The standard high-stakes version (big) of baccarat spread in high-roller rooms is a table game played on a surface equivalent to the size of a craps table. Between 12 and 14 seats ring the table and typically three dealers run the game. For the low-stakes version known as mini-baccarat, the set-up resembles a blackjack table – with up to seven seats arranged around a single dealer.
The object of baccarat is to get closest to the number 9 using either a two- or three-card hand. Card values in baccarat are as follows: 1-9 are worth their numerical rank. 10s and face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) are worth 0, and aces are worth 1. Whenever a total moves over 10, the left-hand digit is removed to give the actual total. For example, a hand containing a 5 and a 7 adds up to 12, so removing the ‘1’ gives you an actual total of 2.
Anytime a 10-value is dealt alongside an 8 or a 9, this is known as a “natural” and the hand is an automatic winner. A natural 9 always beats a natural 8 in the event both “banker” and “player” are dealt naturals.
While playing baccarat you’re betting choices are simple and straightforward: you may bet on either the “banker” or the “player” hand to reach a total closest to 9, with the payout for both bets essentially equaling even money on your wager.
You may also bet on the two hands winding up as a tie, but this “standoff” bet is rarely used because despite paying out 9:1, the house still enjoys a significant statistical edge. The baccarat table is lined and divided into betting squares, so players simply place their chips on either the “banker” or the “player” spaces depending on which hand they think will win.
In big baccarat a shoe containing either six or eight decks is used and players take turns distributing two cards each to form the “banker” and “player” hands. Big baccarat rewards the player who has placed the largest wager by letting him or her squeeze out the cards that make up the “player” hand, but in reality everyone at the table who has bet on the “player” is actually using those cards.
Nonetheless, much of the entertainment associated with baccarat comes from squeezing the “player” hand out, and regulars take great delight in savoring the anticipation, bending the cards on all sides while slowly exposing the card to see if they’ve won or lost.
In mini-baccarat the game plays out the same way, but rather than each player taking turns manning the shoe, a casino dealer runs the game much like blackjack. Bets are made, the cards are dealt out to determine whether “player” or “banker” bets win, and the winning wagers are paid out.
After the first two cards are dealt for the “banker” and “player” hands their values are compared. Natural 8s or 9s end the hand immediately and wagers on the winning side are paid out.
When no naturals have appeared on board, a third card is drawn according to the following rules:
The “player” hand always draws first. When the “player” total is between 0 and 5 an additional card must be dealt, and when the total is 6 or 7 the “player” must stand. When the “player” stands, the “banker” hand stands on totals of 6 or more and draws another card on totals of 5 or less. When the “player” does take a third card, the “banker” takes a third card according to a complex set of rules enforced by the dealer.