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Like many people reading this, you’re probably wondering, “What the hell is baccarat?”

You’ve played slots, craps, roulette and blackjack, maybe dabbled a little bit in Pai Gow or Casino War (the worst odds in the house … do not play Casino War!), but most likely you’ve never played or even seen a baccarat table on any of your walks through the casino floor in your life. Why? Because it’s a slow moving game that the casino tries to hide from you.

OK, I don’t know if they’re really trying to hide it or it’s just not that popular among the masses so they stick it in the remote part of the casino, but it definitely isn’t in your face like the other games. Baccarat dealers also tend not to look like Victoria’s Secret models. It’s not the game they put in front of the club or dancing poles across from the casino bar, and it has no line of sight from any front desk in Vegas for you to get your eyes on while you’re checking in. It’s not colorful and doesn’t have any big, bright lights or sounds drawing your attention. It has a TV monitor with a bunch of red and blue dots, slashes and circles on it, and a low table that you sit down at. No stools or standing in baccarat. If you commit to playing, you’re sitting down and in it for the long haul.

On the slight chance that you’ve actually stumbled by a baccarat table on your way to the high-limit bathrooms at Caesars or the cage at Venetian, you most likely just ignored it. With all the other stimuli hitting your brain on a casino floor, Baccarat can’t compete. Unless … you happen to walk by when one of the players slammed a card on the table like The Undertaker choke-slamming somebody through the ring at WrestleMania. Yes, this is allowed in baccarat!

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The game is simple, the dealer deals two hands: the player hand and the banker hand. No, the player hand is not your hand and the banker hand is not the dealer’s hand; just think of them more like Hand A and Hand B. Before the hand is dealt, you decide which hand is going to win (kind of like choosing between black and red at Roulette, except there is no green on which you can lose; ties push). Without going too far down the rabbit hole of all the rules, each hand is dealt two cards and if either hand adds up to 8 or 9 (9 beats 8), the hand is over. If not, the dealer gives each hand a third and final card. Kings, queens, jacks and 10s are worth zero and aces worth 1. A king and an 8 equal 8. An 9 and a 7 equal 6 (add them together and drop the 1). “Closest to 9” or 9 wins. It’s that simple.

So why is this the game to play you ask? For starters, because it has the best odds in the house behind only blackjack. For comparison, the house edge in Blackjack is 1%, while in Baccarat the house edge for the banker hand is 1.06%, and 1.24% for the player hand. Typically the banker’s hand has an advantage, but the house takes a 5% commission on the banker; banker pays 0.95:1, player pays 1:1 (ties pay 8:1 if you bet, but don’t bet it). Despite the edge here going to blackjack, baccarat is the better game for four reasons:

  1. You don’t have to play every hand. You can sit and wait until a pattern forms (i.e. 5 bankers in a row, so you bet the player). In blackjack there is either “no mid-deck entry”, meaning you have to play every hand (more hands equal more money lost over time), or the other players pressure you into not sitting out because “you ruined the deck.”
  2. There is no human factor. In blackjack, whether it’s your hand or the other players’ hands, you decide whether to stay or hit on any given hand. This human factor drastically affects each hand in a way that it does not in baccarat. In baccarat, there are set rules as to when (or if) the third card is dealt to each hand. No human factor means the odds stay true on every hand. No more having to deal with Jimbo sitting on a 16 vs the dealer’s 10 because of a “gut feeling” (smh!)
  3. The game is slower. If you believe you’re going to lose in the end anyway, wouldn’t you rather lose over a longer period of time and get as many free drinks and comps as possible? Blackjack hands are fast. The dealers are told to deal quickly and move on to the next hand to get as many hands in per hour as humanly possible. Baccarat has no clock. The dealer deals when the players are ready and collectively as a table decide when to deal. So A) your brain has more time to calculate how much and when to bet, but also B) if you do go on a cold streak you can slow down and gather yourself before all the chips are gone, or C) if you start to win, you can pause and cash out before giving it all back.
  4. It’s full of superstitions and therefore far more entertaining. Remember what I said about The Undertaker? The cool thing about baccarat is that they allow you to get pretty crazy at the table and the players typically have some insane superstitions that make each hand wildly entertaining. Whether they are blowing on the cards because they need a 9 and not an 8 and are blowing one digit away, or ripping the cards in half if it’s not the card they needed (yes, this is fully allowed), or slamming the exact card they needed on the table in victory, baccarat is next-level crazy.

So, on your next trip to Vegas, ignore the sucker bets and the flashy lights, sit down with some tea and honey, and go play some baccarat! Trust me when I say it is the only game you should be playing if you give a damn about winning.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Google Creative Common Licenses