`Punto Banco` means literally the two opposing sides: player vs. the bank. It is derived from baccarat, one of the most popular casino games around. In Punto Banco the only decision that the player needs to make is where to place his bet. Once this has been done, the game unfolds and the result is either: win, lose or draw.
The game is traditionally played on an oval table with up to 14 numbered seats and 3 dealers – two base dealers (one for each side of the table) and onepalette dealer who sits centrally. The palette dealer uses a wooden paddle to pick up and move cards, often with a flair that’s comparable to an Italian waiter brandishing an oversized peppermill. In smaller venues you will also see the game played on a blackjack-sized table with a single dealer.
Playing the game
The objective of Punto Banco is to bet on a contest between two hands – the player (punto) and the bank (banco). The winner is the one with a hand closest in value to nine. 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings are worthless, Aces are worth one and the other cards have their usual values. The value of a hand is obtained by adding up the value of the cards and if the total is in double figures 10 is removed. For example, if the ‘punto’ (player) draws a 7 and an 8, this is treated as five (7+8=15. Because the result is in double figures, we subtract 10 to give a total of 5).
To bet, players place their chips on the designated boxes in front of them on the table – either punto, banco or egalité (a tie). Once all bets have been placed, the player in seat one takes the card shoe and deals four cards to the dealer who places them.
The first card goes to the player, the second to the dealer, the next to the player and the final card to the bank. After each game the shoe is passed to the next player. In the scaled down version the dealer does all the dealing so you don’t even have the excitement and complexity of counting out four cards.
Once the player and bank both have two cards each the following rules apply:
– If the player’s hand adds up to zero to five, a third card is drawn.
– If the total is six or seven, it stands. If it is eight or nine, this is called a ‘natural’ and stands.
– If the banker’s hand is worth zero to three, the banker must draw a third card whatever the value of the player’s third card.
– If the total is four and the value of the player’s hand is two to seven the banker must draw a third card.
– If the total is five and the value of the player’s hand is four to seven the banker must draw a third card.
– If the total is six and the value of the player’s hand is six to seven the banker must draw a third card, but only if the player’s total was achieved within three cards. Confusingly, where the player’s total was made by just two cards the bank must stand.
– If the total is seven the banker must stand.
– If the banker’s hand is worth a total of eight to nine the banker and player both stand.
Afterwards, there is either a clear winner or a draw. All bets on Punto winning are paid out at even money while a winning ‘banco’ bet pays out 19/20; in other words, there is a 5% commission paid to the house. Winning egalité bets are paid at 8/1.
All losing bets are collected prior to winning bets being paid out. If there’s a tie, the dealer pays the winnings to those who bet on egalité, while the other players may choose either to let their bets stay where they are, change them, or withdraw them altogether. Players betting on punto or banco do not lose their stakes in the event of a tie.