The Best Bet You Never Made at the Craps Table
You've been there before. Standing around the dice table for hours waiting for a hand to develop. The tables are crowded and you won't get the dice for another forty-five minutes. Your feet hurt and all you want to do is take a break and sit down. Well, let's do it. And while we're sitting down let's play one of the best games in the house. Let's go play Baccarat. More specifically - let's play the Banker bet at Baccarat.
Baccarat is the game of the rich and famous. Jackie Chan, Sean Connery and Michael Jordan are all well-known baccarat players. Jackie Chan even featured baccarat in some of his films - as did Sean Connery as James Bond. But the game is familiar to only a small percentage of the gambling public. For decades it was kept under wraps, played away from the casino floor in plush high-roller pits. The lowest minimum bet in the baccarat pit was usually $25, and many players openly scoffed at anything less than a $100 minimum table. But today average Joe can play a popular variant of Baccarat - Mini-Bac - in just about any casino in the United States, often with table limits as low $5.
Baccarat also comes closer than most other casino games to offering the customer an even break. The house edge is as low as 1.06 percent for a bet on the Banker hand and 1.24 percent for a bet on the Player hand. The house edge on the "tie" bet is so ridiculous I won't even go into it. Blackjack players who use basic strategy can do better odds-wise; as can craps players who take full advantage of the Free Odds bet. But baccarat is a game that requires virtually no skill to master. You don't have to learn to count cards or control the dice. You simply need a systematic method of play combined with good money management and discipline skills to walk away a winner.
At the full-sized, 14-player baccarat table, one dealer - the "Callman" - stands up. He turns cards face up after they are dealt by the bettor holding the shoe. The Callman is responsible for calling out the point totals and announcing whether either hand gets another card according to the set hit/stand rules of the game. Two other dealers remain seated on either side of the Callman. They are responsible for paying off winning bets and collecting losing wagers. Mini-baccarat has just one dealer, who deals the cards and combines all the responsibilities of the three dealers at the larger table - but does it at a much faster pace. Because of this pace, a $5 or $10 Mini-Bac player may find himself wagering more per hour than a $25 bettor at the full-sized game - which is why the casinos prefer Mini-Bac.
Baccarat and Mini-Bac are not particularly complicated, but they do have certain rules that take some getting used to. For instance, the banker hand and the player hand:
Banker vs. Player
Regardless of how many people are playing, only two hands are dealt. One is designated the Banker hand, the other is the Player hand. Any customer may bet on either hand, with the exception that the customer holding the shoe in the full-scale game must either bet Banker or pass the shoe. Do not think of the Bank hand as belonging to the house or the Player hand belonging to the bettor.
In full-scale Baccarat, the bettor holding the shoe slides one card out and passes it face down to the stand-up dealer, who passes it to the customer with the largest Player bet. The next card, the first of the Banker hand, is placed next to the shoe. The bettor then deals another Player card, then the second Banker card. The dealer calls for the Player hand, and the customer with the largest player bet first looks at the cards, then gives them to the dealer. The dealer turns the cards face up and announces the point total. Then the dealer calls for the Banker hand, and the shoe holder looks at the cards and gives them to the dealer. If the Player total requires a draw, the dealer will say, "Card for the Player," and the shoe holder will pass a card to the dealer, who will pass it to the Player-bettor, who looks at it and passes it back to the dealer, who turns it face up. Finally, if the Banker requires a card, the dealer will call, "Card for the Bank," and repeat the process with the shoe holder.
The casino is more than willing to offer the time-consuming ceremony to its largest bettors. They will even let the players bend, crumple, or tear the cards at the end of a hand, since the cards are not re-used in most casinos. That is not the case in Mini-Baccarat.
In Mini-Bac, the dealer plays out both hands. There are no time consuming formalities and a hand is dealt and decided in less than half the time it takes to accomplish the same thing in a traditional Baccarat game.
The object of the game is to bet on the two- or three-card hand that totals closest to nine. Tens and face cards all are worth zero points; all other cards are worth their face value, with the ace worth one point. If a total is more than 10, the second digit is the value of the hand. For example, a 9 and a 7, which total 16, make up a six-point hand.
Initially, two cards are dealt for each hand. The point totals determine whether either hand gets a third card. The Player hand is completed first. A total of 8 or 9 is called a "natural," and the Player hand gets no more cards. In fact, unless the Banker has a natural 9 or ties the natural 8, no further cards are drawn, and the naturals are automatic winners. Player also stands on totals of 6 or 7. On any other total, 0 through 5, Player draws a third card, unless Banker has a natural, in which case the Bank hand wins with no further draw.
Banker rules are a bit more complicated. The Banker also stands on 7, 8, or 9 and draws on 0, 1, or 2, but on other hands the Banker's play is dependent on the value of the Player's third card. Banker hits 3 unless the player's third card is an 8; hits 4 unless the Player's third card is 1, 8, 9, or 10; hits 5 only if the Player's third card is 4, 5, 6, or 7; and hits 6 only if the Player's third card is 6 or 7.
When the Player Hand first two cards total:
1-2-3-4-5-10 - Player Draws a card
6-7 - Player Stands
8-9 - Natural - Stands
Banker Hand First two cards total:
First two cards total 3 - Draws when player's third card is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-9-10 - Stands when player's third card is: 8
First two cards total 4 - Draws when player's third card is 2-3-4-5-6-7 - Stands when player's third card is 1-8-9-10
First two cards total 5 - Draws when player's third card is 4-5-6-7 - Stands when player's third card is 1-2-3-8-9-10
First two cards total 6 - Draws when player's third card is - 6-7 -Stands when player's third card is 1-2-3-4-5-8-9-10
First two cards total 7 - Stands
First two cards total 8-9 - Natural - Stands
First two cards total - 0-1-2 - Always draws
There are a few exceptions. A natural, as noted above, stops play with no further draws. And if the player has one of its other two standing hands, 6 or 7, bank stands on 6 as well as 7, 8, and 9. Neither hand ever gets more than three cards. After the hands have been played out, the hand totaling closer to 9 wins. Winning bets are paid off at even money. Ties push - neither hand wins nor loses.
Bets on Ties
Bettors also may wager that the two hands will finish with an equal number of points. Winning bets on Ties pay off at 8-1. That sounds tempting, but this wager carries a hefty 14.3 percent house edge and should be avoided. So should any other side-bets you may find in "carnival game" versions of Mini-Bac.
Baccarat players are allowed to "chart," or keep track of the results of each hand, and most casinos provide score sheets and pencils to do so. Players simply put an X in a column beneath "Banker," "Player," or "Tie." Most gaming analysts contend that it is pointless to track decision results as Baccarat is a pure guessing game. The Banker hand wins slightly more often than the Player, but the house collects a 5% commission on winning Banker bets, resulting in the 1.17% house edge on the bet. The Player bet carries a house edge of 1.24%. Based on that small difference, the Banker bet is marginally better and is the one you should consider.
With that said, Baccarat, like craps, roulette, or any of the other "coin flip" type games is subject to producing streaks of Banker or Player that can be capitalized on with systematic play. There are both follow the trend and buck the trend strategies for the game - most more or less based on some sort of negative progression. The Fibonacci and the Paroli - can both be effective. Of course, the key to Baccarat - as with any casino game - is not to let greed get the better of you. Set reasonable win goals and loss limits. When it's not fun - it's time to run. Remember - the correct time to color up is when you're ahead, so get in, get up, and get gone.
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