The History of Baccarat
Baccarat has a long and storied history shrouded in myth, and there is much debate and controversy as to its origins. According to one legend, the game was the creation of a gambler called Felix Falguierein who lived in Italy during the Middle Ages and originally was played with tarot cards. Other legends tie the game to an Etruscan ritual involving a virgin and a die with 9 sides. If the virgin rolled an eight or nine, she won and became a priestess. If she rolled a six or seven, the virgin was allowed to live, but could not roll the die ever again. And – woe betide – if she rolled anything under a six, she was honor bound to drown herself in the sea.
Regardless of where exactly it originated, Baccarat is one of the oldest card games in existence. Earliest historical records show that the game was introduced to France sometime around 1500 A.D., where it remained exclusively in the purview of nobility for many years, and where the modern form of the game developed. Over its 500+ year history, the rules of baccarat have changed and evolved, but the overall game hasn’t changed very much at all.
In France, the most popular variant is Chemin de Fer, or railroad. The literal translation is “way of iron,” because the cards were kept in an iron box (the precursor to the modern “shoe”) and passed from banker to banker, reminiscent of a railroad.
The game eventually made its way all the way to South America, and eventually the U.S. A form of baccarat – Punto Banco – made its U.S. debut in the early 1910s in underground gaming establishments, but could not compete with the popularity of blackjack. The game resurfaced in Las Vegas in the later 1950s. Punto Banco remains the predominant variation played in the U.S. It is also popular in the U.K., Canada, Australia and Macau. A third variant, Banque, is very similar to Chemin de Fer, the main difference being at what point in the game the banker switches positions.
With such illustrious beginnings as a game reserved for the nobility, it is no mystery that modern Baccarat remained a game of current casino royalty – the high roller. Appearances in several Bond movies as James Bond’s game of choice have only enhanced this image of sophistication and cachet. Even though Baccarat offers a low house edge at about 1.17 percent, until recently baccarat was still, for all intents and purposes, mostly off limits to the average player. You would only see the game in the high limit rooms.
However, recently casinos began to reach out to the everyday player, introducing “mini-baccarat” to the casino floor. The game is mostly the same, just with lower limits and slightly simplified rules, making it easier than ever for people to start playing. And with the advent of online gaming, baccarat is now even more accessible to players worldwide. So if you’re intrigued by this game of kings, now you too can be a part of the history, romance and legend known as Baccarat.