Optimal Strategy for Baccarat with Eliot Jacobson

Players at a baccarat table

Baccarat is a classic game of chance, which is exactly what makes it so much fun to play. Step up to the table and make your decision; will you wager on the banker, the player, or a tie?

Once the bets are made, there is nothing you can do to change the outcome of the game, as you’re dealt cards based on predetermined rules – you don’t get to choose. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t manage your bankroll and ensure that you arrive at the online baccarat table with the best odds possible.

We spoke to baccarat expert Prof. Eliot Jacobson shortly after he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2022 World Game Protection Conference in Las Vegas, and he gave us his tips on how to approach the game.

What is the one tip you would give to a new baccarat player stepping up to the table for the first time?

The most important thing is to be aware of all the small rule variations that may be taking place. There are several variants of baccarat out there. There is the normal version of baccarat with the 5% commission on banker bets. Then there’s so-called EZ Baccarat, where it’s a push if the banker draws to a three-card winning 7 and you bet on banker.

And then there’s another variant where if the banker wins with a 6 and you bet on banker it pays 1 to 2 – it pays half as much. So normally, as somebody who’s invested in having the player lose as little as possible, my advice would be bet the smallest amount you can on a wager that has the smallest house edge, because everything’s losing. You’re always losing, and who wants to lose money?

So bet on the wager that has the smallest house edge, and depending on the variant, that could be the banker or the player. Know the rules, know the house edge, know which wager has the smallest edge, and stick to that.

What is the best variation of baccarat to play?

The best variant by far is the EZ Baccarat, where a banker winning three card 7 is a push. Normally the player bet has a 1.24% house edge; on the banker bet you’ll get an edge of anywhere from 1.02% to 1.43%, depending on the variant. On the EZ Baccarat variant, that’s the 1.02% edge on the banker side, so if you can find that and avoid the side bets, which is the lure of that variant, that would be the best to play.

Is there an optimal play style or strategy (like there is in blackjack, for instance)?

Yes, the idea of basic strategy is to minimize losses.

If you talk about basic strategy in blackjack, what the strategy assumes is that you have no additional information – all you know are the two cards you’re holding and the cards you’ve drawn along the way, together with the dealer’s up card. So, a loss minimizing strategy means reducing the house edge to the smallest possible amount.

In baccarat, you’re not making any decisions other than your wager – that’s the only effective strategy you have in the game. And to have a loss minimizing strategy means to always wager on the side that has the smallest house edge.

In simple terms, bet as little as you can on the wager with the smallest house edge – that’s the end of the story with baccarat.

Does card counting work in baccarat?

The way I would measure it would be in comparison with blackjack. Let’s say you bet $100 as your absolute maximum bet at blackjack, and you play 100 hands as a card counter. And let’s suppose we’re playing a shoe game, so you have a $100 max bet when that count is really juicy and high. It turns out in a shoe game, you’re probably earning somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20 to $25 in profit for every 100 hands that go by.

Let’s put that in comparison with baccarat. Yes, you can card count the banker or player bets. There is a card counting system out there and I’ve worked on it and simulated billions of shoes of this card counting system, so I know exactly what the thing is worth. In baccarat, a $1,000 max bet gets you $0.90 per 100 hands, so you’re betting ten times as much to earn about a 20th of the income.

Not only that, if you just sit on your hands, waiting for the opportunities when the shoe is rich enough in the good cards that you can get an edge, then you’ll be making one to two wagers every eight hours.

So, the perfect baccarat card counter will sit with a stack of $1,000 chips in front of him, just patiently waiting for the count to be good enough, and then every three, four, five hours he will put out that $1,000 bet. And at the end of the day, what is he going to do? He’s going to have made enough money maybe for a donut and a cup of coffee in expected profit.

And is that down to the drawing rules in baccarat – because there are very strict rules on when you get a card?

Not really – it’s really because there are no good or bad cards. In blackjack, if you think about a face or an Ace, those are really good cards, because if you get a blackjack you get paid 3 to 2 but if the dealer gets a blackjack he just takes your money.

In baccarat, there are no cards where you can say, ‘that’s a really good card for the banker’ or ‘that’s a really good card for the player.’ There are no good cards for either side. So that’s the real point: it’s not the drawing rules, it’s the fact that everything is so symmetric in the game, so nothing is good or bad for either side in any particular way.

Can you talk about why players often bet on certain patterns in baccarat?

Baccarat is more susceptible to mythological thinking than any other casino game. Casinos want individual players to believe there’s some meaning or depth they can get by reading the patterns or the streaks, and there simply isn’t.

There’s this thing called information: information has value and it means knowing where a specific card is or having the shoe edge sorted so you can identify high and low cards or using a computer to get the edge. These are tangible pieces of information.

If you look at a blackjack table, you don’t see them putting up a board telling you what the count is or how many aces and faces are left in the shoe, because that’s information that you could use to beat the game.

So, the one way to be sure that the boards have no useful information in them, is that the casinos use them. And they use them for two particular reasons: first, they speed up the game compared to scoring by hand, which was the old-fashioned way of doing it. By not having people record the bets, they can get more decisions per hour and every decision is income for the casino.

The second is that they display patterns and streaks and all sorts of images that players can believe are real. And the more you can convince a player that something is not happening – a streak – is actually happening and project that into the future, the more likely they are to make a wager based on that non-information. And any increase in wager size is an increase in profit for the casino.

This is something that’s indigenous to baccarat more than any other game. And I think it’s important that we as individuals understand the distinction between meaningless noise and what is information.  We need to know what the difference between illusory patterns and actual information that will give us an edge or allow us to make a good decision.

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Did you know?

One of the best tips to win at Baccarat is to consider the house edge. When betting on the Tie, the house has an edge of 14.4%. On the other hand, the banker bets have a 1.06% edge, while there is a 1.36% house edge on the player bets. Banker bets also have a commission of 5%.

Eliot Jacobson, Ph.D., was professor mathematics and computer science for over 25 years. After a decade as an advantage player, Dr. Jacobson launched his career as an independent consultant for the casino industry in 2005. Dr. Jacobson’s 2015 book “Advanced Advantage Play,” based on material first published on his infamous blog apheat.net, is an industry best seller on the topic of legally beating casino table games, side bets and promotions. Dr. Jacobson consulted with casinos internationally and was a sought after keynote speaker and seminar leader. Dr. Jacobson is widely recognized as one of the world’s top experts in casino table games, casino mathematics and advantage play. Dr. Jacobson retired in 2017.

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