Baccarat through the centuries
History of the oldest card game: Baccarat
How did Baccarat become so popular?
Why is Baccarat so popular? Some might say it's because of its more obvious qualities, such as that it's easy to play or because James Bond made it popular in his movies.
But the truth is that it takes much more than simple gameplay to stand the test of time, from the soldiers' camps in the 15th century, to the glamorous casinos of Las Vegas, to online platforms and beautiful casinos with live dealers. Let's discover the origins of Baccarat below.
Early Origins: Chinese Games and Ancient Roman Rituals
Despite being one of the most popular and oldest card games in the world, the origin of Baccarat remains unclear. The first written record of the game dates back to the 19th century, so all other accounts of it before that date are just hearsay.
However, the possible scenarios of how the game came about are quite interesting. According to one of them, Baccarat may have derived in part from some games that do not use cards, such as the Chinese game Pai Gow, which was played with chips instead of cards.
This theory is based mainly on a certain correlation between the meaning of Pai Gow (nine) and the best score obtained in Baccarat, which is 9 as well. However, there is no historical evidence to support this theory.
Other historians assure that the origins of Baccarat took place in Ancient Rome, specifically in a ritual in which virgins in offering to the Goddess Vesta threw a die to determine the value or amount of their faith.
Whoever got an 8 or 9 could become a high priestess, 6 or 7 meant that the vestal virgin would have to be excluded, while any other number cost them their lives, as they had to walk into the sea and drown.
Even if it were true that the number 9 began to be used in Baccarat because of one of these games or rituals, it still does not resolve the question of why Baccarat is played with cards and not with dice. So, let's move forward to the end of the 13th century when Marco Polo returned to Italy from his expeditions.
Humble beginnings in Italy
The "card game at the tables" was first mentioned in a French manuscript dating from the 1330s. Before the invention of the printing press, card games were not a popular activity, mainly due to the scarcity of cards.
They had to be hand-painted or printed on printed blocks of wood using the carving technique as a stamp; this technique was also popular in the Chinese game of Pai Gow that Marco Polo introduced to Italy in the late 1290s.
With the invention of the printing press, playing cards became widespread as they were printed in packs of 78. Known as the Devil's Picture Books, at that time playing cards became more popular. New card games proliferated, and old games were modified, Baccarat being one of them.
Although, Baccarat is often considered to have originated in France, historical evidence points to Italy as the birthplace of the game. Tarrochi was a card game played in Italy in the 13th century and, although there is no proven correlation between that game and Baccarat, Tarrochi could very well be the ancestor of all card games.
Then, Felix Falguiere was an Italian famous for inventing the modern form of Baccarat using Tarot cards. Another popular game in Italy at the time, Macao, often played to a total of nine, is often referred to as Italian Baccarat and may be the game from which modern Baccarat was derived.
Le Her is another game that could be the oldest origin of Baccarat, as both are fixed-number games that seek to obtain the score that is closest below the limit. Le Her was a card game for two players, where each player had only one card.
The cards had values from 1 to 13, with the King being the highest value and yielding an instant winner. Each player could exchange his card if in search of the King, which is similar to the additional card drawing in Baccarat.
In the 19th century, another game was pointed out as the possible ancestor of Baccarat when Hoyle's Official Card Rules linked it to Vingt-et-un games, the French name for 21 and yes, the main responsible for Blackjack existing today.
The game described in this book is Baccarat en Banque. In the 1911 edition of Hoyle's books with the official rules of card games to date, there is a clear distinction between Baccarat en Banque and Chemin de Fer, both versions of Baccarat, but they are considered different games.
Baccarat in France: an illegal hobby
As the stories go, soldiers returning from the Italian wars during the 1490s introduced Baccarat to France. Supposedly, the game quickly became popular among the French nobility. Two versions of Baccarat were the most played: Baccarat en Banque (Baccarat Deux Tableux) and Chemin de Fer without betting on Bancase played during the Napoleonic era.
Such was the interest it accumulated that, even after Louis Phillip declared casinos illegal in 1837, Baccarat continued to be played in clandestine gambling houses outside the law, thus maintaining its popularity in Europe.
If we consider the phrase "Chemin de Fer" means "railroad" or "railroad", we could guess that this version became popular after 1832, when the first railroad was inaugurated in France. However, there are no documents of the time that really prove it (the name could have been added later, no one knows for sure), so we must only assume that Baccarat en Banque is the oldest version.
The first mention of Baccarat was in 1847 when Charles Van-Tenac made a 13-page mathematical analysis of the game, the first to be printed, in his Album des jeux.
Baccarat in America
If you research the origin of Baccarat in the United States, you will find articles and documents that point to 1911 as the year in which the first Baccarat game was played in an American gambling establishment.
This statement is supported by John Scarne, Steve Forte and other authors and card game experts who have conducted research on Baccarat. However, these statements and assumptions are rejected by some newspaper publications of the time. The first printed record of Baccarat in the United States dates from 1871.
An article in the New York Times described the Clubhouse in Long Branch, where visitors gathered around "the roulette table, the faro game, and the Baccarat table." Another article, again in the New York Times, but this time from 1899, recounted the arrest of 30 Frenchmen playing Baccarat, signifying that the game was being played in the United States decades earlier than originally thought.
Despite these mentions, Baccarat is considered to have made its debut in the United States in the early 20th century. John Scarne describes it as Chemin de Fer which began to be played in 1911 in New York, adding that it was not as popular as the other card games such as blackjack and Craps played by U.S. servicemen during World War I.
Although early references in the New York Times describe Baccarat en Banque and not Chemin de Fer, it is still an interesting fact to know that Baccarat was played in the United States decades earlier than originally thought.
However, Baccarat was completely absent from the Assembly Bill that legalized the game in 1931. When Sands opened a table of the game in 1958, the version played was Chemin de Fer (also known as Chemmy).
It was a non-banked game in which the casino collected only a percentage of the winning bets, which is probably what Mark Twain was referring to when he said he would have stayed at the table if he could have borrowed the croupier's winnings.
Baccarat was not a major casino game until 1959, when Tommy Renzoni brought a new version called Punto y Banca to Las Vegas. Originally developed at the Mar del Plata casino in Argentina in the early 1950s, this version is the one played in most casinos in the US, Spain, UK and Australia.
Baccarat: a game popular nowadays
The first Baccarat games played on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1960s were not exactly the version of Punto y Banca that Renzoni had brought from South America. The early version of Baccarat offered the feature of side bets on natural hands and on bets that did not involve a tie.
Instead of chips, casinos accepted cash bets and, for convenience, dealers applied a soap-like substance to the bills to keep them on the table. However, wax bills were not accepted in some banks and stores, so in the early 1970s most Baccarat tables began to operate with chips. But that was not the only difference between today's game and the general environment.
Part of the game's appeal was due to the glamorous elements: there were lovely ladies who played with minimal stakes, pulling cards out of their shoes while hogging all the players' interest.
Nowadays, you won't see female employees of that style in casinos, except for some poker game casinos. Baccarat has changed a lot over the years, and its popularity in Asia has made it a more vibrant and dynamic game, although the gaming experience relies heavily on superstition, generating different variations with fast-paced play, additional features and side bets to take the excitement up a notch.
That’s why Baccarat online is becoming popular too. Even it is a game easy to master, it is exciting and fun. If you want to play Baccarat online, visit FUN88 and discover all of the benefits of playing at an Online casino.
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