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Baccarat is a staple of Asian casinos and has steadily gained popularity with European and American players. With our simple, lesson-based baccarat guide, you too will be able to master the game and learn what all the fuss is about.
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Baccarat is played at most casinos - both online and offline - but as a game it has failed to capture the imagination of casual gamblers, unlike blackjack and roulette. It's a very popular game with 'high rollers' (i.e. players who can afford to gamble massive amounts on one hand), and if you visit a bricks-and-mortar casino, you'll probably only find baccarat tables behind roped off sections that are open to VIP players only.
The game is played with a standard deck of playing cards with the jokers removed. The cards each have a point value. The cards two to nine are worth their face value, while tens and court cards are worth zero. An ace is worth one point.
The total worth of a hand is the right-most digit of its total point count. Therefore if you have a seven and a nine, the value of your hand is six, not sixteen. The highest possible value of a baccarat hand is nine.
When you are playing baccarat at an online casino, you are actually more likely to be playing a slight variation of the game known as 'punto banco', which is French for 'player banker'. This refers to the two hands that are dealt - the player's hand, and the banker's hand. These are just the names of the hands and have no direct association with the actual player playing the hand (as in 'player'), and the croupier dealing the cards (as in 'banker').
When you play baccarat online, you have a choice of three bets - betting on the player, the banker or a tie. Betting on the player's hand gives you odds of evens, whereas betting on the banker has odds slightly under evens (0.95 is the usual rate, although that depends upon the casino where you are playing). Betting on a tie gives odds of either eight or nine to one.
Once you've placed your bet, the dealer will deal two cards face up for each hand, and the hands will then be evaluated to see which is the winner.
If either the player or the banker has an eight or a nine, the hand is over. If the player has a total less than six, then another card is dealt (you, as the person making the bet, have no say in whether further cards are dealt or not).
Once the player has completed his turn, the banker now plays, following the same rules as the player as long as the player did not draw a third card. If, however, the player did draw a third card, then things get a little complicated. The banker must follow a set of rules that decide whether he is able to draw a third card or not.
When all possible cards have been drawn, the hand is over, and your wagers are evaluated.
The history of baccarat
Baccarat's history can be traced all the way back to the 1400s, when it arrived in France from Italy ('Baccarat' is an Italian word meaning 'zero' and the game was so named due to the controversial idea that all court cards were worthless).
Some game historians dispute the idea that baccarat arrived in France as long ago as the 1400s from Italy and instead claim that this is a mix up with a different card game called 'basset'. Basset was a simple gambling game similar to the game now known in UK as 'Newmarket'. It was eventually replaced by a different, more challenging game called 'faro'.
For many years faro was the most popular card game in European casinos before being replaced in the late nineteenth century by blackjack and baccarat.
There's very little evidence to suggest baccarat was played before the 1840s. There were two forms of baccarat - 'Baccarat en Banque' and 'Baccarat Chemin de Fer'. The name 'Chemin de Fer' means 'iron way' in French which is thought to be a reference to railways. In Chemin de Fer the shoe containing the cards to be dealt is passed around the table to each different player as the deals progress.
More historians conclude that the Chermin de Fer variation of baccarat arrived in the USA in the early 1910s. As the time gambling was illegal so the game could only be played for money at illegal gambling joints. There are several reports in newspapers at the time of baccarat players being arrested for breaking the gambling taboo.
Baccarat started to grow in popularity after it arrived in Nevada casinos in the late 1950s, but the game has never matched the popularity in the US of blackjack, roulette and craps.
Baccarat in popular culture
- Baccarat made its cinematic debut in the Beatles' film 'A Hard Day's Night'. In the film, Paul McCartney's grandfather John, played by Wilfred 'Albert Steptoe' Brambell, steals Ringo Starr's invite to a posh new casino and ends up spending most of his time at the baccarat table. Despite having no knowledge of baccarat (he yells 'bingo!' at one point when he wins a hand) he wins a tidy sum - which is quickly eaten up by his sizeable bar bill.
- In 2006, the James Bond movie 'Casino Royale' caused consternation with Bond fans when a pivotal scene in the movie had the super secret-agent playing Texas Hold'em Poker. Every dedicated James Bond fan knows that 007 only has one casino game - baccarat. In Ian Fleming's 1953 novel version of Casino Royale (Bond's first appearance in print) Bond beats an enemy operative at the game, and it was this version of the plot that was used in the Bond spoof version of Casino Royale that was made in 1967 starring David Niven as Bond. James Bond also plays baccarat in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only and Goldeneye.
- Baccarat was also allegedly the game-of-choice for the infamous English aristocrat Lord Lucan. It was alleged that he once won £26,000 (worth nearly £420,000 in today's money) playing 'Chemin de Fer' at a private gambling party organised by the gambler and bookmaker John Aspinall. After amassing huge gambling debts and being wanted in connection with murder of his children's nanny, Lucan vanished in 1974 and was never seen again.
Baccarat at online casinos
Since the rise in popularity of online gambling, baccarat too has risen considerably in popularity - in fact it is probably the third most popular table game offered at online casinos behind blackjack and roulette. Most online casinos that offer live casinos will offer a live dealer version of baccarat.
The majority (if not all) of the versions of baccarat offered by casino operators are based on the 'punto banco' version of the game. Don't be confused if you find a casino that offers both punto banco and baccarat as they are virtually the same game - punto banco is more geared towards online casinos as the 'three card' rules are followed routinely and without variation.
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