You must have heard those stories where blackjack card counting allowed a player to take huge winnings from the casino, and you have wondered if the same can be said about the other popular card game – baccarat.
The title of this article reveals the sad truth that baccarat is not a countable game in which you can gain an edge by counting cards, contrary to what many other results on Google may tell you. Let’s go through the reasons why baccarat card counting doesn’t work, which is vital for your understanding of the game.
Baccarat Card Counting Doesn’t Favor Anyone
Baccarat is a symetrical game in which Banker and Player will be getting the same cards. Rules are slightly different for Player and Banker, so this is the only chance where you could possibly benefit from knowing what cards are left in the deck. But even if you knew there are more 9s than Aces in the deck, there’s no way to put that information to good use. It’s equally likely that the Banker or Player will get any of the cards from the deck, and in baccarat you don’t get to make a decision during the game.
You place your bets before the cards are dealt, and then there’s nothing else left for you to do as you watch the game unfold, with Banker and Player taking turns in drawing cards. This is a different world to blackjack, as in blackjack you have decisions to make and these decisions can be based on what kind of cards are left in the deck. In baccarat, it simply doesn’t matter. Baccarat, for all practical purposes, is an elaborate coin toss game.
Casinos Don’t Mind You Counting Cards
Not in baccarat, at least. At many casinos you’ll even be provided with pen and paper if you want to track the results.
Also, while in blackjack it is rare to see a reshuffle after 75% of the shoe has been dealt, in baccarat, casinos don’t have a problem with you seeing 100% of the shoe. Meaning, they will shuffle the decks only when there are no cards left. If baccarat card counting worked, they wouldn’t ever let you do that, and would shuffle the decks once you see 75% of the shoe since it’s the last part that favors card counters the most. In baccarat, there’s simply no edge to be found there.
How Does Card Counting Work
As mentioned, blackjack card counting is very famous. Players keep track of the shoe so that they know when the advantage moves to be in their favor and will then increase their bets. This way, they are able to play more hands that are successful.
High-value cards, such as face cards, are more beneficial to the player, while lower value cards, such as twos and threes, are more beneficial to the dealer. Initially, the ratio of high to low-value cards is even, but it will change as cards are dealt. For example, if more low-value cards are dealt in the early rounds, then the remaining cards in the shoe will have a higher concentration of high versus low cards. At this point, a card counter will begin to bet more as they have a better chance of being dealt blackjack (which will usually have an enhanced payout of 3:2).
Dr Ed Thorp is the man who literally wrote the book on card counting after he developed his system in the 1960s. Thorp’s first card counting system, called the 10 Count System, was the first publicly known system to be mathematically proven. It is also a very simple system. It just requires players to start with a mental count of zero and then +4 for low-value cards and -9 for high-value cards. The higher the total goes, the more you should bet. If the count reaches zero or negative numbers, then you should bet less.
The main problem with Thorp’s system is that it only works for single-deck games, which are hard to find. However, his system inspired other mathematicians and blackjack experts to develop other systems. Thorp himself went on to develop another system, called the Hi-Lo Count, and to this day it is considered the best card counting system a beginner can learn.
How to Count Cards in Baccarat and Win
Now, we will surprise you by saying that you can, in fact, count cards in baccarat and make a profit.
It’s just that the profit is so miniscule and the strategy is so difficult to play out that it’s just not worth your time. With a perfect baccarat card counting strategy, as described by Peter Griffin in his book The Theory of Blackjack, you’d be making a $1000 bet once every 400 hands or so, and would expect to make $0.70 per hour. It is unlikely that any casino would let you sit there for 400 hands without doing anything, and it’s unlikely you’d be going through the trouble only to make $0.70 per hour.
Also, with a small sample like that – one bet every 400 hands – and the odds ever slightly in your favor, it would still be more or less a coin-flip game and you’d be likely to lose your $1000 bet. Then you’d have to wait for 400 more hands to make another one. If you lose that one too, and the odds of both first bets being lost are almost 25%, you’re in trouble.
In essence, counting cards doesn’t change the odds too much, and there’s nothing practical you can do with the extra information.
Baccarat Card Counting System and Values
This is the system used to track cards that left the deck, and it’s more complex than in blackjack, where you only use +1 and -1.
- Start with a count of 0
- don’t do anything for 9, 10, J, Q, K
- +1 when A, 2, or 3 are dealt
- +2 when 4 is dealt
- -1 when 5, 7, or 8 are dealt
- -2 when 6 is dealt
So, basically, you’re only monitoring cards between A and 8 inclusive. For the first three (A, 2, 3) you add +1 to the count. 4 is a special case as it’s the only card for which you add +2, and 6 is the opposite of that as you subtract -2. The remaining cards (5, 7, 8) mean you subtract -1 from the count.
In baccarat, it is common knowledge that banker is “always” the best bet – though in our how to win baccarat article we argue differently – and this is the default bet in this card counting strategy. It’s only when your count is higher than 16, a Player bet becomes the smarter choice.
However, this just a very simplistic way to count cards in baccarat. Some mathematicians say you actually need a count of +235 for the Player bet to actually become profitable while you need a count of -200 for the Banker bet to become truly profitable. And then there’s the real world – where even a computer who’d play the perfect game according to the information it has would only be able to make less than $2 per 100 hands. On a $1000 bet.
Here is a baccarat card counting cheat sheet you can download and print out.
Thorp’s Baccarat Card Counting System
Dr Ed Thorp developed his own baccarat card counting system that is slightly more complicated than the one described above. He also pointed out that it takes many rounds for his baccarat card counting strategy to become effective. The technique requires different calculations depending on whether you want to bet on Banker or Player.
If you wish to place the Player bet, then you need to subtract 1 when twos and threes are dealt, subtract 2 when fours and fives are dealt, plus 1 when sixes and nines are dealt and plus 2 when sevens and eights are dealt. If tens, face cards, or aces are dealt, then you do nothing.
If you want to place the Banker bet, then you do the opposite. You need to add 1 when twos, threes, and fours are dealt, add 2 when fives are dealt, subtract 1 when sixes, eights, and nines are dealt, and subtract 2 when sevens are dealt. Once again, when tens, face cards, or aces are dealt, then you do nothing.
John May’s Card Counting System for the Tie Bet
John May is a very well-known and respected baccarat author. He believes that the only form of baccarat card counting that is worthwhile is that dedicated to the Tie bet. Ties in baccarat are very rare, and that is why they offer much larger payouts than the Player or Banker bet.
May points out that if there are no odd cards remaining in the shoe, then there are only five possible hand totals, 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8. This means that the odds of a Tie are doubled, and you will have an advantage of 62% on average. His system for finding these situations is very simple. Just start at a count of zero and plus one for every odd card that is dealt. When the count reaches 160, it means that the average distribution of cards gives a huge 62% advantage, and it is time to start placing the Tie bet.
The Effect of Removing a Card
When developing card-counting strategies, a good place to start is to look at the effect of removing any given card from the game. In regards to baccarat, this means looking at the effect on house edge for each card value that is removed. A negative value shows that removal is bad for the player, while a positive value means that it is good for the player. As the values are so small, they are easier to deal with when multiplied by ten million, and that looks like this:
These can then be used for a card counting strategy. You need to start with three counts of 0 and then add the point values of that card to each of the counts. For example, if the first card dealt is a 6, then the Banker count is -1132, the Player count is 1128, and the Tie count is -11595. In order to discover if a bet is advantageous, it is necessary to divide the count by the ratio of cards left to get the true counts. A bet will have zero house edge when the Banker count is 105791, Player count is 123508, and Tie count is 1435963. It is rare that these counts will occur, but when they do, a profit will be made.
Card Counting the Dragon 7 Side Bet in EZ Baccarat
EZ Baccarat differs from the regular game in that there is no commission on the Banker bet (this is why it is sometimes simply called No Commission Baccarat). Because of this, there is a small change in the rules; a bet on the Banker position that wins with three cards that have a total of 7 will push instead of winning.
The game often has a side bet called Dragon 7, and while most side bets should be avoided, this one is an exception as there are methods to count cards for it and discover when it will be profitable. The Dragon 7 side bet pays 40:1 if the Banker hand wins with three cards and a total score of seven.
In order to win the Dragon 7 bet, the dealer must draw a third card, and the cards that most often prevent this are 8s and 9s. As these cards are removed from the shoe, the edge moves towards the player’s favor. Having many lower-value cards is also helpful, as cards 1 to 7 can help move the dealer’s final total to 7. By looking at the effect on the house edge of removing each card value, it is possible to build a card counting system.
The system dictates that you start with a count of zero and then subtract 1 when fours, fives, sixes, and sevens are dealt, and plus 2 when eights or nines are dealt. When any other card is dealt, then you do nothing. You should then place the Dragon 7 bet when the true count is +4 or higher (remember, the true count is determined by dividing the count by the number of decks left in the shoe). This should happen in just under 10% of all hands.
Baccarat Card Counting: A Useful Tool When Used Correctly
It should be clear by now that baccarat card counting does not offer the same advantages as blackjack card counting. Even when done perfectly, it will not lead to very large profits. However, it is a relatively easy thing to do, and it does have its advantages. Furthermore, there are specific situations, such as the Dragon 7 side bet, when it is very useful and can help secure more winnings. In other words, there is no need to obsessively card count, but it certainly can’t do any harm.