Long before James Bond was throwing back Martinis and speaking in a Scottish burr, he was a connoisseur of the game of baccarat – despite what you heard in the recent version of Casino Royale. It’s the perfect setting for an international man of mystery, after all… it’s the province of the rich and famous, a game played by Kings and Queens – just the kind of circles our master spy moves in. Previously only played in Salons Privées, baccarat has, in recent years, gained popularity among mainstream gamblers – and it’s waiting for you to give it a try.
Baccarat is a game steeped in mystery and complexity; a favourite of royalty and icons of glamour throughout the years. There are many theories on where and when baccarat began, but what is known is that, by the nineteenth century in France, the game was immensely popular among the nobility, despite gambling being illegal.
Since then, three distinct versions of the game have emerged, with punto banco being the most well known in South Africa, the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada and elsewhere. With growing awareness of the game in the mainstream, more and more people are enjoying baccarat today. In this guide, we will focus on punto banco, while touching on the other versions available.
Purpose of the game
In baccarat, the aim is to score 9 or 8, based on the value assigned to two cards that you have been dealt. If neither the player or banker scores 9 or 8, then more cards are drawn in order to achieve this total. The rules for drawing, and how the cards are scored, however, is where baccarat gets complex.
To begin the game, the dealer (also called banker in baccarat) draws two cards for the player and two for themselves. The total value of the cards is calculated according to the scoring rules. If either the player or the dealer has scored 8 or 9 at this stage, then they have won the hand – 9 beats 8. If both have the same score, it is counted as a tie.
If neither person has 8 or 9, the dealer has to turn to the drawing rules to determine whether a third card must be drawn, and for whom. The standard rules for punto banco baccarat are as follows:
Dealer total Draw rules
Dealer draws a card
Dealer draws unless player’s third card is an 8
Dealer draws only if the player’s third card is 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7
Dealer draws only if the player’s third card is 4, 5, 6, or 7
Dealer draws only if the player’s third card is 6, or 7
Placing a bet in baccarat is not a simple matter of winning a hand and therefore winning the game. The player bets on whether the dealer’s hand or the player’s hand will win. This means even if the player’s hand loses, the player could still win, if they bet on the dealer.
Calculating the value of the hand isn’t just a matter of totaling the face value. In baccarat, cards have an assigned value as follows:
2 to 9: face value
10, jack, queen, king: 0
*Note: suits are irrelevant in baccarat.
These assigned values are added together, but only the last digit (the unit digit) is counted for the score. To illustrate, here are some examples:
Hand: king, 7
Values: 0, 7
Here, the total value of the two cards is 7, therefore the hand’s value is 7.
Hand: 4, 6
Values: 4, 6
Here, the total is a two-digit number. Only the unit digit (0) is counted, so this hand’s value is 0.
Hand: 9, 8
Values: 9, 8
Here, the total is a two-digit number. Only the unit digit (7) is counted, so this hand’s value is 7.
This is the variation that most South Africans will be familiar with. In this version of the game, there is always a designated banker, although one of the players may act as dealer under the banker’s instructions during play.
Chemin de Fer
This is the French version of the game, and the version played by James Bond in the original novel, Casino Royale. Here, a dealer/banker is selected from among the players. Once bets are placed, a player representative is selected. The banker and representative player each receive one card, and the table, two cards, face-down. If neither has an 8 or 9, the player can choose whether or not to take another card, followed by the banker doing likewise. The higher score is the winning hand.
Online baccarat can be played in two versions: live dealer, or video baccarat. Live dealer games emulate the bricks-and-mortar casino experience, while video baccarat pits you against the system.
Tableau: the clearly laid-out rules for how to draw cards
Natural: an initial score of 9 or 8
Punto: the player
Banco: the banker, or dealer
Baccarat is one of the highest-stakes games you will find in a casino. It’s the favoured game of James Bond in many novels and movies, and it’s always been associated with royalty. But you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the thrill of baccarat, especially with the wide variety of games available today. Step out of your comfort zone and into a seat at the baccarat table.