Baccarat: Playing a Classic the Modern Way


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Source: Art Berube on Facebook.

Baccarat – the card game played with a long piece of wood and the favourite pastime of Ian Fleming’s James Bond – doesn’t enjoy the same kind of popularity in Las Vegas as it does in Macau, the casino capital of China. It’s an odd situation, given how accessible the game can be; at its most basic, baccarat seems like a strange variant of blackjack, the objective being to get a hand close to a value of 9 instead of 21.

According to Quartz, 91% of all money brought in by gaming in Macau came from baccarat in 2014, up from 72% in 2010. Back in Nevada, that figure is 24%. It’s possible to make a similar comparison with slot machines, which are responsible for 47% of revenues on The Strip compared to just 5% in Macau. It’s a distinction of pure luck versus a more skill-based experience, made all the more evident by the fact that roulette and craps don’t really exist in China.


Live Baccarat

While the overwhelming popularity of slots skews the statistics somewhat, the punto blanco variant of baccarat is still the second most popular casino experience in the US, with significant representation online. The recent appearance of online games with human dealers, giving players the opportunity to play baccarat with the added excitement of a live setting, has created a new, more social paradigm to the game, ostensibly to get talkative millennials on board.

William Hill’s version of live baccarat includes Vegas, Macau, and Mayfair variations, offering a choice of traditional gameplay or speed, with odds determined solely by the cards in play rather than the computer algorithms in conventional website games. The brand describes its offering as the “cutting edge of online gaming”. New customers can also pick up a £100 welcome bonus for making a deposit.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Mobile Apps

Inevitably, any discussion about playing games comes back to smartphones and tablets and William Hill has full mobile support for its apps. It’s a fairly standard practice in the casino industry (and the internet in general) but there’s a burgeoning trade in baccarat apps on the Play Store and App Store, providing a way to learn and practise before stepping up to a real table.

One of the highest rated baccarat games on the Play Store is Learn Baccarat, which does exactly what its name suggests, offering a dealer’s eye view of the game to new players. It’s worth noting that most online casinos offer free play or “fun” versions of their games too. A quick note of caution: the quality of mobile baccarat apps varies from the dreadful to the quite good.

The original version of the game was invented in 1400s Italy as the realisation of an old myth involving a dice-throwing virgin. Yet, baccarat, despite its age has joined slots, poker, and blackjack in the 21st century courtesy of the mobile phone and innovations in the casino industry. There’s still perhaps some way to go before it becomes the go-to hobby of millennials (especially in the West) but the provision of live dealer games is a novel way to get the game in players’ pockets.