Baccarat is more popular among big bettors than average players, and I don't hear from baccarat players as often as I do from those who play blackjack, video poker, slots, craps, Three Card Poker, roulette or Mississippi Stud.

Nonetheless, at an early March dinner party, a friend of a friend told me he was exploring on baccarat as a blackjack alternative.

"I've been a blackjack player for longer than I can remember," said Alex, a fellow in his late 50s who can remember almost as far back as I can. "But the 6-5 blackjack payoffs have gotten to me. Even when blackjacks pay 3-2, six-deck games where dealer hits soft 17 isn't the blackjack I loved."

I sympathized. I won't play 6-5 blackjack, either.

"So I've been mixing some baccarat," Alex said. "The house edge is lower than on 6-5 blackjack. I miss strategy and making decisions, but I liven it up with betting streaks and a little progression.

"I start with minimum bets at $10 tables, always starting on banker. Any time one side wins twice in a row, I switch to that side. Any time I win two hands in a row, I start adding $5 to my bet after each additional win."

Some players find baccarat boring because there are no hit/stand strategies. Two hands are dealt, one called "banker" and one called "player." Any player can bet on either hand.

Each hand starts with two cards, and whether either gets a third card depends on the two-card totals. There's no decision. Hit and stand are built into the rules of the game, and the dealer acts accordingly.

I told Alex that if his system was holding his interest in the absence of hit/stand strategies, it was a reasonable way to play the game. I just offered a couple of cautions.

Players who want the lowest house edge always bet on banker. Banker's 1.06 percent house edge is a little better than the 1.24 percent on player. Both are among the lowest house edges on casinos games, and both are lower than the added edge the house gets on blackjack tables that pay 6-5 on blackjack. Paying 6-5 instead of 3-2 adds 1.39 percent to the house edge, so six-deck, 6-5 games usually have house edges close to 2 percent.

By switching sides whenever one hand wins twice in row, Alex sometimes settles for the higher house edge on player. The difference isn't enormous, though, and if it adds spice to the game for him, he's getting what he pays for.

My other caution had to do with his progression. Progressions don't change the house edge. They can add to your wagering total and increase average losses.

Let's say you play a game with a 1 percent house edge and bet a flat $10 a hand for 100 hands, a total of $1,000 at a game. That would lead to average losses of $10. Now let's say you apply a betting progression, and averaging bets of $10, $15, $20 and higher leads to $1,500 over 100 hands. Your average loss increases to $15.

When players tell me they want to bet a progression, I suggest to them they start their progression with a smaller wager than their usual bet. Someone who usually bets a flat $10 a hand could start a progression at $5, so that bigger bets later don't extend them beyond their usual wagering total.

"I'm not betting much more than usual," Alex said, "and I've had some nice wins along with some losses. Mostly, I'm happier this way than with 6-5 blackjack."

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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