Baccarat is a perpetually popular game that has taken on many forms over the years. At one stage, Chemin de Fer ruled the roost across Europe. It was enjoyed by moneyed elites in the UK and thus came to be represented commonly in popular culture. Latterly, Punto Banco has become the Baccarat variation that dominates in casinos, quickly winning its place as the most popular table game across the globe.
Purists who would prefer to play the version of Baccarat closest to the original rules can play Baccarat Banque, which also goes by Baccarat à deux tableaux.
How to play
Players familiar with Punto Banco or Chemin de Fer will immediately feel at home playing Baccarat Banque with little initiation. The objective remains unchanged – make a hand totalling as close as possible to nine points. All cards ace through nine are worth their own value in points (ace being one), tens and picture cards are worth zero, and for all scores which exceed nine, only the units digit is considered (a score of 11 equals only one, for example). More detailed explanations of the basics are available elsewhere on this site.
Baccarat Banque opens with an auction. Players bid for the chance to play the role of banker – whoever offers up the greatest sum gets to take the helm. The banker will take up a post at the centre of a kidney shaped table, and will retain this privileged position until he or she chooses to relinquish it, be that through bankruptcy or otherwise. If the initial bet is lost, the banker may replenish it if he or she has the funds and the will to do so. Baccarat Banque is played with a shoe of three decks of cards. When they are depleted, a new auction is held for the chance to play as the banker.
The banker will put his bankroll to use wagering on his own hand. The core difference between Baccarat Banque and other variants is that there is not one, but two player hands. Ten or twelve players gather round the table, and wager on one of the two player hands. Certain casinos or venues will allow players to bet on both hands – this is called a bet à cheval . The player hands do not compete against each other, only against the banker. Much of the time, one hand may beat the banker, while the other does not. As with Chemin de Fer, an audacious punter may declare banque to match the entire wager of the banker in one hand. Should the player lose the hand but not his nerve, declaring banque suivi allows a player to repeat the large wager on the next hand.
The structure of the game from here closely follows Chemin de Fer. After receiving the first two cards, both sets of players and the banker check for a natural (a hand with a value of eight or nine). Where there is a natural, the hand ends there and winnings are proportioned. When there is no natural, players act on their hand in an anticlockwise manner, starting with the player to the right of the banker. Each of the players gathered around each side of the table will take turns in being the active player, and deciding whether to draw a card or to stand pat. While the hands are played face down, and so there are no hard and fast rules on whether to draw or not, players should draw on totals of zero to four and stand on six and seven. With a total of five, a player must follow his intuition.
Based on the information available to him (his own hand, whether each player drew or stood pat, and the value of the third card, which is dealt face up), the banker must decide whether to draw a third card himself or to play the hand he holds. At this point, hands are flipped over, and the banker either collects his winnings or pays out versus each individual player hand.
The optimal strategy here is the same as in Chemin de Fer. To reach the highest possible expectation on your bet, players should mix up their play when they have a hand value of 5. If the banker manages to predict how a player will play on 5, his expectation of winning is greater. If a player deceives the banker, making him think he will draw on 5 when he will stick, or vice versa, the player’s expectation rises slightly.
One element unique to Baccarat Banque is that the banker plays against two hands. It may be that the decision he would take against each hand individually is different – the banker would choose to stand versus one hand, but draw versus the other. In these circumstances, the banker will take the action pertaining to the player hand on which most money was bet. In that sense, there is some advantage to be gained from playing the hand with a smaller wager placed on it.
In several ways, Baccarat resembles Blackjack. In that game, a player can gain a significant advantage through card counting. Sadly for the mathematically minded, even keeping a perfect count would not give you a significant advantage in Baccarat Banque.
Where to play in the UK
As with Chemin de Fer, Baccarat Banque has died a death in UK casinos. The faster, simpler game of Punto Banco is now preferred, where the player bets against the house, rather than against another player.
Players seeking an authentic experience of Baccarat as it was first played will have to seek private games. Punto Banco, on the other hand, is available in larger casinos all around the country.