Although perhaps not a game as widely known as blackjack or roulette, across Europe at least, Baccarat is a game that definitely has its fair share of fans, and also has a sense of prestige along with a particularly interesting history.
The game itself is known as a ‘thinking man’s game’ – perhaps a tad unfairly – and it is more popular among the societal elite for reasons that shall become clear. It is also James Bond’s casino game of choice.
If you are familiar with the activity of gambling, you will likely have heard of the game of baccarat, regardless of whether or not you have played it, or indeed are acquainted with the rules.
You might be surprised to know then that it is actually extremely popular and very highly regarded among its fans. What will be even more surprising to learn is that baccarat is actually the number one casino game in the world statistically speaking, and especially popular with the Chinese.
While the game of baccarat is the oldest recorded casino game that is still around today, at approximately 700 years old, it actually took about 500 years to rise in popularity due to it being overshadowed by another highly sought after and perhaps, a much easier to understand game, known as blackjack.
But to really understand the draw of the game, it is apt to take a look at its roots and delve into its history.
How to Play Baccarat
When playing baccarat, etiquette is very much at the centre of what you can and can’t do, and there are also a set of unwritten rules which carry a considerable amount of importance in baccarat circles. Dress smartly, don’t try and sit down midway through a game, a polite nod/smile is appreciated as you begin, and it is customary to bet the same way as another player if they call for ‘support’. These are all unofficial rules, of course, gameplay rules must be adhered to.
As the player, you are required to bet on the hand which you think has the best chance of winning, the winning hand being the hand that has a grand total nearest to the number nine. You can bet on your hand or the dealer’s hand.
When all bets have been decided on and wagered the player and the banker are dealt their first duo of cards. In order to win, your stake needs to be on the hand which is closest to a total of nine, but it cannot go over this figure.
After the first deal, if either hand reaches a total of eight or nine, then this is what you call a ‘natural hand’. Should the competing hand have a lower value point, then it is the ‘natural hand’ that wins and as a result it means that no other hands need to be drawn.
Should no natural hands be drawn it means that more cards need to be dealt. As opposed to blackjack, it isn’t possible to go ‘bust’ on a hand in baccarat, due to the fact that when the total of the cards is more than nine, the second number becomes the hand’s value:
Your hand is a 9 and a 7, giving you a total value of 16. You would dismiss the first digit, the 1, and as a consequence be left with six as your hand’s new value. If you have a 10 because your two cards are a 6 and a 4, you drop the one to get a total of zero – this hand is called ‘baccarat’, which is the worst possible hand that a player can get in the game.
In baccarat, the player always has their hand dealt first and stands either on a total of six or seven; however, if the banker then has a total of seven it is this hand that wins.
In the game of baccarat there are a number of terms which are easy to be confused by, so we have explained a few of the key terms and phrases below.
|Action||This is a generic term which usually refers to the amount of money staked on a game. It would be normal to be asked; ‘do you have any action on this game?’ for example.|
|Banco||Translated, this means ‘banker’ in Spanish, though it can also be used in order to describe the player who has the shoe and is dealing the cards.|
|Banque||This term refers to two tables being conjoined. As such, the banker is positioned in the middle and plays with one bet against two player bets; one at each table. This is particularly prevalent in casinos around Europe, however casinos in America rarely apply it. The term ‘banque’ translates literally to ‘zero in the bank’.|
|Banco Prime||Referring to the privilege given to the player who is on the right of the banker or dealer so that they can then match the stake which has been committed by the bank in the event that more than one player has called ‘banco’.|
|Banker Bet||One out of three options in terms of bets that you can choose in baccarat. With a 1:1 payout, winning banker bets owe a five percent commission to the house. There is a perception in particular communities that the banker bet is the best bet to give in terms of its odds which stand at 45.843 percent, compared to those of 44.615 percent for the player bet.|
|Burning||A play which refers to discarding the top three cards after dealing for a new game, before commencing.|
|Bankroll||This is the total amount of money that a player has to wager with, and has weighed up the risks of losing it all. Not to be confused with the stake.|
|Player Bet||Betting on the player’s hand to win. One of three options in terms of bets that can be paced with a payout of 1:1.|
|Shoe||The device or machine that holds the cards to eliminate mistakes and cheating.|
|Tie||One of three options in terms of bets that can be placed. This is a bet that neither hand will win and pays out at either 8:1 or 9:1.|
Historical Background of Baccarat
Considered by many to have originated in France, the game of baccarat can actually be traced to Italy, dating back to the 14th century. During the 1300s, a game called ‘Tarrochi’ is understood to have existed, and while there is no evidence of any correlation between the two games, historians believe that it could have formed the foundation and provided the motivation for a gambling man by the name of Felix Falguiere to invent the game of baccarat, using Tarot cards.
At the same time, there was another game in vogue in Italy called Macao in which nine was the magic number. This is thought to be called Italian baccarat and experts believe that Macao was the inspiration for the modern day game of baccarat.
The literal translation of the word ‘baccarat’ from Italian actually means ‘zero’, no doubt because in the game, 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings all have a value of zero; it also references the fact that a hand consisting of both a seven and a three has a value of zero as well (the sum being a 10 which in the game is a zero), or in other words, ‘baccarat’.
Going back even further, the game of baccarat has links to the ancient Etruscan legend of a virgin who had to throw a die to determine her fate. If the results of her throw yielded either an eight or a nine, then she would gain the honour of receiving priestess status. If she rolled a seven or a six then she was granted permission to live, however she would not be allowed entry into any religious or community events, while anything lower than a six and she was condemned to the sea to drown.
Baccarat: A French Fancy
As the story goes, the game made its way to France in the 1490’s thanks to soldiers returning from the Italian conflicts on behalf of the crown, and since French royalty took positions of command in such conflicts, the game’s link to nobility and prestige was established.
The game thus became highly fashionable among the higher society countrywide, but as the class system altered and the merchant class (former peasants who became wealthy in their own right through industry) was born, the game soon filtered down and could be found in gambling houses and casinos as well.
This led to two versions of the game being played in France; Baccarat en Banque and a non-banking alternative, Chemin de Fer. These were both enjoyed during the Napoleonic age. Although King Louis Phillip made casinos illegal in 1837, the games endured, and were made possible by houses that ran underground operations around the country.
Due to the fact that the phrase, Chemin de Fer translates to ‘iron way’ or ‘railway’, it has been theorised that this style of the game rose in popularity from 1832 onwards, following the opening of the maiden railroad in the country. While there is no documented evidence to prove this, it certainly makes for a solid enough suggestion.
The first documented mention of the word ‘baccarat’ was in the year of 1847, when a man by the name of Charles Van-Tenac produced a 13 page mathematical analysis of the game (the first ever recorded) in his published works ‘Album des Jeux’.
Heading West to the USA
While there is plenty of evidence to show when and how the games of roulette and blackjack reached the shores of America, it is much harder to pinpoint exactly when baccarat was first known and officially recognised in the United States.
Reports are confusing. There are articles which point to 1911 being an easily verifiable year in which baccarat was first played in an American establishment, and this has been corroborated by a number of revered authors and card game experts, such as John Scarne and Steve Forte; however, there are conflicting reports which dispute this.
A New York Times article printed in 1871 talks about a game of baccarat being played in the Club House at Long Branch, where visitors were understood to have been gathering around “the faro spread, the blackjack table and the baccarat board”; while another article from 1899 refers to 30 Frenchmen being arrested for playing baccarat.
These earlier mentions to baccarat being played in the United States, refer to the ‘Baccarat en Banque’ version and not ‘Chemin de Fer’, but despite this, the game as a complete entity was still missing from the Assembly Bill of 1931, which passed gambling legislation in the country at the time. Meanwhile, when the Sands Casino in Las Vegas opened a table in 1958, the version that was played, was the ‘Chemin de Fer’ version, the main distinctive feature being that the dealer used a ‘rake’.
Baccarat in the Modern Day
In 1959, a Cuban man by the name of Tommy Renzoni brought a new version of the game to Las Vegas, named ‘Punto Banco’. This, interestingly, was initially formed at the Mar del Plata casino in Argentina during the early 1950s, and it is this version of the game that is enjoyed at most casinos around the world today.
The night that the game made its debut at the Las Vegas Sands casino, on November 20th, 1959 following a considerable amount of promotion, the casino ended up in the red to the tune of $250,000, however, the owners of the establishment had recognised a game that could pay them back and more in the years which followed and as a result, kept it on.
During the 1970s, you could only find a handful of baccarat tables in Las Vegas (15 in fact) and even then, they were available just for a brief amount of time. It could be argued therefore that it was here when the game started to be regarded as more exclusive, as the only way to guarantee yourself a game was either to be rich or famous, or extremely lucky and know someone important!
The Future of Baccarat
The future of baccarat will certainly be interesting, though likely more from a geographical perspective. While Macau has witnessed a huge boom in gambling in recent years boasting bigger revenues than Las Vegas, this has mainly been down to Chinese ‘high rollers’ playing baccarat with huge stakes. So while this may remain a game that is played mostly by the Chinese for now, we could see it popping up more often elsewhere as the country’s population starts to move around the world and live in other countries.
The United States would be an obvious place for the game to blossom, particularly Las Vegas, though with the continuous changes to US legislation as gambling becomes legal in more and more states, it could well find its feet in other parts of the country too.
It will also be interesting to see if the demographics change at all in terms of who is playing the game. Over the last few years, gamblers have started to become much savvier about how they make wagers and which games are worth their time in terms of potential return on investment. This could well mean an increase in baccarat participation from other members of society. With baccarat understood to be a game which challenges you mentally, it could mean that more high end college students with an aptitude for mathematics and critical thinking begin playing it, and if they do so successfully the demographic of baccarat players could change dramatically.
As with most industries, technology is more than likely to have a considerable impact on the future of the game, whether this is a wider knock on industry effect or whether technology is especially developed to improve or enhance baccarat from a more unique perspective. Ultimately though, whatever happens in the future, with such a long history baccarat will always have a place in the gambling industry.
Having been around for in excess of 700 years, baccarat has certainly cemented its place in gambling history and as a result gained its fair share of fans.
It’s astounding that, despite it being the most wagered game in the world, baccarat has never really reached the masses in the same way as the likes of poker and blackjack.
It is odd to think that a game with so little promotion or acclaim gets so much custom, however, with such a strong fan base in Macau and, you could also argue, Singapore (which has a considerable Chinese population and a strong casino presence), it is believable.
Regardless of whether baccarat retains its air of exclusivity and its place at the table of the elite classes of society, it is definitely a game that has the potential to boom.
While we have covered the major elements of baccarat, we appreciate that there may be some things that you might still not be too sure about, so we have endeavoured to anticipate any questions that you may have and answered them as best as possible below.
Is it easy to understand baccarat?
One of the reasons that so many people avoid baccarat is because they consider the game complicated to pick up and get to grips with, however, it might also be argued that it was created in this way to make sure that the game stayed in elite circles. Ultimately though, baccarat is as complicated as you decide to make it, but if you are completely new to the game then most online casinos allow you to play for free in practice mode until you feel that you have got the hang of it.
How does baccarat differ from blackjack?
One of the biggest differences between the two games is that in baccarat, there is arguably less to remember. Despite this, the concept of the two games is very similar with them both having a dealer and the player needing to get a certain numerical value. The other major difference is that in baccarat you can bet on both hands, whereas in blackjack you are trying to make your own hand as strong as possible.
Advice for playing baccarat
If you are a complete beginner to the game, definitely do not start playing for money straight away. Make sure that you take advantage of the free practice modes that are widely available at numerous online casinos. Also, if you can get a comprehensive copy of the rules then ensure that you have them with you, even while you are playing with practice mode; even better, if you can sit down with someone who knows what they are doing and get them to guide you through a few practice runs step by step, that would stand you in good stead.
It’s also widely accepted that betting on the tie, although offering much bigger payouts, is almost always a losing bet. So it’s best to stick to betting on either the dealer’s hand or the player’s hand, especially at entry level.
Ultimately, though, as ever, the best advice is never wager more than you can afford to lose and if you feel like you are developing a problem, talk to someone that you trust, or get in contact with a gambling helpline such as Gamcare.
Can I play baccarat in a real casino?
This is not altogether impossible, though it is highly likely that only a select few will offer the game, depending on where you are. Ultimately, if you are wanting to experience what it is like to play baccarat in an actual casino you should checking ahead of time to see which ones offer this. More often than not, similarly to poker, some casinos offer the game in a separate room, while others might have a considerable ‘buy in’ fee. In the big cities you will likely find at least one casino which offers players the chance to play baccarat.
Where is the best place to play baccarat online?
We have a comprehensive selection of online casino reviews on this site which are dedicated to highlighting the best online casinos to play baccarat on. These have been the subject of expert analysis by industry veterans who have been able to provide highly informative, accurate and, crucially, unbiased reviews, based on all of the key factors from a player’s perspective. Everyone is different though, and what might be right for one person might not necessarily be right for another, so some of this does come down to the personal taste of the potential player. You can also read our guide on live baccarat.