Baccarat Gaming

How to win a baccarat tournament part D: the progression

Written by Andrew W Scott

This article first appeared in the Jul/Aug 2011 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Andrew Scott continues 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. In part C, I showed you how to handle the early going. If you need to catch up on parts A, B and C, visit our website, where you can find every article ever published in World Gaming magazine.

In part C I introduced the concept of ‘chasing’ an opponent. In the early going you will almost always be betting small, and giving your opponents an opportunity to blast themselves out of the tournament. Usually some of your opponents will start to blast (that is, bet big) in the early going. Some of these ‘early blasters’ will lose big or even tap out (lose their entire stack of chips), but often some of them will win and establish a lead on you. At some point, you are going to have to chase these opponents and catch them in order to regain star position (see part B for an explanation of ‘star’ position).

Let’s take a look at the best way to ‘chase’ an opponent. Let’s say an opponent has 78,000 chips and you have 70,000 chips and you want to get in front of him. For now, let’s ignore the fact that your opponent is a moving target. The perfect tool to use here is a ‘progression’. The key fractions in a progression are 1/7th, 1/3rd and all of your stack. Just bet the smallest of these key fractions that wins you enough to catch your opponent. In this case you should bet 1/7th of your stack, or 10,000 chips. If you win, your stack is 80,000 and you have achieved your goal. If you lose, your stack will be down to 60,000. Now bet 1/3rd of your stack, or 20,000. If you win, you are up to 80,000. If you lose, now you are down to 40,000 chips and you can move all-in, betting all your stack. Again, if you win, you make your goal of 80,000 chips. If you lose, you’re out of the tournament.

In this example, you only tap out if you lose three hands in a row (approximately a 1 in 8 chance of happening). If you win any one of the three hands, you achieve your goal of winning 10,000 chips. There is approximately a 7 in 8 chance of that happening. These are pretty good odds and illustrate the power of the progression.

The key fractions in a progression are 1/7th, 1/3rd and all, but the list of fractions doesn’t stop at 1/7th. Before 1/7th is 1/15th, and before that a 1/31st, and so on (keep doubling and adding one to the denominator of the fraction). However, it is rare that fractions as small as 1/15th (or smaller) are practical bets, as the amounts are too small.

In determining which fraction to use, look at the amount you need to win. If 1/7th is enough, start the progression with 1/7th and give yourself three bites of the cherry. As long as you win one of the three bets you’ll win the chips you need. If 1/7th is not enough, bet 1/3rd of your stack and you’ll have to win one of two bets.

An even more advanced technique is to use what is called a ‘progression positioning bet’. Sometimes, one of the key fractions (1/15th, 1/7th, 1/3rd) produces a bet amount that is nearly the amount you need to win, but not quite enough. Normal logic would dictate to start your progression at the ‘next fraction up’. But sometimes you can make a bet that if it wins, you can now start the progression at the lower fraction, but if it loses, you can still start your progression at the fraction that you would have had to use had you not made the positioning bet.

Here’s an example to illustrate. Let’s say you have 210,000 chips and your opponent has 250,000 chips. You need to win about 41,000 chips to get in front of him. 1/7th of your stack is only 30,000 chips, so you might think you should just go ahead and bet 1/3rd of your stack, or 70,000 chips (and then move all-in for your final 140,000 chips if you lose the 70,000 chip bet). But a better idea is to make a positioning bet of say 12,000 chips. If you win the positioning bet, you now have 222,000 chips and winning a 1/7th stack bet of 32,000 is now enough to catch your opponent. However, if you lose the positioning bet, your stack becomes 198,000, and you can still bet a 1/3rd of your remaining stack, that is 66,000 chips, and achieve your goal. The upshot of all this is that winning the positioning bet allows you to move to the smaller fraction and thus give you an extra opportunity to achieve your goal, while losing your positioning bet doesn’t really cost you much. You can still move to the same fraction you would have had to use if you hadn’t made the positioning bet.

Progressions don’t have much of a role in normal cash gaming. They don’t alter the house edge and are only useful in managing variance. But a tournament is a controlled environment with a defined start and finish, and at some point you will be forced to gamble in order to win chips in a limited period of time. The progression is a powerful tool that provides you with a very high chance of successfully winning those chips and chasing down your opponents.

In part E of this series, I’ll teach you how to successfully manage the middle going, the most interesting stage of any baccarat tournament.