The History of BaccaratBy: Shirley Spicer, Tuesday September 7th 2010
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No casino game has such a mystic and fascinating origin as baccarat. This origin would not stand the rigors of historical analysis, but nevertheless comes up whenever the history of baccarat is mentioned. In baccarat the player’s hand can take values from 0 to 9. If the player has a low hand value he is a sure loser. If he has a middle hand value he may survive. If he has a high hand value then he is very likely to win. Hence the fate of the player is very much like that of the Etruscan Virgin who was forced to roll a nine sided dice. If the dice displayed a number of 5 or less she would be drowned in the sea. If the dice displayed 6 or 7 she would be allowed to live a humdrum life. But if the dice displayed 8 or 9 then the virgin would become a high priestess. It is believed that an Italian named Felix created a game based on this concept using Tarot cards, which was the first form of baccarat.
Many of the casino games as they are played today were invented in France and baccarat is no exception. The French noblemen played a game called Chemin de Fer, which is the baccarat variant played in most modern casinos in Europe even today. In this variant one of the players acts as the bank and therefore possessing a large bankroll is essential to playing Chemin de Fer. When gambling was legalized in France the common people took to gambling in casinos. Though Chemin de Fer was offered in those casinos it retained its elitist image. Baccarat again came into the limelight in France in the early twentieth century. A Greek gambler named Nico Zographos perfected the science of card counting and the art of reading “tells”. Tells is the name given to observable behavior of card players when they get certain types of hands, usually very good or very bad ones. Nico gathered a team he called the Greek Syndicate and cleaned casinos of five million dollars.
The United States is another country where baccarat is very popular. However it was introduced in America only in the middle of the twentieth century after Fidel Castro shut down the casinos in Cuba. It took root in Las Vegas and New Orleans as an elitist casino game. The American version of baccarat, which is called Punto Banco, is a much simpler game than Chemin de Fer. In Punto Banco all players play against the casino and the players are not allowed to make any decision. Everything proceeds according to the cards dealt.
Baccarat received a global fillip when the James Bond movie Casino Royale became a blockbuster hit in 1967. That movie featured the most comprehensive game of baccarat ever played on celluloid. The entire plot revolves around a game of baccarat between Bond and SMERSH operative Le Chiffre. Bond is also seen playing baccarat in several other movies. Baccarat received another boost with the coming of age of online casinos. In online casinos the chosen baccarat variant is Punto Banco. This is because in Punto Banco the dealer does not make any decisions and hence it is more convenient to simulate. Also Punto Banco can be played between a single player and the casino, whereas in Chemin de Fer players wager against each other. Online baccarat is a game with one of the lowest house edges.
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