The History of Baccarat
Great games aren’t born overnight. More often than not, truly outstanding pastimes feel like they were delivered by destiny. It’s as if the right set of improbable circumstances came together to create something truly magical. While the origins of baccarat are debatable and filled with misinformation, you can’t dismiss the allure or its impact across the globe. Discover the story surrounding this aristocratic favourite and James Bond’s game of choice.
Are You Fluent In Italian?
Many internet sources incorrectly claim that baccarat was first played in Italy sometime during the 12th century. The frequently told origin story suggests that baccarat is a variation of the Italian word baccara, which means zero. That would seem to make sense since face cards and tens have zero value in baccarat, except baccara isn’t the Italian word for zero. Looks like you’ll need to dig a little deeper.
Still, Italy is worth putting on your baccarat map. A game called tarrochi, which is believed to be the world’s first card game, was invented around this time in Italy. While the games have little in common aside from both using playing cards, baccarat would not be possible without tarrochi. Of course the same could be said of poker, blackjack, hearts, go fish, or even 52 pickup.
Speaking Of Italy
It is possible that what we now know as baccarat was conceived in Italy. Legend has it that in the 1480s an Italian named Felix Falguiere created a game using tarot cards that’s definitely in the baccarat family. Tarot cards, which were a by-product of the invention of the printing press, were widely popular in 15th century Europe. Historians have also suggested that another Italian card game called macao, which is now known as Italian baccarat, predates conventional baccarat by a couple centuries.
The French Connection
During the late 15th century or early 16th century primitive baccarat crossed the French border possibly evolving into a game known as Le Her, a favourite among French nobility. Just like baccarat, Le Her is also a fixed number game where players draw a card to improve their hand and attempt to get as many possible points.
The link to Le Her although logical is merely speculation. We can however find clues in historical accounts published in the 19th century. Hoyle’s Official Rules of Cards from the late 1800s draws a connection between 21 or vingt-et-un in French. An elaborate game guide titled Album Des Jeux from 1847 features the earliest written account of baccara. Tales from that period suggest that French soldiers imported the game in the 1490s after returning home from Italy. Perhaps baccarat fans should thank King Charles VIII.
The Napoleonic Era
While Napoleon was busy taking over Europe, Baccarat was also sweeping the continent. Document suggest there were two forms of the game in the early 1800s, Baccarat en Banque, which featured a traditional bank, and Baccarat Chemin de Fer, a four player version. The games went underground in 1837 when King Louis Phillip outlawed casinos. It took nearly 70 years before gambling came back into French favour. But baccarat’s allure wasn’t lost in the interim.
Baccarat In Britain
Baccarat was particularly popular in Aristocratic circles in the nineteenth century Britain. The game was frequently enjoyed in Queen Victoria’s court and popular high society clubs. Unfortunately the game didn’t always play out so regally. In September of 1890, Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Gordon-Cumming was accused of cheating at baccarat in what became known as the Tranby Croft affair. The royal baccarat scandal didn’t just involve alleged cheating but a cover up, charges of slander, and the involvement of future King Edward VII. Ultimately a jury convicted Sir William who was forced out of the army and suffered severe social consequences.
As far as baccarat in Britain goes, the Tranby Croft affair remained synonymous with the game until Ian Flemming introduced James Bond to the world. Although entirely fictitious, baccarat was Bond’s game of choice in the original version of Casino Royale, Dr. No, For Your Eyes Only, and Golden Eye. Bond helped preserve the game’s grace and elegance.
Baccarat Across The Pond
Newspaper articles from the 1870s document baccarat’s popularity among the elite at summer resorts in New York State, but the game never gained mass acceptance in its then current form. It wasn’t until a man named Tommy Renzoni imported a new version of the game called Punto Banco from Cuba to a Las Vegas casino in 1959. That’s the baccarat so many people know and love 66 years later.
Although America doesn’t have its own Tranby Croft affair, it does have its share of high rollers passing through its casinos. In 1990 Japanese real estate tycoon set a baccarat record winning $6.4 million at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza Casino. That pales into comparison to the $10 million he lost later than year.
Thanks to the rise of online casinos, playing baccarat is easier and more popular than ever. Not only are there more games available to players in the UK, but there are also new variations of the game. Mini baccarat is particularly popular offering lower limits and faster streamlined play. You don’t need to be an aristocrat any more but you might just feel like it online.