Baccarat is a popular card game with a very interesting history that looks like a scenario for a fast-paced action film. That’s why we’re going to take a look at the origins of this exciting game, the journey the game made from its beginnings to what it is today and discuss the reasons of its popularity among players around the world.
Get ready for a ride that will take you from ancient China and Rome to medieval Italy and France, from Victorian Britain and the 1950s Las Vegas to Macau, the modern capital of this game.
Oh, did we mention a royal scandal and James Bond? Now that we have your attention it’s time to go through the history of Baccarat.
Although it is widely believed that Baccarat initially came from France, its roots can be traced all the way back to ancient China and Rome. The Chinese game of Pai Gow has certain similarities to Baccarat, while the biggest one is the fact that nine is the maximum available score.
Historical sources claim that certain games played in ancient Rome utilised a nine-sided dice, with an eight or nine awarding prizes.
When it comes to the modern variant of this game, the first set of official rules were conceived in Italy back in the fifteenth century, by Felix Falguiere. According to available information, he was influenced by several games, including Le Her and Macao. In Le Her, players would draw cards from the deck, with the highest one awarding a win, while Macao has since developed into a popular version of Baccarat.
Since the majority of cards used in the game were worth zero, Falguiere named it Baccara, which is Italian for zero. The current spelling of the name, Baccarat, originates from France and was adopted once the game became popular in this country.
After a series of wars between France and Italy, at the end of the fifteenth century, Baccarat was brought to the country by soldiers returning home. The game quickly became very popular among the nobility, who even had a variant of their own, called Baccarat Banque. Today, this is regarded as another version of the popular game and it has a new name, A Deau Tableaux.
Baccarat also managed to gain popularity at gambling establishments across France. King Louis Phillip, I prohibited gambling and closed all casinos in the country, leading to the creation of yet another variant of this game. Chemin de Fer, or simply Chemmy, was first introduced in the late 1830s and was devised as a means to pass time on a train, hence the name (chemin de fer means railway in English). Since using the train was at the time was something mostly done by the nobility, it is believed they are responsible for the creation of this version as well.
Slowly but surely, Baccarat was becoming popular all over the continent, including the UK. In 1891, the game was even involved in a royal scandal, after Sir William Gordon-Cumming was accused of cheating during a game.
This was quite a controversy at the time since Baccarat was outlawed five years earlier. A trial was held, and all players that took part in the game hosted by Arthur Wilson were called to testify, including the Prince of Wales and the future King Edward VII. It was the first time that the heir to the British throne appeared in court since the early fifteenth century. The game found itself in the centre of attention, while newspapers published detailed information and rules, which lead to the rise in its popularity.
According to available information, Baccarat first reached the shores of North America in the early 1870s, while an article by The New York Times from 1871 describes a game of Baccarat played at a gambling venue in New Jersey.
However, Baccarat couldn’t match blackjack and craps in terms of popularity and even failed to be mentioned in the 1931 Assembly Bill that legalised gambling in the US.
The fortunes of Baccarat were changed by the world’s most famous spy. The debut novel featuring Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Casino Royale, was released in 1953 and significantly impacted its popularity, as the plot was primarily focused on a game of Chemin de Fer between the main protagonist and Le Chiffre, the suspected Soviet spy.
The novel even included instructions for the game.
Following the success of Casino Royale, the Sands casino in Las Vegas wanted to capitalise on the popularity of the game, becoming the first major gambling establishment in the US to offer Baccarat. The first Chemin de Fer table was added to the casino offering in 1958.
Havana, Cuba was a very popular gambling destination in the 1950s, so it comes as no surprise that another favoured Baccarat variant was developed there. This version was named Punto Banco.
Punto Banco allowed players to take on a representative of the house, in a series of rounds. This had quickly made Punto Banco a preferred Baccarat variant among players in South America.
During his visit to a casino in Argentina, Tommy Renzoni fell in love with this exciting variant and soon brought in to casinos in Las Vegas. The Sands was the first to introduce a Punto Banco table, in 1959. The casino lost $250,000 on the opening night, which would be more than $2 million in today’s money. That didn’t discourage them, and the game soon began generating a profit.
By the beginning of the 1970s, there were only fifteen Baccarat tables available in Las Vegas. It was soon advertised as a game for rich and famous, with tables often set in private rooms, hidden from other casino visitors, while casinos introduced extremely high minimum stakes.
Thanks to the rise of online gambling and online casinos, Baccarat has seen a significant increase in popularity in the last couple of years.
The game no longer has an image of an activity exclusively reserved for the rich, as players can play a wide selection of Baccarat variants online, whenever they want to. Now, thousands of players enjoy Baccarat on a regular basis.
Despite the surge in online gambling, Baccarat has stayed as equally popular in brick and mortar casinos, especially in Asia. The Baccarat capital of the world is Macau, where land-based gambling venues account for nearly 90% of the city’s profit from the game, outperforming Las Vegas.
Baccarat continues to attract players today, with many high-profile tournaments offering extremely lucrative prizes. For example, the last year’s edition of the Baccarat Tournament of Champions awarded nearly $500,000 to the winner Ole Schemion. There are also Royal Dragon Tournaments, the Golden Ruby and the World Series of Baccarat. The latter became famous around the world after awarding the 2015 champion with a staggering prize of $12.9 million.
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