It’s fun, suspenseful and sophisticated, very easy to play, the house edge is very low, and the stakes are high. All these factors help to explain why punto banco is one of the most popular casino table games among high-rollers worldwide.
It only takes a few minutes to grasp the simple rules of this classic baccarat variation and set off on a lifetime of recreational gambling satisfaction. But punto banco wasn’t always the top dog in the baccarat league. Keep on reading to get the lowdown on punto banco and learn how to play the game.
The Story of Punto Banco Baccarat
Punto banco is the most modern and popular form of baccarat, a card-based gambling game that goes back centuries to medieval Italy. The exact details of how the game began are unknown, but it seems that it was based on the popular card game known as tarocchini, which was played with the 78 tarot cards known as the Devil’s Picture Book. Today, tarot cards are associated with fortune telling, but back then, it seems they were purely for entertainment purposes. In any case, French soldiers campaigning in Italy brought the game back home, where it caught on among the aristocracy.
The first time anyone wrote down the rules of baccarat was in the early 19th century. That version was called baccarat banque, and it was a player-banked three-handed card game. Decades later, chemin de fer (which translates to “railroad”) replaced baccarat banque as the baccarat variant of choice. Chemin de fer, also known as “chemmy,” is a game for 8–12 players who take turns to act as the banker and bet against each other. The banker is obliged to cover the bets of all the other players, which can make chemin de fer a fairly expensive exercise, especially when the odds of winning or losing are almost even.
For this reason, and because the rules are quite complicated, chemin de fer never became a popular game. Instead, it remained the preserve of elite gamblers with deep pockets. For example, it’s played by the famous movie character James Bond (Agent 007).
Coming to America
That all changed with the arrival of punto banco. By the 1940s, chemmy had spread via France all the way to Argentina and on to Havana, Cuba. Before the days of Fidel Castro, Havana was a party zone of note, with casinos open from dusk ‘till dawn. Somewhere along the way, chemmy evolved into punto banco. This version of the game is fully banked by the house, and the role of dealer doesn’t rotate. As a result, punto banco is much easier to play than chemin de fer, and there isn’t the pressure to cover all the other players’ debts.
This made punto banco very popular at Havana establishments like George Raft’s Capri Casino. Then, in the late 1950s, Tommy Renzoni brought the game to Las Vegas, where it soon became a popular success. The name punto banco fell away, and today, players refer to it as American baccarat or simply baccarat.
How To Play Punto Banco Baccarat
The name punto banco is a clue to how the game is played. The word “punto” is a Spanish term for “player,” while “banco” is a term for “banker.” In chemin de fer, these terms refer to actual players, but in punto banco, they refer to two of the three betting positions on the table. Today, the Spanish terms have fallen into disuse, and the terms “player” and “banker” are used instead.
A full-sized baccarat table can accommodate up to 14 players. At the beginning of a coup (the name for a hand of baccarat), players can bet on the player or the banker to win, or they can bet on a tie. Once all bets are in, the dealer burns a card face up and then burns a number of cards face down according to the value of the burn card. Then, the dealer deals two cards face up to each position, starting with the player and alternating between them.
What happens next depends on the value of the cards. In baccarat, aces are worth 1, face cards (including 10) are worth 0, and number cards are worth their pip value (2–9). The best hand in baccarat is a natural (8 or 9). If either the player or banker hand is a natural, that hand wins, and the dealer begins a new coup. If neither hand is a natural, the dealer applies the drawing rules to determine if the player draws a third card and then if the banker draws a third card.
The Player’s Rule
The player draws a third card if their initial total is 5 or less. They stand on 6 or 7.
The Banker’s Rule
If the player stands, the banker follows the player’s rule. However, if the player draws a third card, the banker’s rule applies:
- The banker always draws on 2 or less.
- The banker draws on 3 unless the player’s third card is 8.
- The banker draws on 4 if the player’s third card is 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7.
- The banker draws on 5 if the player’s third card is 4, 5, 6, or 7.
- The banker draws on 6 if the player’s third card is 6 or 7.
- The banker stands on 7.
The drawing rules may seem complicated, but in punto banco, the dealer handles all the calculations, so players can simply enjoy the outcome. Winning bets on the player hand pay out ±100 odds, while winning banker bets pay out ±100 with a 5% deduction as commission to the house. The reason is that the odds for the banker to win are slightly more favorable. As a result, if your punto banco strategy is to bet on the banker every single time, you should come out ahead in the long run.
Winning tie bets pay out +800 odds, with a 9.52% probability of winning.
Baccarat tables in land-based casinos typically have high minimum bets and are located in special VIP areas. More casual players can enjoy mini baccarat, which is essentially low-stakes punto banco at a seven-seater table on the casino floor.
Looking to play punto banco online? Many online casinos include it in their offering of live dealer casino games. However, don’t type “punto banco” into the search bar. Instead, search for “baccarat” if you’re seeking a real-time gaming experience complete with intriguing baccarat side bets.
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