Baccarat History

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The game we know as Baccarat traces its origins back to Italy, where it was called “baccara,” which means “zero.” This game, in turn, was based upon a medieval game known as “Tarrochi,” which was most likely played with Tarot cards.

By the 16th century, Baccarat had made its way to France, where it became one of the most popular games played during the rule of Louis XIV (1643~1715). It was especially embraced by French nobility and later enjoyed at the court of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769~1821). Even when public gambling was outlawed throughout France in 1837, Baccarat remained a common pastime in Parisian homes.

Private games survived until the late 19th century, when Baccarat gained renewed interest as a casino game along the French Riviera. The Monte Carlo Casino, in particular, made Baccarat a form of recreation closely associated with the principality of Monaco.

But the game had changed somewhat over the years. In France, players devised a method of rotating the deal by using an elongated iron box or “shoe” called the sabot, which could hold up to eight decks of cards. When the sabot was passed around the table, it was said to look like a train passing by, so locals took to calling the game Chemin de Fer, which means “way of iron” or “railway” in French.

In the Chemin de Fer version of Baccarat, participants have the opportunity to deal from the sabot in turn and hold one of the hands. How ever much the dealer puts up as a wager is the table limit for that deal and becomes the “Bank.”

The person in charge of the Bank then deals two hands—the ponte or “Player hand” and the banco or “Banker hand.” A small commission (vigorish) is paid to the House by the Banker for the opportunity to deal. Participants are allowed to decline the deal when it is their turn and pass the sabot to the next person in order.

After number of cards have been dealt face up and “burned” (discarded) by the dealer, all of the other participants place their bets, counterclockwise from the dealer’s right, wagering on the ponte. Any number of participants, known as “Punters,” may wager, but the sum of their combined bets may not exceed the total in the Bank.

After all bets have been made, two cards are dealt to the ponte and two to the banco. Whichever Punter wagered the most is given the honour of holding the ponte cards. The game then proceeds according to strict rules for drawing and standing.

Within a few decades, Chemin de Fer crossed the Channel to England, where it was quickly nicknamed “Chemmy.” Some rule changes were added by the English, creating a new form of “European Baccarat,” which was spread far and wide by ocean-going merchants. In South America, the game found a home and assumed the name “Punto Banco.”

It was this version of Baccarat that was adopted by the casinos in Havana, Cuba. That’s where American visitors discovered the game and imported it to the United States. Every time Baccarat moved to a new venue, the method of play changed slightly, too. By the time it reached the casinos of Nevada, it was renamed once more—this time as Mini-Baccarat.

All this time, the game was still evolving back in Europe. Baccarat en Banque, or “Banker’s Baccarat,” became very popular in casinos, with no auction or passing of the shoe. Instead, the House assigned a Dealer/Banker. This allowed participants to wager just as much as they liked, within table limits, as the House covered all bets.

Meanwhile, Monte Carlo casinos came up with a new version referred to as Baccarat à Deux Tableaux. Its main innovation was a new “double table” layout for Baccarat en Banque, permitting up to sixteen participants to play in a single game. Also, rather than deal two hands, the House dealt three, one for banco and a separate ponte at each end of the two conjoined tables.

Nowadays, all these versions of Baccarat have developed their own followings. Among table games, Baccarat has joined Roulette and Blackjack as a member of the “Big Three.” It is a fixture at major casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and London, as well as on the Internet and even on cruise ships all over the world.

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