Most people associate card counting with blackjack, which is understandable considering savvy gamblers have been using this technique to beat the game of twenty-one for over half a century. Blackjack is hardly the only casino game susceptible to this form of advantage play, however.
Baccarat is also countable but most gamblers are either unaware of this or consider counting the game a waste of time because it yields a shockingly low value when applied to the two base wagers (Player and Banker).
On the positive side of things, baccarat offers a proliferation of exploitable side bets that can produce better results in terms of long-term profits. But before we get there, let’s examine what makes baccarat susceptible to advantage play and what are the prerequisites for counting baccarat side wagers.
What Makes Baccarat Side Bets Susceptible to Card Counting?
Considering you are reading this, we take it you probably already know the basic rules of baccarat. If this is not the case, we suggest you go back and familiarize yourself with the card values, the main betting options, and the drawing tableau.
Back to the topic, advantage play opportunities arise with baccarat side bets due to several peculiarities inherent to this card game. We cover them briefly below.
Advantage Play Opportunities
Most baccarat games provide deeper penetration compared to blackjack. The game is typically dealt out of a shoe containing eight full decks of cards. Some dealers insert the cut card half a deck from the shoe’s end. The shoe is cut so deeply at times that only a couple of cards remain unseen before the reshuffle.
2High limits on side wagers
Many baccarat tables impose considerably higher limits on side wagers that greatly surpass those in blackjack. Finding tables where side wagers go way over a hundred dollars is not a rare occurrence in this high-roller card game. This peculiarity, combined with the large payouts on winning side bets, could potentially enable counters to rake in handsome profits when the opportunity arises.
Baccarat players are permitted and even encouraged to use scorecards while at the table to record previous results, which might prove helpful in keeping track of the cards. This is not the case in blackjack where players can resort to using basic strategy cards only.
4Easily track the cards
Unlike blackjack, baccarat games move at a very sluggish pace to the benefit of card counters, allowing them to easily track the cards even when using more complicated counting systems.
Last but not least, nearly all side wagers in baccarat revolve around specific ‘key’ cards and this makes them vulnerable to counting. Shrewd players can exploit these optional bets when the remaining shoe is rich in key cards like sevens, for example.
Key Cards to Track When Counting Baccarat Side Bets
As we wrote earlier, baccarat side bets can potentially provide great opportunities for the advantage player because they are based on certain key cards. You stand better chances of placing a winning side bet if the remaining shoe is rich in those key cards.
The key cards differ depending on the type of side bet you are looking to place. Here are a couple of examples that come to mind.
Some side bets require a particular final total to win that does not depend on the number of dealt cards. When this is the case, the key cards that can help advantage players have the same denomination as the winning total. For instance, the sevens are the key cards to track when you are looking to place ‘Tie on 7’ side wagers.
Other side bets pay for specific hand combinations that contain three cards. The key cards in such cases are usually those with denominations of 9 and 8. The same goes for any side bet that involves natural hands.
Countable Baccarat Side Bets
While counting main baccarat bets like Player and Banker is not a profitable venture, many of the side wagers the game supports can potentially provide opportunities to generate decent profits through advantage play. Below, we explore several commonly available baccarat side bets and discuss the expected value of counting them.
The Super 6 Side Bet
1The Super 6 Side Bet Overview
The Super 6 side wager is often available in baccarat variations that charge no commission on winning Banker hands. This side bet pays at higher odds of 15 to 1 whenever the Banker side wins the round with a final total of 6, hence the name Super 6.
2House Edge and Hit Frequency
The house edge for this side wager in an eight-deck game is higher at 13.82%. The bet has a hit frequency of 5.39%. Several things are worth considering if you intend to count the Super 6 bet.
- The Banker cannot prevail over the Player if the round ends with a natural.
- A shoe depleted of 9s and 8s works to the advantage of counters looking to profit from the Super 6 side wager.
- An excess of 6s in the remaining shoe improves the odds of winning with the Super 6 bet.
- If neither side has a natural after the initial deal, the baccarat tableau requires the Player to draw a third card on starting totals of 5 or less. The Player must receive a third card when the Banker has a total of 6. A 7 could help the Player outdraw the Banker in this case, so a shoe depleted of 7s is good for those who count this side bet.
3Counting System for the Super 6 Bet
Based on these observations, gambling expert and retired professor of mathematics Eliot Jacobson proposed a counting system for the Super 6 bet that assigns the following tag values to the cards.
- Kings, Queens, Jacks, and 10s are counted as -1
- 9s, 8s, and 7s are counted as +4
- 6s are counted as -8
- Aces, 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s counted as 0
Professor Jacobson then ran a computer simulation that involved 100 million baccarat shoes with eight full decks each to test the efficiency of the system he devised. The simulated games gave very deep penetration as the cut card was inserted fourteen cards from the shoe’s end.
The results indicated that a player can win approximately 0.27 betting units per every hundred hands when using the above-described counting system. It may not sound particularly impressive but you should not underestimate the fact there is a significant house edge to overcome with the Super 6 side bet.
The Dragon 7 Side Bet
1The Dragon 7 Side Bet Overview
Dragon 7 is a side wager that pays at enhanced odds of 40 to 1 provided that the Banker side wins the round with three cards whose values add up to a total of 7 as is the case with 2/2/3, for example. It loses in all other scenarios.
2House Edge and Hit Frequency
At standard baccarat tables where eight full decks are in play, the house maintains an edge of 7.61% with the Dragon 7 bet. The wager has a low hit frequency as it wins approximately 2.25% of the time and loses the remaining 97.75% of the time.
As it turns out, this reasoning is incorrect. The main prerequisite for winning this side wager is the Banker drawing a third card. Cards with a denomination of 9 and 8 are the most likely to prevent this from happening. Their absence from the shoe could help the side bettor in this instance.
The opposite is true of smaller cards like aces through 7s. They are more likely to help the Banker achieve a three-card total of 7. The Banker must take a third card more frequently when they start with low totals of 0 through 3.
It makes sense the cards with lower denominations 4 through 7 are the most likely to produce a three-card total that adds up to 7. The conclusion is the excess of lower cards (4, 5, 6, and 7) and the depletion of high cards (9 and 8) work to the advantage of players who count the Dragon 7 wager.
3Counting System for the Dragon 7 Bet
Contrary to intuition, the removal of zero-value cards from the shoe also works to the benefit of advantage players. Based on this, gambling expert Eliot Jacobson came up with another system specifically intended for counting this side bet. The player must wait until the true count rises to +4 to bet on Dragon 7 at advantage.
- Kings, Queens, Jacks, Aces, 10s, 2s, and 3s have a tag value of 0.
- 4s, 5s, 6s, and 7s are counted as -1.
- 9s and 8s are counted as +2.
You are probably wondering why the 2s and 3s have tags of zero when their excess tips the scales in favor of side bettors. This has to do with the effect of card removal (EOR). The value of these small cards diminishes because they will help the Banker draw to a total of seven in fewer situations compared to cards 4 through 7.
So what is the benefit of using this system? A simulation involving 200 million shoes with eight decks shows this system can earn you 0.74 bet units per one hundred hands. However, the dealer must again place the cut card 14 cards from the shoe’s end.
The Easy 6 Side Bet
1The Easy 6 Side Bet Overview
The Easy 6 is another vulnerable optional bet counters can exploit to gain an edge over the house. The wager is successful whenever the Player or Banker wins the round with a score of six or tie with six. The bet pays at house odds of 6 to 1 and comes with a lower house edge compared to the previous two wagers as you shall see briefly.
2House Edge and Hit Frequency
The Easy 6 yields a casino advantage of 5.04%, meaning that the average Joe will lose approximately five cents for every dollar wagered. Apart from the lower house edge, the wager also has a higher hit frequency since it wins approximately 13.56% of the time.
3Card Counting System for the Easy 6 Side Bet
It makes sense that the excess of high-value cards like 9s, 8s, and 7s is detrimental to players who make this bet since they can easily cause the hand to go over the coveted total of 6. It is equally logical that the 6s are the most valuable card denomination from the perspective of side bettors.
The conclusion is we must track the 6s, 7s, 9s, and 8s when looking to profit from the Easy 6 through counting. The remaining denominations have a negligible effect of removal and are not worth tracking. One easy counting system suggests side bettors should assign the following tag values to the key cards in an eight-deck game:
- The 6s of each suit are counted as -3.
- The 9s, 8s, and 7s have tags of +1.
The triggering count in this case is +2, which is to say you must refrain from playing the Easy 6 on counts of +1 or lower. Using the system above gives players an average advantage of 5.73%, earning them 0.66 betting units per hour. To give you some context, this means you will generate approximately $66 per hour provided that you are betting $100 on the Easy 6 at positive true counts of at least +2.
These hourly profits apply to games where the dealer cuts off only 14 cards from the end of the shoe. If one full deck is cut off, your hourly expected value with this bet drops down to 0.22 units or $22.
Before you head over to your favorite online or landbased casino to test these strategies, we would like to remind you that they yield satisfactory results only when certain playing conditions have been met. You need sufficient enough penetration to earn healthy profits from counting side bets in baccarat.
The shallower the cut-card placement is, the less expected value you can anticipate in the long term. Do not bother attempting to count side bets at online live baccarat tables that use continuous shuffling machines as these give you no penetration whatsoever.