
It’s certainly possible to develop the skills to become a hole carder. However, you must work on your technique and ability to catch flashed card values.
Hole carding certainly isn’t an easy endeavor. You must put plenty of work into both locating flashers and becoming a great player.
How Much Can You Win Through Advantage Play?
Advantage play in baccarat may be difficult to pull off. However, the rewards for beating the casino are great.
Ivey won a combined $21 million from the Borgata and Crockfords. Of course, he started with a $1 million stake. However, he still managed to increase his original stake by 21x.
Using this math model, here’s an example to show how much you could win:
- You sit down to a baccarat table with $10,000
- You win profits worth 21x your funds just like Ivey
- $10,000 x 21 = $210,000 in winnings
If you manage to consistently spot one hole card value in each hand, you’ll gain around a 6% advantage. Of course, the dealer is unlikely to flash a card every single round.
So, I’ll just assume that a typical flasher only reveals one card every five hands. Here’s an example on what you could win in this scenario:
- You bet $100 per hand.
- You hold a 6% edge on rounds where a face-down card is flashed.
- The dealer exposes a card once every five rounds.
- 100 x 0.06 = $6 per hand when cards are exposed
- 6 / 5 (rounds) = $1.20 per round
- The table sees 100 hands each hour
- 100 x 1.20 = $120 per hour
Obviously, your variables with both edge sorting and hole carding will be different. But you can see how lucrative either of these pursuits can be with the right approach.
Do Any Active Baccarat Pros Exist Right Now?
I highly doubt that any edge sorters exist today. If there are any, they’ve likely found a new way to take advantage of defective decks.
Phil Ivey really blew the doors off this technique. Any casino in the know will never grant the same requests that Ivey got.
Hole carding, on the other hand, still provides a legitimate route towards baccarat profits. It’s certainly not easy, but it works.
Legendary gambler James Grosjean has used hole carding to make big-time profits. He’s likely used this method in baccarat at some point during his career.
I predict that other hole carders exist in Vegas and/or Macau. They might even take their show on the road and hit up spots like Atlantic City, Biloxi, Reno, Tunica, and Atlantic City.
Of course, hole carders are much rarer than card counters. But they still exist and can take advantage of any game with face-down card values when the opportunity arises.
If you’re looking for an easy route towards gambling profits, then baccarat isn’t for you. Baccarat only offers two ways to beat the game: hole carding and edge sorting.
The latter is virtually impossible these days. You must convince the casino to essentially alter the game rules for you to sort edges.
Hole carding is a more-common advantage gambling method. However, you’ll need to spend countless hours looking for a dealer who flashes hole-card values.