History of Baccarat

Credit for inventing the card game known as Baccarat goes to Italy. They called it “baccara,” which means “zero,” and based it upon a medieval game called “Tarrochi.” The original version was probably played with a deck of Tarot cards.

Around the 16th century, France discovered Baccarat, and it became very popular under the rule of Louis XIV (1643~1715). French nobility, in particular were enamored of the game. It was enjoyed by the court of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769~1821) and even after public gambling was banned in France in 1837, Baccarat was still played in Parisian homes.

The French Evolution’s Impact on Baccarat

Surviving in privacy throughout most of the 19th century, Baccarat eventually emerged and enjoyed resurgence in the casinos of the French Riviera, most notably the Monte Carlo Casino in the principality of Monaco. By this time, however, the game had taken on some new aspects.

Players in France came up with the practice of taking turns dealing from the sabot, an elongated iron box or “shoe” that held up to eight decks of cards. As it moved around the table, the sabot was said to resemble a train passing by, and locals began calling the game Chemin de Fer, literally the “way of iron” or “railway.”

In Baccarat Chemin de Fer, each participant gets a turn to control the sabot and play the Banker hand. Whatever amount the Banker is willing to wager is the “Bank” for that deal and becomes the table limit. He or she will deal two hands—one for the ponte, or “Player” and the other for himself or herself, the banco. A small commission is paid to the House by the Banker for the privilege of dealing. Participants may decline to deal and pass the sabot if they wish.

A number of cards are dealt face up and “burned” by discarding them in the center of the game’s oval-shaped playing table. Then, all of the other participants are invited, counterclockwise from the Banker’s right, to challenge the Banker by matching his/her bid, in whole or in part, betting on the ponte hand. Any number of participants, who are called “Punters,” may make a wager, as long as the total of their combined bets does not exceed the Banker’s bid.

Once all bets have been placed on the table, two cards are dealt to the ponte hand and two cards to the banco hand. The Punter who has wagered the most has the right to hold the ponte cards. The game them plays out according to strict rules of standing and drawing.

Baccarat’s Migration to England and Beyond

In time, Baccarat Chemin de Fer made its way off the continent and across the Channel, where it became known as “Chemmy.” The English again changed the rules a bit. Then, the new form of “European Baccarat” spread to South America, where it quickly found a home under the name “Punto Banco.” Next, the game was adopted by casinos in Havana, Cuba, where visiting Americans discovered it and brought it back to the United States. Each time the game changed venue, the way of playing it changed slightly, too, eventually showing up as Mini-Baccarat in the casinos of Nevada.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, the game was still spreading and evolving. Baccarat en Banque, or “Banker’s Baccarat,” was taking over casinos. In this version, there was no auction or passing of the shoe; the House was always the Dealer/Banker. Participants could wager as much as they pleased, up to the posted table limit, and the House would cover all bets.

Simultaneously, in Monte Carlo, a version known as Baccarat à Deux Tableaux became popular. It introduced a new “double table” format for Baccarat en Banque that would allow up to sixteen participants in the game. Instead of two hands, three were dealt, one for the banco and a separate ponte hand for each of the two connected tables.

Today, all of these various forms of Baccarat have their followings. The game is now a fixture in major casinos from Las Vegas to Macau, ranking with Blackjack and Roulette as one of the “big three” casino table games in the world.