Baccarat – About its origins and rise to popularity

BaccaratBaccarat, a popular casino card-game, has its origins in 14th century France and it was introduced to French society through Italy. In terms of its etymology, the word ‘Baccarat’ comes from the term ‘Baccara’ which literally translates to ‘Zero’ in the Italian language. It applies or is relevant to the game because all Jacks, Queens, Kings and Tens have a Zero value, and it also refers to hands which can result in a Zero (which is a loss in the game). The Italian gambler who is generally credited for the creation of the Baccarat game is Felix Falguerein, and in its early stages the game was played with tarot cards which would later change when the 52-card deck was introduced. At first, only elites (members of the upper-middle classes and the super-rich) were considered worthy of playing Baccarat, but whilst the idea that players who were not from privileged backgrounds could not play the game prevailed in that society, it was a myth because in reality, poorer people still played the game in places such as clubs.

Baccarat: Multiple variations

The first two variations of Baccarat to gain worldwide popularity amongst gamblers were; Chemin de Fer and Baccarat a deux tableau (also referred to as Baccarat en Banque). Chemin de Fer is French for ‘the rail way’ and the phrase is a metaphor for the fast pace of the Baccarat game. Baccarat a deux tableau simply means Baccarat played on two tables. In Baccarat a deux tableau three hands are dealt and the bank’s play is not regulated.  In Chemin de Fer players are dealt two cards and the number of players that can bet against the dealer is unrestricted. In this version of the game, a winning hand is one which is in closest proximity to 9 but does not exceed that value on two to three cards.

Baccarat Table

Adoption of the game by Americans

French and English citizens who lived in the Americas were responsible for the introduction of Baccarat game in this geographic location, and yet it was not immediately adopted by casino gamblers because of a pre-occupation with another card-game; Blackjack. Baccarat’s struggle for popularity would continue until the game’s eventual adoption as a popular casino card game in Cuba, where it would be named Punto Banco (also known as North American Baccarat). This variation of the Baccarat game was developed by Cuban gambler Tommy Renzioni and the name given to it simply identifies the two main participants in the game; the player (Punto) and the dealer/bank (Banco). Over a period of time, the existence of an American variant of the Baccarat game would lead to increased enthusiasm about the game on the part of Americans who would proceed to create other versions of the game, and yet despite the many versions that would be developed, the earliest 3 version of the game remained the popular choice amongst gamblers. What is unique about Baccarat is that despite the many versions which exist, the game has not had to undergo major changes to its rules in its evolution. Baccarat was introduced at Las Vegas casinos in the late 1950s by a well known figure in the gambling world; Frank Sinatra.

Baccarat today

There are mixed views about the current status of Baccarat and its popularity in comparison to other games, the games it has always had to battle against. There is evidence pointing to its continued popularity as well as a significant decline in the game’s ability to command the attention of players, yet despite all of this, the facts remain; ‘Baccarat’ remains one of the first names which come to mind when one thinks of popular casino card games, and it is a game still associated with style and prestige.