Baccarat, also known as Punto Banco, and its predecessor Baccara, are very old games that have been played in European casinos for hundreds of years. Baccarat games have become the stuff of legend, appearing in works of fiction like the James Bond films. Baccarat is usually played by high rollers in a special, secluded area away from the prying eyes of run-of-the-mill casino patrons, with millions of dollars changing hands throughout the course of an evening.
In modern American casinos, Baccarat usually takes on the form of Mini Baccarat (abbreviated as Minibac, especially amongst casino staff). This game takes place on a table that is just a little bit larger than a standard Blackjack table, and is dealt by a single casino dealer, unlike full Baccarat, which is spread on a massive table worked by several dealers, none of whom actually deal any cards—that is left up to one of the patrons! Mini Baccarat is dealt much more quickly than standard Baccarat, leaving out much of the pomp and circumstance that characterizes the latter game. Mini Baccarat is especially popular among the casino’s Asian clientele—so much so that signage and literature distributed at the table is often in both English and Chinese.
Despite all that, Baccarat is a trivially simple game to play—it is essentially betting on a coin flip. The real challenge to Baccarat is dealing it, due to the complicated rules that govern when cards are drawn. A word of caution about Baccarat: it is inherently a casino game, so the dealer has a definite advantage over the players, by design. If you’re playing at home with friends, don’t play with real money! It’s not fair to your friends, and will probably run afoul of local laws against illegal gambling anyway.
Object of Mini Baccarat
The object of Mini Baccarat is to successfully predict whether the player (punto) or banker (banco) hand will have a score closer to 9.
Mini Baccarat requires a lot of props and equipment to do properly, many of which you will have on hand already if you have dealt Blackjack. In addition to cards, doing Mini Baccarat well requires two cut cards, and chips for wagering. You also need a box to hold the cards called a shoe (or sabot), and a discard holder (an L-shaped piece of plastic designed to keep the used cards in a nice stack). The dealer should be seated on the opposite side of the table from the players, with a bank of chips in a rack in front of the dealer, to be used for payouts.
You also need a way of keeping the three wagers available to each player separate. The ideal method of doing this is to utilize a Mini Baccarat layout. Real Minibac tables have a felt surface with graphics silkscreened on them, designating nine player positions where punto, banco, and tie bets are to be placed (in order of closest to furthest from the player), as well as aiding the dealer in placement of the cards. While such a thing is not strictly necessary, it helps keep the game organized. You can find layouts printed on felt, for Mini Baccarat as well as many other casino games, inexpensively available on the Internet. These layouts can be placed over a normal table like a tablecloth, allowing you to set up your own faux Minibac table. If such a thing is not available, you can make do with something like disposable plates or bowls for each betting spot, or even by delineating betting areas on the table with tape.
You may wish to make pencil and paper available to the players. Baccarat players traditionally keep track of the various wins, losses, and ties of the two hands, in an attempt to follow the trends to pick the winning hand. Rules of probability dictate that this is ineffective for determining which hand to bet on—the banker’s hand is always more likely to win in the long term, and the large number of cards (many of which are dead) means that the score cards won’t yield much useful information anyway.
A mini baccarat game requires eight standard decks, or 416 cards. All cards in the deck should have the same back. Traditionally, paper cards are used for Minibac, due to the large number of cards involved, but there’s no reason you can’t use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
Shuffle the cards (using the multiple-deck shuffling technique if needed). Square the deck up, then roll it forward, so that the back of the cards is facing the players and the cut card on the bottom of the deck is facing you. Offer the spare cut card to any player and have them insert it into the deck at any point. Complete the cut by sliding the bottom part of the deck behind the cut card away and putting it on the top (far side) of the deck. Remove the cut card that was on the bottom, and is now in the middle, of the deck, and place it into the deck near the bottom. This will signify when the cards need to be shuffled. This is normally placed about one deck from the end of the shoe. Place the cards into the shoe.
Before dealing any player hands from the newly-shuffled deck, discard one card, face-up. Discard that many additional cards, face down (e.g. if it is a seven, discard seven cards).
Players place their wagers in the appropriate betting area in front of them, depending on the wager they wish to make: punto, meaning they expect the player hand to win, banco, meaning they expect the banker hand to win, or tie, meaning they expect the two hands to tie.
Once all players are satisfied with their bets—which can take a while, since some players will annoyingly shift their bets back and forth for several minutes before settling on a bet—the dealer deals two cards, face up, to each hand. The dealer then computes the score of each hand: aces are one, number cards two through nine are their face value, and tens and face cards are zero. If the score exceeds 9, the offending first digit is simply dropped, resulting in a score of less than 9.
If either hand has a score of 8 or 9, this is a natural, and that hand automatically wins, with no further play. (A natural 9, of course, beats a natural 8, and two natural hands of the same value tie.) A winning hand is signified by the dealer pushing the cards forward, about an inch or two, toward the players. Bets are then settled, as described below.
If either hand does not have a natural, each hand may have one card drawn to it, with the player hand going first. If the player has a total of 6 or 7, the player hand stands (does not take a card). Otherwise, the player hand hits (takes a card).
The banker hand acts after the player. Its actions are quite a bit more complicated, and are tied to the action of the player hand:
- If the player hand stood, the banker hits on 5 or less and stands on 6 or more.
- If the player hand drew any card and the banker has a total of 2 or less, the banker draws a card.
- If the banker has a total of 3, the banker draws if the player drew anything other than an 8. If the player drew an 8, the banker stands.
- If the banker has a total of 4, the banker draws if the player drew a 2 through 7, inclusive. Otherwise, the banker stands.
- If the banker has a total of 5, the banker draws if the player drew a 4 through 7, inclusive. Otherwise, the banker stands.
- If the banker has a total of 6, the banker draws if the player drew a 6 or 7. Otherwise, the banker stands.
- If the banker has a total of 7, the banker always stands.
There is only one round of drawing. After this is complete, the dealer evaluates the hands, and the hand with the higher total wins, and bets are settled. If the hands are tied, the dealer signifies this by tapping the table between the two hands in a sort of upside-down karate-chop gesture.
Winning player bets are paid at even money. Winning banker bets are paid at even money, less a 5% “commission” (the easiest way to figure this is to take 10%, halve that figure, and subtract it from the amount of the bet). Winning tie bets are paid at 8 to 1. Losing bets are cleared away and added to the dealer’s rack. Cards are moved to the discard holder, and the next hand begins.
Strategy of Mini Baccarat
As a player, the best strategy is to simply bet on banco every single time. Even with the 5% commission, the banco bet has the lowest house edge. Betting on ties is never a good idea, because the house edge is just too high for such a bet to make sense (think about it—do you usually see ties one eighth of the time?)