Punto Banco – the most popular variant of Baccarat – has become the most-played table game in casinos across the world. Baccarat originated in Europe, and for 30 years has been riding a wave of popularity over from casinos in Macao, the most prolific gambling city on the planet. In 2017 alone, Macao properties took more than $26.5 billion at the Baccarat tables, a trend which is sure to reach British shores.
Baccarat has always been shrouded in pageantry. Perhaps due to the game’s repeated representation in James Bond movies or its popularity among socialites and the elite, games of Baccarat were often played out in cordoned-off high roller areas, dealt over grand and ornate tables by dealers donning tuxedos.
This has lent an air of mystery to the game which gamers would do well to penetrate. Beneath all the pomp and grandeur lies a simple game with a low house edge and high variance, and therefore the opportunity to take the casino for a big score.
How to Play
Punto Banco games are simple. All cards are dealt by the dealer from a 6 or 8 deck shoe. Cards are dealt alternately into one of two hands. The first is designated the punto, or the player hand, and the second the banco, the bank. In Punto Banco, as with all Baccarat variants, play is divided into coups – the special name for a round of play.
The player must place a bet before any cards are dealt. Bets must fall within minimum and maximum betting limits, which will often be negotiated before play begins. The player is under no obligation to bet that their own hand will win, and has three betting options:
- Punto – the player’s own hand will be strongest
- Banco – the dealer’s hand will win
- Egalité – the hand will end in a draw
Once the bet is placed, the coup begins and the player has no more decisions to make, with dealing being dictated by rules based on the sum total of the cards’ value. This value is counted with aces being worth one point; twos through to nines worth the value of the card; and tens and face (picture) cards worth zero points.
When calculating the total value of the hand, the value of all dealt cards is added together. Where this value exceeds nine, only the second digit is taken into consideration. For example, a hand of six and nine totals fifteen, but only the 5 is counted, with the first digit (1) being disregarded. The winning hand in Punto Banco is the hand closest to the total of 9. Where the two hands tie, this is a draw, and players who wagered on égalité win, and all other bets are declared a push and may be withdrawn from the table or left for the next coup.
What happens next depends on the total score of both hands. Similarly to Blackjack, a hand can be won immediately with a natural. In Punto Banco, a natural is two cards that total 8 or 9. If either punto or banco has a natural, the coup stops with only two cards dealt to each hand. If there is no natural, a third card is dealt.
When dealing a third card, the punto will always be acted on before the banco.All actions are taken according to a small and relatively simple set of rules, and the player does not and cannot influence the dealing of cards. The rules for the punto hand couldn’t be simpler: if the total value is 0-5, the punto hand is dealt a third card, if the total is 6 or 7, the punto hand stands pat (a popular term which means not to receive any further cards). A total of 8 or 9 would be a natural, and the hand would have ended already.
Following this, the dealer acts on the banco hand. If the punto did not receive a third card, the rules are unchanged between punto and banco. However, when the punto does receive a third card, the rules are slightly more complex. We can summarize them here for you:
- If the value of the banco hand is 0, 1 or 2, they will always draw a card.
- When the value is 3, the banco will draw a card unless the punto drew an 8.
- When the banco total is 4, a third card is drawn only when the third card on the punto hand is a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7.
- Should the banker have a total of 5 after two cards, they will draw a third if the player drew a 4, 5, 6 or 7
- On a banco total of 6, a third card will be drawn only when a player draws a 6 or a 7
- If the banker has a total of 7, he will never draw a third card.
As with most card games, the best way to get to grips with the intricacies of the game is just to jump into the action. It worth noting that with Punto Banco, all dealing follows the above pre-determined rules, so there is no scope to make mistakes which cost you money. In any case, the rules will most often be written on or nearby the table.
Punto Banco is purely a game of chance, with no skill involved and no way to influence play. Many superstitious gamblers believe that their luck flows into the shoe, and should the order of cards be manipulated, they will get up and leave the table.
However, as with many games of chance, there are ways to maximize your chances of winning. First of all, you should always bet on banco. This is the bet with the lowest house edge. Bets on the punto will lose ever so slightly more money on average, though the difference is very small. Bets on égalité should be avoided at all costs, often losing about 14 times more money in the long term than a bet on punto.
The shrewd gambler will always choose the right table. In Punto Banco, this is a question of odds. Bets on punto will universally pay out at even money. For bets on banco, a commission is taken by the house. At most venues, they will pay out at 19:20, which equals a 5% house commission. If you look carefully, some casinos will offer a lower commission of 4%, and rates as low as 2.5% are not unheard of.
If you are a player who eschews the odds, and goes with gut instinct to bet on égalité from time to time, there are some tables that pay out a 8:1, and some which pay at 9:1. Finding one of the latter tables will net you much more money over the long term.
Punto Banco is a game most often found in private rooms and played at the nosebleed stakes, with thousands being wagered on each coup. Understandably, this is too rich for many punters’ blood, and thus arose Mini Punto.
The game is identical, but it is normally played over a smaller table and for lower stakes – hence the name. Some Punto Banco dealers will allow the bettors to remove the cards from the shoe themselves, although this is not universal. In Mini Punto, the dealer will always distribute cards. This is to increase the number of coups played per hour, which is great if you like fast action
Super 6/Punto 2000
This is another variation of Punto Banco aimed at increasing the speed of the game. Per standard rules, bets on banco pay out 19:20. This is time consuming for the dealer, as he must calculate winnings and distribute chips for several different amounts. Not so in Super 6/Punto 2000, where bets on the banker are paid out at even money, just as bets on the player are. This seems like a large concession by the house, but to tip the table in their favour, when the dealer wins on a total of 6, which happens perhaps 5 times per shoe, the player only wins 50% of their bet. This is enough to assure that Super 6/Punto 2000, though offering a fast-paced game, is slightly less profitable for the player. To capitalize on the change in rules, casinos will allow a player to bet on a banco win with a total of 6 – this offers long odds of 15:1, which is great for players who like sizeable wins on any given hand.
Where to play in the UK
Players looking to play in the UK are in luck. The majority of casinos operated by Caesars, Genting and Grosvenor all offer Punto Banco, often advertised online under the name Baccarat. If you’re in London, stop by The Empire in Leicester Square where the rules are favourable and bets start from £5. Of course, at London’s private clubs, limits will go much higher.
Outside of London, the number of Punto Banco tables is growing quickly – often with as many tables available as Blackjack.