What is Baccarat?
We might thank James Bond for Baccarat’s prominence in pop culture: it’s the favored game of author Ian Fleming’s most famous spy-hero. Bond plays Baccarat in multiple Bond books and movies, like Dr. No and the 1967 version of Casino Royale.
Usually regarded as a “classy,” high-stakes game frequented by high rollers, Baccarat differs from many other gambling games which can require complex knowledge and skills. Instead, Punto Banco – the most common form of Baccarat in the United States – is strictly a game of chance where the player (punto) simply compares his card to that of the bank (banco). You’re literally playing the odds in this game. Interesting, the game has both some of the lowest (just over 1%) and highest (over 14%) house edges of any card game, depending on the bet.
There are three major versions of Baccarat in play today:
- Punto Banco: by far the most common form in most casinos; the casino is always the bank in this version.
- Chemin de Fer: the original form of Baccarat when it was introduced to France, and still the most popular form there; participants rotate the “player” and “bank” roles whenever the banker loses.
- Baccarat Banque: Similar to Chemin de Fer, except the banker role doesn’t rotate until all cards from multiple decks shuffled together have been dealt.
Most casinos, including the Riviera Hotel & Casino, host “mini baccarat” tables with lower limits. That means the game isn’t reserved to just high rollers, and everyone can enjoy this fast-paced game.
The earliest origins of Baccarat are simply unknown; in fact, its beginnings are more obscure than many other games. Theories abound, of course. Some say it was partly derived from non-card games like the Chinese Pai Gow, which was played with tiles. Perhaps Marco Polo brought the game back to Italy with him in the late 13th century. Certainly most sources claim that Baccarat originated in Italy because, they say, “baccarat” means zero in Italian. That is, however, untrue.
We do know that the first mention in print by a contemporary observer happened in the mid–1800s in France (in Album des Jeux by Charles Van-Tenac), so wherever it originated, Baccarat definitely made a major detour through France, as so many games of chance have.
The version of Baccarat played in Vegas when it was first introduced was indeed the French Chemin de Fer, here called “Chimney.” Alas, that game never really caught on.
Then casino boss Tommy Renzoni brought the Punto Banco variation to America, after he encountered it in Argentina at the Mar del Plata Casino. Interesting fact: For the first several decades after its introduction in the mid-twentieth century, casinos employed a “shill” or “prop player” at their Baccarat tables, someone who would play just to keep the action going. (They’re not nearly as common today).
- Punto or Player: You.
- Banco or Banker: Generally, the house or casino, but sometimes players will rotate this role.
- Tableau: Fixed drawing rules, i.e. how the cards are dealt; varies according to the type of Baccarat played. Just ask our casino staff for an explanation when you sit down to play; they’ll be happy to introduce you to the game!
- Croupier: The dealer.
- Coup: A single, full round of play.
- Shoe: A collection of several decks shuffled together; all cards are dealt from the “shoe.”
- A Baccarat: Any individual card or entire hand with a value of zero. (FYI: Cards 2–9 are worth face value while 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings are worth zero. Aces are worth one. To value a hand, you add up all cards. If the total number is 10 or greater, the value is equal to the rightmost digit. So a Queen, 3 and 7 — which add up to 10 — is worth zero; and both the Queen card and the entire hand are considered baccarats. A hand of 2, 4 and 8 adds up to 14, so that hand’s value is four.)
Image Credit: Roland Scheicher via Wikimedia Commons