Baccarat explained: All it takes to win is luck and money to burn

Baccarat is one of the oldest and most popular games at casinos around the world.
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Baccarat is one of the oldest and most popular games at casinos around the world.

Anyone can beat the house playing baccarat, but there's a catch. 

It was super spy James Bond's game of choice in Dr NoThunderballOn Her Majesty's Secret Service and Golden Eye. And half a dozen high rollers scooped A$80 million out of The Star casino in Sydney playing it over six months last year.

The catch is, you have to be lucky. Because there's no skill or strategy involved.  As former US government actuary Michael Shackleford writes on his influential Wizard of Odds website: "Although the game seems serious and elegant, it is really as simple as betting on the flip of a coin."  

James Bond played a baccarat version preferred in France, known as chemin de fer.

James Bond played a baccarat version preferred in France, known as chemin de fer.

You might also need a good chunk of money to burn, because the table minimums can be as high as $500 or more, depending on the type of table, and the casino.

READ MORE: High rollers' "freakish" wins

The rules

One of the oldest and most popular games at casinos around the world, baccarat, also known as punto banco, is a game of chance in comparing cards.

It is played between two hands, the "player" and the "banker", with three possible outcomes: "player" when the player has highest score, "banker" if the bank has the winning cards, and "tie".

Two cards are dealt to each hand for each coup from four, six or eight decks shuffled together. Each card has a point value, with cards 2-9 worth their face value, while 10s, Jacks, Kings and Queens are worth zero. An ace is worth one point.

The highest possible hand value is 9. If the face value adds up to double digits, the right most digit of their sum is used: for example, a hand consisting of eight and four is worth not 12, but 2.

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If player and/or banker get an eight or nine, the coup is finished and the winner or a tie is declared. If not, drawing rules are applied, and third cards may be dealt.   

A player's fate rests solely with the cards they are dealt. But the odds favour the house, of course. In an eight deck game, according to the Wizard of Odds, the house edge is $1.06 on the banker bet - meaning it is likely to win $1.06 for every $100 that is bet on the banker. The house edge is1.24 per cent on the player bet, and 14.36 per cent on the tie.

The Star chief executive Mark Beklier said the A$80m win for the six Asian high rollers was "just bad luck" for the casino.

"They are all individuals who are well known to us - who have been coming here for many years - and normally we are ahead but this time they ended up ahead."

The tables

The tables can be big, mini or midi. Big Table Baccarat is played in a "snooty rope-off area", usually by "very well dressed players" according to Shackleton.

Mini tables are found in the main casino areas, with the same rules but the game is much faster because the dealer turns over all the cards. A Midi table works the same except the table is bigger, and it's usually away in the high-limit rooms.

One sought-after way people try to beat the house is to cheat in collusion with croupiers or dealers. In 2003 a baccarat croupier at the Crown Casino in Melbourne was jailedfor shuffling her cards in a way that enabled a high roller to win A$1.4m. 

James Bond played a baccarat version preferred in France, known as chemin de fer. He would, wouldn't he: in that version strategy plays a part because players have choices. 

 - SMH

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