Baccarat’s history dates back to over 2,600 years ago where it began in the Italian peninsula. The ancient Roman Etruscans worshipped the nine gods, which they kept in the Temple of Golden Hair. To appease the gods, the Etruscans had to sacrifice a virgin, but not just any virgin, a blond virgin. They would throw a nine sided dice to decide whether the chosen virgin would live or die.
Five or less meant she had to drown herself. Six or seven meant she would live and was never subjected to that fate again. An eight or nine assigned the virgin to a role of priestess.
Baccarat’s history really takes off with the Crusaders in the 14th Century. Playing cards were growing in popularity, despite the Church’s outspoken criticism about it. Amazingly, Gutenberg published the bible but he also published printed playing cards in the very same year. Those printed playing cards became the first tarot deck. Every suit represented a class within the society.
Felix Falguiere, in the 1600’s, reintroduced the Etruscan sacrifices and encouraged wagers using tarot cards. The game was called baccarat, which meant zero. And so Baccarat was born.
Alternative accounts of Baccarat’s history have the game originating from Chinese Pai Gow, which was transferred to Italy through Marco Polo’s expeditions. Pai Gow means “to make nine” and since the game also has the same banker rules, this version seems more credible.
French Noblemen embrace Baccarat
During Charles VIII’s reign, Baccarat grew in popularity as noblemen throughout the country embraced the game wholeheartedly. During that time the game was called Baccarat en Banque, but later became Chemin De Fer, or “railroad.” The role of Banker was passed to different players and there had to be four people to administer the game.
In those early days the game was illegal – which could be the reason it was so favored. Noblemen met in secret places to play the game they loved. Later on, the ban on the game was lifted and legislation was drawn up to give the proceeds of the game to the poor. From there, Baccarat’s popularity exploded. Aristocrats now saw gambling, not as an exercise of the privileged, but as philanthropic efforts to help the poor.
But soon after Napoleon took up his reign, Baccarat lost some its popularity because the new King frowned upon it. Louis-Phillipe, during his reign, banned the game altogether. Baccarat maintained that ban in France until 1907. During the ban, the game was played a lot underground, but this time there were no French noblemen – not because they weren’t enthused. The French Revolution did away with the noblemen altogether. Without their influence, Baccarat fell into the hands of questionable gangsters who ran crooked games.
Baccarat is resilient if nothing else. Soon after it became legal in France again, its popularity rose to an all-time high. It was played in casinos all across the country.
Baccarat in the UK
British aristocracy was also enamored by the game of Baccarat. It made its way into the courts of Queen Victoria as the game was hosted by John Aspinall.
Scandal erupted in 1890, when the playing partner of the Queen’s son hit some troubles. That fellow, Sir William Gordon-Cumming, was accused of cheating while playing at a respected millionaire’s home. The Prince of Wales was a part of the team at that time. Sir Gordon-Cumming was forced to sign an agreement to never play the game again – the Prince, by the way, did not speak on his behalf. The goodly Sir was ejected from the royal circle, an action that Sir Cummings opposed. Although he sued for deformation of character, he lost his case. Baccarat was never the same after that awful episode.
The Greek Syndicate
No account of Baccarat’s history would be complete without mention of the Greek Syndicate. This syndicate was the brainchild of Nico Zographos. He was an engineer who used his skill to conduct a study of the game from a mathematical perspective. Zographos included a Frenchman, an Armenian and two Greeks in his syndicate and they proceeded to become a gambling team well-known for their luck at the tables. They counted cards, read players’ faces and made over $5 million dollars at the casinos, which was a lot in those days.
At the turn of the 20th century, Baccarat was still very popular. But there were several variations in the game. Of all the variations Punto Banco, Chemin de Fer, and Banque were the most popular.
From Argentina to Cuba, Baccarat made its way to the Americas after the Cuban Revolution. It came through the Sands Casino in Las Vegas by way of a modest casino employee, Tommy Renzoni. Unfortunately, Renzoni did not see a penny of the profits that his ingenuity brought to casino. He committed suicide shortly after his beloved wife died.
Baccarat was marketed as a game for the elite, with sectioned off areas in the casinos and private rooms. But since the gambling crowd was so casual, games like craps continued to dominate. With time, Baccarat caught on and attracted a huge number of players from all sectors of society.
Baccarat for everyone
Casinos came up with mini-baccarat, so regular players could play the game on the casino’s main floor. The table is the same size as a blackjack table and is more appealing to a casual player. The four dealers required in the traditional version were replaced with one dealer.
The internet today makes Baccarat more accessible than ever. As it stands, it is one of the most popular online and land based casino games.