Baccarat Gaming

How to win a baccarat tournament part C: the early going

Written by Andrew W Scott

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Baccarat tournaments are big business, with millions of dollars in prize money at stake. Winning one can be a life-changing event. We continue our series on the little-known secrets of the professional tournament baccarat player.

In part A of this series, I introduced you to the general concepts of how to win a baccarat tournament. An important concept is that baccarat tournaments can be broken down into three distinct phases: the early going, the middle going and the late going (also known as ‘the death’). In part B, I showed you how to know which of the three stages of the tournament you were in at any given time. If you need to catch up on part A and B, visit our website, where you can find every article ever published in World Gaming magazine.

Now let’s move on to the correct strategy for the early going. The early going essentially comprises all the hands of the tournament leading up to the last ten hands (for more detail on this read parts A and B).

The first thing to determine is the relationship between the maximum bet and the stacks (each player’s ‘stack’ is the amount of chips they have). If the maximum bet is large in relation to the stacks, then you can quickly increase the size of your stack by winning a few big bets, so there is little pressure on you to get yourself into a star position early (read part B to learn what ‘star’ means).

This is the case in almost all baccarat tournaments. I did once play a tournament at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where the maximum bet was only 10 percent of the starting stack (we started with 100,000 chips but the max bet was only 10,000). Tournaments like this (where the max bet is small in relation to the stacks) are rare, and they dictate a unique ‘early going’ strategy. You should immediately try to get to star position from the very first hand, and once there, try to stay there. You don’t have the luxury of waiting until the middle going. If you have a stack of 100,000 and you need to get to 200,000 to hit star position, and the max bet is only 10,000, it is going to take you many hands to achieve your goal. Even if you win every single hand you are going to need to win ten hands in a row!

Thankfully, most tournaments are not like that. Usually the middle going max bet is something like 50 percent or 100 percent of the starting stack. Note that in some tournaments the max bet increases during the tournament, in this case the max bet during the middle going is the one that matters.

In these more usual ‘large max bet’ tournaments, the default early going strategy is to simply bet the minimum every hand, waiting for your opponents to ‘blast out’ (that is to bet big, lose a lot and go broke). These minimum bets are sometimes referred to as ‘waiting’ bets, because you are simply biding your time and making sure you are still alive with an essentially intact starting stack when the middle going arrives. Some of your opponents will not be able to help themselves, they will starting ‘blasting’ (betting big) right from the get-go, or at least fairly early in the tournament. Some of this blasting might see some of your opponents ‘kick away’ and establish quite a lead on you, but we will deal with these guys later. On the other hand some of this blasting will see some of your opponents lose most or all of their chips!

Having some of your opponents tap-out (lose all their chips) before the round finishes is a huge advantage to you. For each opponent that taps out, one less player is vying for star positions. I’ve seen as many as three players tap-out before the middle going even started! Let’s say there are six star positions. Being in a nine-horse race chasing six spots is much better than being in 12-horse race chasing six spots. Now only three of you will miss out, instead of six. Your chance of success just increased by 50 percent, and you didn’t have to win a single chip to do it! As in many forms of gambling, patience pays off.

It’s not very important, but it does make sense to make your waiting bets during the early going on banker rather than player, due to the slightly lower house edge. These standard default bets are even referred to as ‘bankmin’ bets amongst skilled tournament baccarat players. An exception would be if you were playing so-called ‘no commission’ baccarat, where the house pays even money with no commission on most winning banker bets, but pays only 50 percent of even money on banker wins with a hand total of 6. In this case the house edge is lower on player, and it makes sense to make your default waiting bets on player.

There is an important exception to the default early going strategy of flat-betting the minimum every hand. For the purposes of illustration let’s say there is only one star position in the round (this is usually the case in the grand final of the tournament, but could be true on earlier rounds). And let’s say one of your opponents was an ‘early going blaster’, and as luck would have it he has shot away and is way in front of you. It is very important to keep an eye on this player. If he is feeling lucky and is continuing to blast, no problem. Hopefully he loses and comes back to the field. But what if he suddenly comes to his senses, realises he is way in front and starts betting minimum hand after hand? Let’s say it looks clear he isn’t going to be betting big any more. Now you have a problem. This problem also arises if there are two star positions, and two blasters have established a big lead and both have ‘settled down’, or even three star positions with three such players, and so on.

What do you do about this problem? Normally you leave chases for the middle going, but in this case it is actually better to begin the chase in the early going. This is for two reasons. Firstly, you have more time to catch him, and you really do need time because this guy isn’t going to lose his way back to you while you are winning your way up, you are going to have to win you way up to him all by yourself without his help. Secondly, by starting the chase early you are more likely to be in a smaller field of players chasing him, which will make the other ‘chasers’ easier to keep track of. In the middle going, especially the late middle going, almost everyone will be betting big almost every hand. Stacks change quickly and it can all get very confusing. If you start your chase early, there will be less ‘noise’ around you, so you can focus better on the single goal of catching him.

I am sure you are wondering exactly how to chase an opponent. Obviously it is a matter of betting big and trying to win, but there is more to it than that. I will devote all of part D of this series to explaining a very powerful chasing tool used by all highly skilled tournament baccarat players: ‘the progression’.