How to Count Cards in Baccarat – Principles and Systems
While everybody knows that blackjack card counting works, few people realize that baccarat card counting can also be a very effective tool. Because baccarat is dealt from a shoe, it makes sense that the odds for each bet type will change as the cards are dealt and by tracking the cards, it is possible to place a bet in baccarat with an edge over the house.
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This article will explain just how baccarat card counting works, explore various different baccarat card counting strategies and provide tips and examples for each.
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.
Basics of Baccarat Card Counting
Unfortunately, card counting is not quite as straightforward in baccarat as it is in blackjack. In blackjack, players want to see low-value cards leave the shoe and high-value cards remain in the shoe. However, in baccarat, it is less clear-cut which cards are beneficial to players.
In baccarat, a natural is a hand of two cards that is worth 9. However, there is no enhanced payout for the hand, which means that the rewards for knowing when a natural will be dealt are considerably reduced. The aforementioned Dr Ed Thorp once wrote, “Despite the resemblances between baccarat and blackjack, the favorable situations detected by perfect card counting methods are not sufficient to make the game favorable.” He went on to say that, “…no practical winning strategy is possible for the Nevada game, even with a computing machine playing a perfect game.”
Others have echoed Thorp’s opinion. In the book The Theory of Blackjack, Peter Griffin explained that even the best baccarat counters playing in Atlantic City (which has a more liberal shuffle point than Las Vegas) will only be making a profit of $0.70 an hour and will need to be betting $1,000 on positive expectation hands to do so.
Therefore, even though baccarat is dealt from a shoe and it is possible to keep track of card values, baccarat card counting is significantly less useful than blackjack card counting. Nonetheless, both Thorp and Griffin discuss baccarat card counting strategies, and a number of systems have been developed, so we shall look at some of them.
How to Count Cards in Baccarat
The aim of card counting in baccarat is to work out whether the Banker or Player has a better chance of winning. There is no point in considering the Tie bet. Before you begin the counting process, you need to find a table with a fresh 6 or 8-deck shoe as by starting with a fresh shoe, you will be able to track cards from the beginning and gather more information.
Baccarat card counting is actually very simple, and there is no need to remember any cards. You simply need to perform some very basic arithmetic. When the shoe is started, you begin with a count of 0. Each time that you see an ace, two, or three dealt from the shoe, then you plus one to the count. If a four is dealt, then you need to plus two. All of these cards show that there is a bigger chance of switching to the Player bet. The cards fives, sevens, and eights decrease the chance of the Player bet winning, so you need to subtract one each time one of them appears. You should also subtract two if a six is dealt. The remaining cards (9, 10, J, Q, and K) don’t change the count, so they are worth zero.
The system is built on the simple idea that you are more likely to start betting on the player position as the count increases, and you’ll be more likely to bet on the Banker position as the count decreases. When using the above-described system, you will have a running count in your head; however, you actually need to divide the tally by the number of decks left in the shoe to know the true count. For example, if you have a running count of 30, and there are six decks left, then there is a true count of 5, which is not very high. However, if the running count is 30, and there are just two decks left, then the true count of 15 is high. If the true count is 16 or above, then you need to switch to the Player bet.
|A, 2, 3:||Add +1|
|5, 7, 8:||Subtract -1|
|10, J, Q, K:||Neutral|
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.
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.