How to Play EZ-9

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The baccarat variation known as “EZ-9” was invented by card player Johnny Ma in 2012 and introduced to the tables of California’s Hollywood Park Casino the following year. The game draws on “Pan-9” as well as conventional baccarat for its rules. It is played with a dozen standard decks of cards, from which the sevens, eights, nines and tens have been removed. That leaves 12 decks of 36 cards each, or 432 cards in total shuffled into the game’s shoe. Participants wager on their own hands and play directly against the dealer, similar to blackjack.

Rules of the Game

After bets are made, every player and the dealer receive three cards each from which they make their best baccarat hand. As in baccarat, Aces count as one point, the 2~6 cards are scored according to their face value, and face cards count as zero. The hand may consist of any two cards or all three cards, and the player’s best hand will then compete against the dealer’s in a showdown. When the point total is greater than nine, the hand value is the terminal digit of the sum of the cards, such as seven when the cards are 5-6-6 (17).

The player wins automatically if his/her hand totals nine and is made up of 2-3-4 or three 3’s; in this case, the payout is 3:2. If the dealer’s cards total zero—made up of three face cards in any combination of Jacks, Queens and Kings—then the hand results in an automatic push no matter what cards the player has selected. Otherwise, the winning hand is the one with the higher baccarat total. If the player wins, the payout is even money (1:1). If the dealer wins, the player’s wager is lost. All ties result in a push, with no winner.

Additionally, the game usually features an optional side bet called “Triple Match,” a proposition that all three cards dealt to the player will be of the same rank. The player must elect to make this bet at the time of placing the original wager, before any cards are dealt. If the player’s three cards are of the same rank, such as 4-4-4 or A-A-A, the side bet pays 50:1. Should the three cards also be of the same colour, the bet pays 100:1. And if they are of the same suit, the payout is 250:1. There may also be a progressive jackpot available starting at 5,000:1 for catching three 3’s of diamonds.

Playing Strategy

In setting up the player’s hand, there is no need to consider anything other than the best total possible. Obviously, any hand totaling nine cannot be beat, so that becomes the player’s primary objective. There are just two types of hands that result in a total of nine with two cards: 4-5-x or 3-6-x. In either case, play the total of nine and leave the third card out of the total. To obtain a count of nine on three cards, there are six combinations: A-2-6, A-3-5, A-4-4, 2-2-5, 2-3-4 and 3-3-3. The latter two are premium hands that pay 3:2, and they occur on less than 1% of all deals.

For any hand containing a face card worth zero, all three cards will be played. The player can expect to win with a non-premium hand on 39.38% of all deals and push on 15.99%, including 3.26% of the time when the dealer holds three face cards. Otherwise, the dealer will win on 43.67% of all deals, giving the dealer a House edge of 2.85% overall.

The Triple Match side bet carries a House advantage of 11.24% when no progressive is available for three 3’s of diamonds. If the progressive is in play, the jackpot reaches the breakeven point when it tops 11,845 units. Above that amount, the side bet actually favours the player, not the House.

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