Before we explain the rules here is a bit of history. The game originated in Italy and was earlier known as ‘baccara,’ meaning ‘zero’ which is the value of the face cards. The roots of baccarat lie in the 15th Century, although the modern game developed in the 19th Century with the French adaptation known as 'Chemin de fer'. The game itself has evolved into different forms and was only introduced into the casinos of Las Vegas in the 1950s.
Aside from the grandiose image painted of the card game by authors such as Ian Fleming, baccarat has gained popularity among high rollers thanks to the elite status it's awarded in most casinos, with their separate rooms and high minimums (although many casinos also run 'mini' baccarat tables on the main floor, which don't require such high stakes).
There are several different types of baccarat to choose from, which can alter the necessary skills and playing style. Now, however, most casinos and online games are a variation of the Punto Banco (Player Banker), which is arguably one of the most simple forms of the game.
The aim of a baccarat hand is to have the highest score. The player does not make any choices in terms of taking extra cards; after the betting is finished the house will deal two cards to two different hands, followed by a third according to a set of predetermined rules.
In Punto Banco the player can bet on their own hand (Punto), the banker’s hand (Banco), or a tie. The values of the cards in each hand are added and compared in order to find a winner. The essence of the game is in predicting the hand values closest to 9.
The cards that are numbered between 2 to 9 are worth their face value, the aces 1 point and picture cards as well as tens are worth zero points. The final point value of a hand is given in single digits, taken from the rightmost figure - this means that if a hand’s total value is 16 (7 and 9, for example), it is worth six points, and the highest score for any hand is nine.
The dealer will generally announce the total, and if either the player or the banker has a total of 8 or 9, the hand is finished with the highest value hand declared the winner. If neither hand has an 8 or 9, a third card can be given to either side depending on the drawing rules.
Unlike Chemin de fer, which allows players to accept or decline additional cards after the first deal, Punto banco has fixed betting options, controlled by the casino, and the game plays out according to set drawing rules. This essentially makes baccarat, as it is played in most contemporary locations, a game of chance that beginners can easily take part in.
Punto Banco baccarat is dealt from a shoe containing eight decks of cards. Once the shoe is prepared, the dealer, which can be any player based on a rotation similar to that used for throwing the dice in craps, then deals two cards to each player.
If the Player or the Banker has 8 or 9, it is known as "natural", and both hands stand. This rule overrides all other rules. If neither the Player nor the Banker has 8 or 9 play will proceed.
If the player's hand has a total of 0-5 then it draws a third card, before standing on a total of 6 or 7. When this third card is drawn, the banker’s rules become more complicated. Whether or not he takes a third card will depend on his initial total:
The banker draws another card with a total of 2 or less, regardless of the player’s card The banker draws another card with a total of 3 unless the player’s third card is an 8 The banker draws another card with a total of 4 if the player’s third card is between 2 and 7 The banker draws another card with a total of 5 if the player’s third card is between 4 and 7 The banker draws another card with a total of 6 if the player’s third card is a 6 or 7 The banker always stands on 7 The cards are then totaled, and winners determined.
Bets on Player payout evens and bets on Banker will payout evens with a 5% commission taken off. A tie pays odds of 9/1. Because there are no decisions that players can use during the course of the game the best strategy is to try to reduce the house edge.
The casino has around 14% edge on bets on a tie so one solid piece of advice would be to never bet on a Tie. Bets on the Banker do result in a commission but in common with betting on the Player the house edge is greatly reduced to just over 1%.
Once you get your head around this lengthy list of rules, the Punto Banco version of baccarat is one of the most enjoyable live casino games around. Heavily favoured with high rollers (including a certain MI6 agent), and massive in Macau, Baccarat can seem like a daunting game for beginners but behind the history, the money and the elegance lies a deceptively simple game with plenty of reasons to play.
It is important to understand the rules of the game and probably the easiest way is by actually playing Baccarat. You can try baccarat online at Betfair or any of the best online baccarat sites to get a better feel for the game.
If you do decide to play in the pressure cooker of a live casino environment, it's worth considering a venue with mini or midi tables on the main floor before graduating to the glitz and glamour of the high-roller tables. Although there's something to be said for making a grand entrance, and being guided behind the rope for a high-stakes game.