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# Can card counting work at baccarat?

27 July 2017

QUESTION: Please explain something to me about baccarat. I’ve read that the only strategy is in choosing whether to bet on banker or player, and that all the decisions on whether a hand gets a third card are automatic.

Still, baccarat has to be a game where the odds are always changing, like blackjack, right? After cards are dealt, they’re not available for future hands, so that has to affect the probabilities. Couldn’t a card counter tell whether the odds were shifting on banker or player?

ANSWER: No one has ever devised an effective way to count cards in baccarat, and it looks like no such way is possible.

The late Peter Griffin, mathematician and author of “The Theory of Blackjack,” wrote that in a typical eight-deck game, a card counter who doesn’t bet unless the count gives him an edge can squeeze out an edge of 0.7%. However, the counter would be betting on only about three hands every eight hours. That’s quite the waiting game. No player is likely to have that kind of patience, and the casino may refuse a seat to someone who goes hours at a time without making a bet.

The change in odds as cards are dealt is so small that probabilities are essentially the same on every hand.

QUESTION: I laugh about all the penny slots that are in the casinos nowadays. Years ago, before there were any video slots, I used to play penny three-reel slots in an area called the Copper Mine at the back of one of the old joints. I think it was the El Cortez. I remember taking 15 pennies to the change booth and the guy giving me a sneer as he handed over a nickel and a dime, but it was time to go and I didn’t want to be carrying pennies.

Anyway, my question isn’t about pennies, it’s about nickels. Big difference! In that same era, I was passing time on a nickel three-reel slot. My wife and I usually played quarters but I had time to kill while she was shopping and didn’t want to spend big, so I dropped to the cheap seats.

My machine was paying off pretty good. Nothing big, but 20 nickels here and 10 nickels there pretty often. Every win dropped coins in a metal tray back then, and the lady next to me was noticing and obviously jealous. She wasn’t winning so much, and she was taking it much more seriously than I was.

My wife found me, and we moved on to do something else. The other lady immediately moved to take my machine.

I guess I’ve been holding this question for decades, but was her moving to my machine the right thing? We didn’t wait to see if she had any luck.

ANSWER: Moving to the machine that had been paying off was a natural reaction. Whether it did any good is problematic.

The only thing we can say with certainty about any hot streak is “there has been a hot streak.” It tells you nothing about what is to come.

The most likely circumstance was that the machine you left would pay at its normal percentage from that point forward. Since your machine had been unusually hot, it’s most likely that it cooled off some for the next player.

But there are no guarantees in the short term. The game could have stayed hot, it could have gone ice cold and, most likely, it could have yielded results somewhere in between.
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Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

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John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.