When I’m at a party or some other gathering that includes people I don’t know, I’m often introduced with, “John writes about gambling.” Most of the time, the response is, “Oh! Tell me how to win.” Then we’ll all laugh and move on.
At a January bowl game viewing at a friend’s house, the conversation took a different turn. Instead of joking about how to win, one of the guys, introduced as Alan, asked, “Do you know anything about midi-baccarat?”
“Yes,” I told him, and asked if he played the game.
“No, but I’ve been seeing signs for it,” he said. “How is it different from regular baccarat.”
“It’s the same game,” I explained, just on a different sized table. For many years, big baccarat, with up to 14 players at a table, has mostly been reserved for high-limit areas or separate baccarat rooms. Seven-player mini-baccarat tables have been on the main casino floor. Midi-baccarat has started to carve a niche in the last couple of years, with nine-player tables.
Alan was perplexed. “But it’s the same game, you say? Why should I care if a game has seven player or nine players?”
“It’s all about procedures, the speed of the game and betting limits,” I told him. In big baccarat, players traditionally have been allowed to handle the cards. In all baccarat versions, only two hands are dealt — a banker hand and a player hand. At casinos that deal the old school game, cards are dealt face down, the biggest bettor on banker turns over the banker hand and the biggest bettor on player turns up the player hand. If all bettors are backing the same hand, the dealer turns up the other.
Average speed of big baccarat is variable depending on casino tolerance for player ritual. One operator at a casino that catered to extreme high-end play told me he was getting only 15 hands per hour. Players would pause for luck before picking up the cards before squeezing them open ever so slowly. Cards were bent, crumpled, torn in half — fresh decks of cards were needed for every shuffle. Large wagers made the glacially paced play worthwhile to the casino.
Most big baccarat tables move faster than that, but we’re looking at 40-to-70 hands per hour, paces that would be very slow at most table games.
Mini-baccarat was conceived as a way to bring the game to players of average means. I’ve often seen tables with $10 minimums, right next to the low-roller blackjack tables. There’s no time-consuming ceremony, and players never touch the cards. The dealer just flips the cards face up at a pace than can exceed 200 hands an hour.
Alan looked shocked. “Really? Two hundred hands? Even if I’m betting $10, that’s a lot of cash on the table.”
Players like to handle the cards. Midi-baccarat is designed as an in-between solution. Players turn the cards up, though the extremes of big baccarat usually are not tolerated. It doesn’t move as fast as mini-baccarat, but the casino gets more hands per hour than in big baccarat. The results are minimum bets lower than in big baccarat, but higher than those in the mini game.
“That’s it?” Alan asked. “The other rules are the same? The house gets the same percentage?”
Yes, I told him. The house edge 1.06 percent if you bet on banker, 1.24 percent on player or 14.4 percent on ties, regardless of table size
I asked if he’d played much baccarat.
“Not really,” Alan said. “I’m a craps guy. But thanks for the lesson.”
Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.