Baccarat is a game that gives off the appearance of being something exotic, which is more or less the image that may have been portrayed in the movies. But it is actually quite simple; in fact, it is one of those games where the decisions are kept to a bar minimum. It is a card game, yet you don't even play the cards at all. And there's no bow tie required.
There are two entities in this game: the "Player" and the "Banker." There are three ways you can possibly bet; on either of those two or a tie. Two cards get dealt to both the Player and the Banker, and the winning side is determined by the one that gets a hand that is closest to the total of nine (9). These card values aren't the same as you may be used to, however. Cards that are of "ten value," such as tens, Jacks, Queens and Kings are not counted at all. So, for example, if a five and a Queen have been dealt, the total is not 15, as it would be in blackjack, but instead five (5), because obviously the Queen was not counted. What you have, in effect, is a situation where only the second digit counts.
Of course, we can't say that it's simple as all that. Play goes forward. And if the Player is dealt a hand that gets to six or higher, that is determined to be a standing hand. With a hand of five (5) or less, a third card must be drawn to that hand. No hand can ever have more than three cards. The rules that govern the "Banker" hand are different, however. The point at which there is an automatic "stand" on the hand is seven (7), and when it is six or less a third card must be drawn. The magic numbers that are referred to as "naturals" are eight (8) and nine (9). Those hands are complete and no other cards are taken. Which side will be closer to nine? That's the winner. Wins on bets that were placed on the Player hand pay even money. Wins on the Banker pay even money too, at least theoretically speaking, but a 5% commission must be given back to the house on winning Banker bets. If the hand ends in a tie, any bets on that get paid 8-to-1, with Player and Banker bets getting returned.
Don't bet on a tie, not if you are interested in getting as much value as possible out of your play. The tie pays 8-to-1, but the house edge on this bet is more than 14%. So it is quite obvious that you are getting the worst of it.
Familiarize yourself on the percentages on other wagers. The Banker bets have a house advantage of 1.06%, as they win about 46% of the time. Player bets win at a 44.6% clip, which translates to a house advantage of 1.23%. When it comes to all the hands that do NOT end up in ties, the Banker side wins more than half of them, so you will win more hands betting on the Banker, though of course you have to overcome the 5% commission.
The rules of standing and drawing that we outlined in the section above are not all the rules of that kind that take place in the game. Yes, it does get more complicated, and that might normally seem to be a spot where the player (small "p") should develop more familiarity. But the truth is that since the entire process happens automatically, there is nothing you would be able to do about it anyway if you were playing baccarat, since there are no playing decisions to be made.