For a table game to be successful in a casino, the player must feel as though he has some control. Unlike pushing a button on a slot, every successful table game involves a choice or consequential action. In roulette, the player chooses his numbers and the amount he will wager on each. In craps, the player gets to throw the dice. In blackjack, the player makes strategic decisions. And in the game of baccarat, the player gets to choose between Player, Banker and Tie.

Attempting to make sense out of a chaotic environment is part of the evolutionary makeup of our species. We see elephants in clouds. We believe that microscopic gravitational effects from distant planets can foretell our love life. We look for patterns in the ebb and flow of stock prices. Those ancestors who tried to make sense of the chaos of their environment had an evolutionary advantage. The modern consequence is mythological thinking and is nowhere more apparent than in a casino. Of all the casino games, the game that trumps all others with the breadth and scope of its mythological thinking is baccarat.

For example, from the college-level textbook:

Because there are only two major bets, the simplest strategy is to bet the minimum, usually $20 and alternate bets -- banker, player, banker, player, and so on.  Unless you have a really bad run of luck, you should at least break even, since there is almost an even split between the two hands. However, with this strategy, you must pull $20 from the second win so that you bet with the casino's money, not yours ... Since the odds are around 50% that one of those hands will turn up, it is a simple bet and you shouldn't go too far astray.

The authors go on to give an alternative to the player, the "1-3-2-6 betting system,” that they claim is "attractive because you risk only two betting units for a chance to win ten units." By their logic, a straight up bet on roulette is attractive because you risk only one betting unit for a chance to win 35 units. These strategies have nothing to do with reality.

Baccarat ... is a game where you can make a tidy profit in the short term but you will lose in the long term. The best way to win is to quit when you are ahead.

The authors are correct that you will lose in the long term, but any short term profit you make is purely luck. It is not something you can count on or create by some strategy. There is simply no strategy to make a tidy profit in the short term. As for the advice about quitting when you are ahead as a winning strategy, this is good advice provided that you are quitting for life. Otherwise, this statement is meaningless - cards can't tell time.

If professors at universities write textbooks that includes this nonsense, what chance does the average gambler have? If you come across an author who writes this stuff, then don't believe anything else they say. If the author falls for one fallacy, you can never be sure what else they are getting wrong. My best advice if you find mythological nonsense espoused as truth in a book is to burn the book. 

In this article I am going to present the "big 3" baccarat fallacies. If you recognize and avoid these fallacies, you are well on your way towards reality-based baccarat play.

READING THE TRENDS

Many players believe that if they can identify a trend then that trend is likely to continue. Shoes that have long streaks of consecutive Players or Bankers attract the most attention. Players press their wagers, believing that these long series portend more of the same. A sequence of seven or more consecutive wins for the same side is called a "Dragon." If one side wins seven or more in a row, then the other side wins six or more in a row, this is called a "Double Dragon." Players believe you should always follow the dragon. In large casinos you will see crowds gathered around, sometimes 3 or 4 deep, watching these shoes play out.

Another trend players look for is alternation between Players and Bankers. For example, if they see PBPBPB then surely they will wager on Player next hand. Likewise, if the player sees PPBBPPB he will surely wager on Banker next hand. There are dozens of books and websites that give complex methods for analyzing sequences of outcomes, as if there is a secret code embedded in these results. Naturally, the authors of these systems charge a lot for their "wisdom."

Modern baccarat scoreboards offer a number of visual representations of the shoe that illicit visualizations of trends. The casino knows that the more a player is convinced that a trend is taking place, the more likely they are to make a large wager on the next hand. Because a casino earns its profit based on the total wagers made by the player, it is in the casino's financial interest to present as many possible associations as possible. The modern electronic baccarat scoreboard usually contains at least five trend representations for the shoe, known as "roads." These are the big road, bead road, small road, big eye boy and cockroach pig.

This search for trends often has the player waiting for several hands to be played out in the shoe before making his first wager. Many casinos will play out two or three hands for free at the start of the shoe to get the trends started. Other times, players will sit out several hands when no trend is obvious to them. They are waiting for a trend to reappear before making a bet. A choppy shoe is not going to get much action.

The cards in the shoe do not know what has come before. There is no such thing as a trend. Although there is an evolutionary human tendency to look for patterns and order in chaotic situations, that does not mean that inanimate objects are aware of these patterns. These patterns do not exist outside of the human mind. The scoreboard is there to create as much illusion as possible.

GAMBLER'S FALLACY (REGRESSION TO THE MEAN)

A few years back a card counter I knew argued that if you flipped a coin long enough that eventually the number of heads and tails must be the same. He said that this was true because of regression to the mean. It did no good to explain to this player that the coin did not know how many heads and tails it had landed on in the past, and therefore could not know which side to favor in the future. He was convinced that the coin was obligated to make up for any deficits. Likewise, some baccarat players study the frequencies that certain events occur and use these frequencies to choose their bets.

For example, it is known that an average baccarat shoe with the cut card placed at 14 cards will have 81 hands dealt from it before the shuffle. Statistics predict that these 81 hands will consist of, on average, 36 Players, 37 Bankers and 8 Ties. It should come as no surprise that the typical baccarat scoreboard contains the raw number of times that Player, Banker and Tie have occurred in the shoe. This information is provided to accommodate the "regression" player. This type of player will look at the scoreboard to see which wager has the greatest deficit from its predicted average. He will make that bet knowing that the shoe is going to do it's best to be average.

The gambler's fallacy in its purest form is the belief that if an event has occurred more frequently than expected during some past period, then it will happen less frequently in the future. Conversely, if an event has occurred less frequently than expected during some past period, then it will happen more frequently in the future. It is "due." The presumption is that nature wants to bring these frequencies into balance. It is the mistaken belief that gambling is fair in the sense that a discrepancy in the cardinal number of events must eventually even out.

BACCARAT TRADITIONS

There are a number of traditions that baccarat players follow. Some of these are done with the belief that they influence the outcome of the hand. Others have become part of the social fabric of the game.  And others are just wacky beliefs that have somehow evolved along with the game.

Betting with the big player

Table etiquette is for players to cooperate in certain ways. One of these is to follow the action of the biggest bettor at the table. It is considered bad luck to make a small bet against the big player and he will let you know his displeasure. Such a wager is viewed with greater disdain than a player who makes a "Don't" wager in craps. However, sometimes two big players will battle head-to-head as equals. In this case the hand becomes a competition between different perceptions of the order of the universe, with one of the players proving the superiority of his ability to foretell events.

Squeezing

In midi-baccarat the player is allowed to touch the cards. It is customary for the biggest bettor at the table on the Player side to be dealt the Player cards. Similarly, the biggest Banker bettor is dealt the Banker cards. If no one makes a bet on one of the sides, the dealer handles those cards.

The objective of squeezing the cards is to slowly reveal the value of the card by strategically peeling back various edges of the card, while using as little information as possible to identify the card's value.  The ability to squeeze the cards allows the players to creates suspense, while generating the illusion of control.

The cards Jack, Queen and King are identified by observing a bit of its colorful design, no matter the edge that is being peeled back. Every non-face card has either 0, 2, 3 or 4 pips along the long edge and either 0, 1, 2 or 3 pips down the center. The 7 is the only card with an asymmetric placement for its pips.  These designs are well-known to players who have learned a specific sequence of peels to discover each possible outcome.

Though it obviously does not change the cards the player is dealt or the outcome of the hand, squeezing the cards gives the illusion of control.

Turning the cards

Some players like to turn the cards several times before they begin squeezing them. These players are trying to instill the card with good fortune, even though they surely must know that the physical card can't be changed by such an action. It is exactly this tradition that the advantage player exploits when he edge sorts the shoe. A good advantage player will always try and keep his actions within the realm of what is considered to be normal or ordinary behavior by a gambler.

Blowing on the cards and verbalizations

In the process of squeezing the cards there are certain situations where a pip in the middle or along the edge of a card will make the difference between winning or losing the hand. Some players will blow on the card before looking at certain parts of the card in an effort to blow away unwanted pips.

Asian players are known to call out certain words as they squeeze the cards in an apparent effort to change the value of the card during its exposure. The following vocabulary is from Cantonese:

  • Cheui - blow away unwanted pips.
  • Sei bian - the player is looking for a card with 4 pips on the side. If it is 4 pips, then the player wants it to be a 9 so needs to blow away a pip.
  • Saam bian - the player is looking for a card with 3 pips on the side, that is, a card with value 6, 7 or 8.
  • Liang bian - the player is looking for a card with 2 pips on the side, that is, a card with value 4 or 5.
  • Mei bian - the player is looking for a card with 0 pips on the side, that is, a card with value 1, 2 or 3.
  • Deng - means "supporting a pip." For example, if the player sees a card with 3 pips on the side and wants the card to be an 8, he wants 2 pips in the middle. The player may say "ding" to help the middle pips appear.

The missing word here, corresponding to a 0-valued card, is "Monkey" in English. Apparently, this word evolved over time from the word "Monarchy," corresponding to the card being a Jack, Queen or King. The word "Monkey" is often used by blackjack players as well when the player is dealt an Ace as his first card.

Here are a few more baccarat superstitions:

  • Wear a red element of clothing.
  • Go to the toilet if you are on a losing streak.
  • Leave the lights on before you go out to gamble.
  • Avoid the number 4 and seek out the number 8 (e.g. your hotel room number).
  • Don't have sex before gambling.
  • The direction you enter the casino and the first direction you turn are important.
  • Don't play if you can see an exit opposite the casino entrance.
  • Bring along a lucky charm.

SUMMARY

If someone tries to tell you to ride streaks, to watch for patterns, or to follow some mythological tradition or superstition, the hair on the back of your neck should stick up. This is exactly the type of non-reality based thinking that will get you into big trouble at the tables. If you want to beat baccarat, stick to methods that are fact-based and demonstrably true.

This advice goes for both sides of the table. If you are in management and you find a player beating you, focus on looking for a method of advantage play or cheating. The fact is that there are ways to beat baccarat. Lawful methods include counting the Pairs bet, known-card play, edge sorting, loss rebates and others.

Always look for truth, no matter what you are doing. The problem is that it takes a lot of effort to know the difference. Hopefully this post will help you get past some of the nonsense that tries to pass itself as baccarat wisdom.

About the Author
By

received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1983. Eliot has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. Eliot retired from academia in 2009. Eliot Jacobson

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