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In Baccarat Bigger is Best
by Frank Scoblete

Size counts.
Bigger is better.
The rich are different than you and I.

Most intelligent people would scoff if they were told the above clichés were true. After all, bigger isn’t better when it comes to heart attacks. The large-size pimples on the teenager’s cheeks aren’t more of a love enhancer than the small ones. And certainly, Ernest Hemingway said it plainly about the difference of the rich between you and me: “Yeah, they have more money!” But in the casino world of baccarat, those clichés are right on the money. Let me explain. The full-blown, large-sized table, James Bond-style game of baccarat, played in the high-roller rooms of casinos for table minimums of no less than $25 but usually $100 and up—the version where the players get to deal out the hands—is a better game than the mini-baccarat version played on a small-sized blackjack-style table in the main casino, with minimums of $5, $10, and $25 where the dealers deal the hands.

Yes, baccarat and mini-baccarat are the same game in terms of the various bets that can be made (Player, Bank, Tie), the house edge on those bets (approximately 1.17 percent on Bank, 1.36 percent on Player and 14.1 percent on Tie), and the house rules for playing the hands (see sidebar). But one essential difference makes “maxi” baccarat better than mini-baccarat—speed. Just as speed can make a difference in a crash (Which car would you rather be in—the one going 100 yards at one mile per hour into a brick wall, or the one going 100 yards at 75 miles per hour into a brick wall? You’re going the same distance, you’re hitting the same wall but one bumps you and one kills you. Speed in a casino game can turn a low-house edge game into a cutpurse for the house.

As I showed in The Baccarat Battle Book: How to Attack the Game of Baccarat, players are better off playing $25 per hand at baccarat than they are playing $10 per hand at mini-baccarat, since mini-baccarat can see close to three, four, or even five times the number of hands in a given hour of play than its larger, more affluent cousin. So, if you can handle the volatility of the larger version, then take yourself to the high-roller room and play with the rich, where size matters, and bigger is better. With that said, if you have never played baccarat or mini-baccarat before, here’s a little primer for you.

Card Values
The game is dealt from an eight-deck shoe (sometimes six decks will be used). All tens, jacks, queens and kings equal zero. The ace equals one. All the other cards equal their face value. Thus a nine equals nine, a two equals two and so forth. The highest possible hand is nine. If you have two fives, the total would not be a 10 but a zero.

The Objective Of The Game
The objective of baccarat is for the players to correctly guess which of three possible propositions will win on the next round: Bank, Player, or Tie. Two cards are dealt to the Bank hand and two cards are dealt to the Player hand. Sometimes a third card is dealt to either or both hands. Whichever hand is closest to nine is the winner. A two-card hand of nine or a two-card hand of eight are considered naturals and do not take any hits. However, a two-card hand of nine beats a two-card hand of eight.

In baccarat the deal goes counterclockwise around the table from player to player. The player who is dealing continues to deal as long as the Bank hand keeps winning. However, as soon as a Player hand wins, the next player gets to deal. Thus the shoe makes its way around the table. Players can pass up their turn at dealing if they so wish. If you want to play baccarat and you want to deal but you’re timid, don’t worry. The casino personnel assigned to the baccarat tables are always willing to take you through the deals step by step. In mini-baccarat, the dealer deals the hands. After the Bank and Player hands have received two cards it is possible that either or both might need to draw an extra card. The rules for drawing cards are predetermined. They are also essentially irrelevant since the players do not get to make any decisions concerning hitting or standing. At the end of the deal, whether or not a card is drawn, the hand that has a nine or closest to nine wins.

Payouts for Winning Hands
A winning Player hand is paid off at one to one. Thus, if you bet ten dollars, you win ten dollars. A winning Bank hand is paid off at even money with a commission, usually five percent, extracted on each win. This means that if you bet ten dollars, you win $9.50. This commission is collected after the shoe is finished but you can request to “pay as you go.” If you are playing $25 or $75 per hand and are allowed to “pay as you go,” you might find that the casino will “drop the change,” (a winning $25 Bank bet should have $1.25 extracted, a winning $75 Bank bet should have $3.75 extracted but some casinos will just take $1 and $3 respectively in such cases) reducing the bank commission to four percent and the Bank’s house edge more than 50 percent The Tie hand is paid at eight to one. Thus, a winning tie bet of $10 will return $80. If you bet on either Bank or Player and the Tie wins, you do not lose your bet. It is a push.

The Casino Edge
The Tie bet is one of the worst bets in the casino, so let’s not even consider making it. Since the Tie bet does not affect the other two bets, Player and Bank, we’ll concentrate on how we arrive at the house edge for these bets.

The Player bet wins 49.32 percent of the time.
The Player bet loses 50.68 percent of the time.

Translate that into money and for every $100 wagered on the Player bet, you will lose $1.36 ($50.68 minus $49.32 equals $1.36). The casino edge is therefore 1.36 percent.

The Bank bet wins 50.68 percent of the time.
The Bank bet loses 49.32 percent of the time.

Without any interference, the Bank bet would have a 1.36 percent edge in its favor. If the casinos allowed this to stand, no one would bet Player and everyone would bet Bank until the casinos went belly up. To avoid this, the casinos charge that five percent commission on all winning Bank bets. In actuality, you only win 95 cents on the dollar on a winning Bank wager as stated. This reverses the situation and gives the casino a smallish 1.17 percent edge. How does a five percent commission reduce the edge to 1.17 percent? When you lose the Bank bet, you lose $49.32 for every $100 wagered. But when you win the bet, you win $50.68 x .95, which comes out to $48.15. Therefore, $49.32 minus $48.15 equals $1.17 lost per $100 dollars wagered; in short, a 1.17 percent edge for the casinos.

The Best Way To Play
I guess you can say that I am old-fashioned when it comes to playing baccarat. I say bet Bank only and, if you can afford it, do a “pay as you go” at $25 or $75 per round if the casino reduces that commission in its desire not to hand out change. If you find that $25 or $75 is too low a bet for the high-roller room, then you must play mini-baccarat. In that case, you are going to have to “con” yourself into making only 40 or so bets per hour to get the same game as you would at “maxi” baccarat. You can do this by simply betting every third or fourth hand. Or you can do this following some kind of “anti-trend” or “trend” scheme. An anti-trend scheme would see three Player decisions in a row occur before you place a Bank bet. A trend scheme would see two or three Bank bets hit in a row before placing a Bank bet. No matter what you do, reducing the number of decisions is the reason for doing it.

You might find that with comps, a reduced commission on the Bank bets, and 40 decisions per hour, the casino’s actual “monetary” edge over you is nil. Then baccarat is as easy on you as hitting a wall at zero miles per hour!

No baccarat piece would be complete without some of the lore—real or imaginary, actual or apocryphal—surrounding some of the game’s mythological characters. Of course, everyone knows that Mr. License-to-Kill, double-o-seven, point-me-to-the-bed-ladies, secret agent, James Bond’s preferred game is baccarat. Everyone knows he always wins the money and usually the most beautiful woman at the table, even if she turns out to be a spy bent on the world’s destruction. How many young men have strutted to a baccarat table and introduced themselves in the Bondian manner? “Finkelstein. Hubert Finkelstein.”

Another real, though legendary, baccarat player is the billionaire Australian media-casino tycoon, Kerry Packer. He is said to have won between 30 and 40 million dollars during several days at the MGM in Vegas. He is said to have tipped a cocktail waitress a house—or the money needed to buy a house. Several casinos, Rio among them, are said to be afraid to book his action because with just a little bit of luck, his high-stakes mega-play can bring a casino to its knees—and executives to the unemployment line for letting him play. Perhaps the greatest of the stories surrounding Mr. Packer—an apocryphal story I first wrote about several years ago that has now taken on a life of its own with different “loud mouth” villains (Arabs in turbans, Asians in silk suits among them)—concerns a loudmouthed Texan at a baccarat table. Now, this loudmouthed Texan, in standard expensive cowboy hat, boots, big buckle and all, was being truly obnoxious. Finally, Mr. Packer requested that the man tone it down a bit. The Texan replied: “Do you know who I am? Do you have any idea of how much money I’m worth? Well, I’m worth 60 million dollars, partner, 60 million dollars!” Packer looked the Texan dead in the eye, paused, and said sardonically, “I’ll flip you for it.”

Then there was the mysterious Kashiwagi (some say he was a Japanese Mafia king) whose exploits were as varied as was the spelling of his name. He is said to have won almost 100 million dollars in the span of six months playing in Europe, the Islands, Vegas and Atlantic City before having his throat slit in Tokyo by some business colleagues for his high profile antics. (Other stories have him losing tens of millions and being shot over a hundred times.)

Any given day in Vegas or Atlantic City will see huge sums of money being bet at the baccarat tables by a host of wealthy people from a host of countries. Baccarat is a game steeped in ritual, lore, and lucre; people from all over the world love it.

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