If you read the right literature, like the famous book Beat the Dealer by Edward O. Thorp, you’re probably aware that some players can count cards well enough to beat blackjack.
Once players learn this they usually quickly learn that it’s somewhat difficult to be good at counting cards. And it’s even more difficult to get away with it at a level where you can turn a decent profit.
Then many players start looking for other games where they might be able to count cards to get an edge.
Blackjack is the most watched game in the casino. The casino owners and personnel know that card counters can hurt them, so they’re always watching for possible counting activity.
The truth is that most card counters aren’t very good and don’t hurt the casino in the long run, but this doesn’t stop the casinos from trying to catch card counters and stop them from playing.
Counting cards isn’t illegal, but the casinos are on private property and they don’t have to let you play. They can ask you to leave or bar you from placing bets at any time.
In a few areas they aren’t technically allowed to bar card counters, but they can run you off in other ways. And even if they don’t run you off, they can make the game unbeatable, even for the best card counters.
What does all of this have to do with baccarat?
When potential card counters start looking around the casino for other games that may offer an advantage when counting they don’t come up with many options.
The one game that looks like it’s possible is baccarat. As you learn in the next section why card counting works you’ll see why baccarat looks like a possibility. But in the section after that you’ll quickly see why counting baccarat is simply a waste of time.
Why Card Counting Works
A deck of card has 52 cards of which we know exactly which cards are included. If we take a single card out, say the ace of diamonds, we know exactly which 51 cards are left.
If you take 50 cards out of the deck and you know which 50 are missing you know what the final two cards are.
Mathematical studies and simulations have been completed that determine the exact value of a card being removed from a deck of cards for a game of blackjack.
In blackjack, as more low cards are removed from the deck it leaves more high cards, which is good for the player. The more tens and aces left in the deck in comparison to low cards means the player is more likely to be dealt a blackjack.
A blackjack pays three to two, so it’s makes up a great deal of the player’s return in blackjack. A deck high in cards worth 10 also makes the dealer bust more often because she can’t stand on a 15 or 16.
On the other hand, if a deck is missing more high card than low cards it swings the edge more in the favor of the house.
So when a blackjack player counts cards what they’re really doing is keeping a running ratio comparing high cards remaining in the deck to low cards remaining in the deck.
This means you don’t have to remember every card when you count. You simply start with a number, usually zero, and add to it whenever a low card is played and subtract from it whenever a high card is played.
When the count is positive it means the remaining cards have more high cards than low cards and when the count is negative it means the remaining cards have more low cards than high cards.
Of course there’s a little more to being a winning card counter than this, but this is the basic idea.
As it turns out, baccarat is also played with a deck of standard playing cards and the removal of certain cards does change the chances of which cards can still be dealt and this does slightly alter the house edge.
Most blackjack games and almost all baccarat games are dealt from multiple decks, or a shoe.
This doesn’t change the fact that removing certain cards are good or bad for the player, but it does mean that to get an edge you need to be able to see a large percentage of the stack of available cards before you can gain an advantage.
In blackjack, depending on the rules, you often need to consistently be able to play deep into the shoe. The closer to 100% of the shoe you can see the better your chances of beating the game through counting.
The problem is the casinos now this as well and won’t let you see 100% of the shoe before shuffling. It’s rare to be able to play through more than 75 or 80% of a shoe.
The best counters can still gain an advantage in blackjack, but it’s a challenge.
Baccarat games tend to play through the entire shoe or almost all of it, and I seems like it offers a good counting opportunity.
In addition, the casinos don’t watch the baccarat game for counters. They even provide pencils and paper in some casinos so you can track results, etc.
The absence of concern from the casinos is the first big clue that you might not be able to beat baccarat. If the casino doesn’t worry about it then it’s a good sign that it can’t be beat.
Of course the casino isn’t perfect so are they missing something?
Can you beat baccarat by counting?
Why Not to Card Count Baccarat
Under 100% perfect counting conditions the answer to the question at the end of the last section is yes. You can theoretically get an edge against the casino playing baccarat.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the edge is so small and difficult to get that it’s a complete waste of time.
In The Theory of Blackjack by Peter Griffin, an excellent book for potential card counters, he has a small section about counting baccarat. Through his calculations if you find a baccarat game that deals through almost the entire shoe, count cards and only place bets when you have an edge, and make bets of $1,000 when you have the edge, you’re long term profit will be roughly 70 cents per hour.
And the biggest problem beyond only making 70 cents per hour based on $1,000 bets is that counting baccarat isn’t simple. It’s nothing like counting blackjack.
Many popular blackjack counting systems only require you to add or subtract one at a time. A perfect baccarat counting system requires adding and subtracting large and varied number from the count, and to do it perfectly you actually need to keep at least two separate counts perfectly.
And you only make a bet when the count is in your favor, so according to some mathematicians you only place a bet on one out of every 400 hands or more. Even if the casino let you count cards for hours on end they’re probably going to tire of you only making a wager every couple hours.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but counting baccarat is simply not worth the time or effort. You also have to risk large amounts of money for miniscule returns, which is rarely a good idea.
If you really want to find an alternative to counting blackjack, your best bet is to learn how to count Spanish 21, a derivative of blackjack. It doesn’t have as much heat as blackjack, but the casinos do watch it some.
But you can get a much higher edge playing it if you know how to count than playing baccarat.
Can You Beat Baccarat?
The answer to this is included at the beginning of the last section. But even though you can beat the game by counting I showed you why it’s a waste of time.
But a few players have been able to beat baccarat by using other tactics. But even this is a rare occurrence and if the casino figures out what you’re doing they’ll fight you, going to court if they need to.
The best way to beat baccarat is by using a technique called edge sorting.
A few casinos use playing cards that have an imperfect design on the back. So if you turn some cards one way and other the other way you can tell which group is coming off the top of the deck next.
So if you could sort all of the cards certain ways you can change the house edge enough to play with an advantage.
Many problems exist that make this difficult. The first one is you have to find a casino using cards that make this possible.
The next problem is how are you going to sort the cards? You can’t normally touch all of them, so you end up only being able to sort a percentage of them.
Then if the casino knows what they’re doing they’ll turn parts of the deck during shuffling. This eliminates the ability to sort cards during one shoe and have them stay pointing the proper direction after shuffling.
If you want to learn more about edge sorting baccarat search for the Phil Ivey incident where he and a female accomplice beat a casino for millions doing it. They were able to negotiate a private table and get the casino to let his accomplice deal the cards.
She edge sorted them as she dealt and the casino shuffling technique didn’t turn any of them around so they played with a strong advantage over the house.
The casino eventually figured it out and took Ivey to court. It doesn’t look like he’s going to get to keep his winnings.
The only other possible way to get an advantage, other than cheating, is by shuffle tracking.
Shuffle tracking is a system where you track the cards as they get placed in the discard tray and are able to track where certain cards are through the shuffle.
If this sounds difficult, you’re right.
You actually don’t track individual cards through the shuffle; you track slugs of cards that can be helpful.
To show how this might work let’s look at blackjack again.
If you know a group of 20 cards packed together has three aces and 14 cards valued at 10, you’d bet big when these cards were coming out.
The same thing can possibly give you an advantage playing baccarat, but once again this sounds good but is almost impossible to use.
Many casinos have started using shuffling machines to mix the cards and even tracking a slug through a hand shuffle can be challenging.
Once again, it looks like a method for beating baccarat just isn’t worth the effort.
Card counting works for blackjack and Spanish 21 if you know how to do it and can get away with it. It can even work for baccarat, but as you can see it isn’t worth the effort.
If you’re looking for an edge against the casino you can safely skip baccarat and move on to the next game.