In baccarat the hand is played between a dummy ‘dealer’ and dummy ‘player’. The other players wager on whether the ‘dealer’ will win or the ‘player’ will win. In order to decide who wins the ‘dealer’s’ and the ‘player’s’ hands are valued and the one with the higher hand value wins.
To arrive at the hand value an understanding of card values is required. The cards from aces to tens have their face values. The face cards have a value of 10. The value of the hand is arrived at by summing the card values and dropping the tens digit from the total. Hence the highest hand value is 9 and the lowest hand value is 0, which is also known as baccarat.
The player to the right of the croupier first takes the role of the ‘dealer’. The dealer first places his wager. If a player wants to match the ‘dealer’s’ wager on his own he calls “Banco”. In that event the other players cannot place wagers. If no one calls “Banco” then the other players place their wagers. If the total players’ wager is less than the ‘dealer’s’ wager the shortfall can be made up by any player. If the total players’ wager is more than the ‘dealer’s’ wager then the ‘dealer’ can increase his wager or refuse the excess wager of the players. The player who places the highest wager takes on the role of the ‘player’. The ‘dealer’ deals two cards to the ‘player’ and two cards to himself. All cards are dealt face down. Both the ‘dealer’ and the ‘player’ check their cards. If they have a hand value of 8 or 9 they turn their cards face up and the one with the higher hand value is declared the winner. If neither the ‘player’ nor the ‘dealer’ has an 8 or 9 then the ‘dealer’ offers a third card to the player. If the ‘player’ has a hand value between 0 and 4 then he has to take the third card. If he has a hand value between 6 and 9 he has to refuse the third card. If his hand value is 5 then he can choose to take or refuse the third card. The ‘dealer’ deals the third card face up. The ‘dealer’ then decides whether or not to take the third card. There are no rules for the ‘dealer’. He can do what he thinks is best for him. After the dealer has given effect to his decision then the hand values are compared and the one with the higher hand value is the winner.
The players who have wagered on the eventual winner are paid out in even money. The players who have backed the loser lose their wagers. If the hand values are tied then there is no winner or loser and the bets are returned to the players. The croupier makes the payouts as required. If the ‘dealer’ is the winner he remains as the ‘dealer’. If the ‘player’ is the winner then the player to the right of the present ‘dealer’ becomes the new ‘dealer’.
A player in baccarat can play one of three roles. He can play the hand as the ‘dealer’ or as the ‘player’. Or he can simply be one of the players who bet on the outcome between the ‘dealer’ and the ‘player’. The issues regarding baccarat strategy depend on the role that he is playing.
As a ‘player’ the players have only one decision to make. If after he is dealt two cards and his hand value is 5 then he has to decide whether or not to take a third card. If the third card happens to be an ace, two, three or four then the ‘player’s’ hand value will increase to 6, 7, 8 or 9. If the third card happens to be a five, six, seven, eight or nine then the ‘player’s’ hand value will decrease to 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4. If the third card happens to be a ten, jack, queen or king then the ‘player’s’ hand value remains at 5. The hand value thus increases with four cards and decreases with five cards. Assuming that the probability of drawing any card is the same then the hand value has a greater chance of decreasing and therefore strategy dictates that the ‘player’ should not ask for the third card. The important strategic aspect here is that the assumption of all cards having equal probability of being drawn is not always true. If more of the high value cards have been discarded, the probability that the third card is from ace to four increases and therefore the player has a greater chance of increasing his hand value by drawing a third card. Therefore expert baccarat strategy requires players to keep track of which cards have been discarded. Several card-counting techniques are available.
Likewise as a ‘dealer’ the player has to decide whether or not to take the third card. Computer simulations have been carried out to determine what is the optimum strategy for the ‘dealer’. If the ‘player’ does not take a third card then the ‘dealer’ should take a third card only when his hand value is 5 or less. If the ‘player’ takes a third card then the ‘dealer’ should take a third card if his hand value is 3 or less; he should not take a third card if his hand value is 7 or if the ‘player’s’ third card is neither too high nor too low.
When the player is neither ‘player’ nor ‘dealer’ then he does not participate in the play therefore his strategic decisions revolve around placing wagers. Some casinos offer a tie-bet in which the players can bet that the outcome of the game will be a tie. Though these bets have high payouts they have very high house edges and should be avoided at all costs. The fewer decks that are used in the game the more advantageous it is for the player. Hence if a choice is available then the player should opt for a game with fewer decks. Money management strategies play a significant role because the level of skill is low. Players should place larger wagers when on a winning streak and lower wagers when on a losing streak.
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