A Brief History of Baccarat


Baccarat has gone by many names during its long history, but Punto Banco is one of the most popular today.

Baccarat is a card game with a long and fascinating history. It’s particularly popular in casinos thanks to its high bet limits, allowing the potential for some astronomical wins. Mr. Bet-A-Million Bates was famous for just that, his million-dollar hands! Although we don’t suggest risking that amount of money on a hand of Baccarat, if played sensibly, it has the potential to be great fun. Here is the history of this historic card game.

Italian Origins

Although the history of many card games can be traced all the way back to Ancient China, we cannot say for sure that Baccarat can be. Whilst the Chinese game Pai Gow literally translates to ‘make nine’ and baccarat requires you to make nine for the highest possible winning hand, beyond this, there isn’t really any concrete evidence to suggest that Pai Gow was where Baccarat originated. The earliest documentation of the game that we can trace certainly is from medieval Italy.

The game was invented by Felix Falguiere in the 1400s. He named the game Baccara which means zero in Italian, so chosen because all of the tens and face cards are worth nothing when scoring. The game was based on an Etruscan legend that involved a virgin who was forced to throw a nine-sided dice. The number that the dice fell on would decide her fate. Eight or nine would see her regaled as a priestess. Six or Seven would see her life spared, but her exclusions from any of the village celebrations. Anything less than a six and she would be banished to the sea and left at the mercy of the waves. Although it’s not commonplace to send the loser off to see in a game of baccarat, either nowadays or in medieval Italy, the idea remains that if you score less than a six, you’ll probably lose.

The Move to France

For those who are particularly astute at noticing details, they’ll realize that Felix Falguiere originally spelled the game without the final ‘t’. This came much later during the 1800s when the game experienced its first boom in popularity, in France. The game was originally referred to as Chemin de Fer, but the name Baccarat later became popular as a term to describe all variations of the game. King Charles VIII was a particular fan of the game and soon the French aristocracy caught on and enjoyed it enormously. 

The next big move for Baccarat was across the channel, to England. Here the game became quite popular too, but one of its most famous adopters was Ian Fleming, author of James Bond. It could be argued that Mr. Bond is the most famous baccarat player in the world, but amongst players, there is one person who is perhaps more famous still…

Exploring the Americas

America’s high roller rooms made a natural home for the game, where moneyed people could place enormous bets.

By the latter part of the 19th century, the game had made its way across the pond. It was often known as Punt Banco by players in South America and the Caribbean, though the rules since it was played as Chemin de Fer had changed a little. Instead of playing against a group of four players, now each player bet against the house only, as is customary today. This little change allowed the game to become one that was enjoyed primarily by the upper classes, such as the most famous player we mentioned before. 

John W Gates was the Mr-Bet-A-Million who famously wagered a million dollars on a single hand of baccarat. Of course, this was an exceptionally high bet even for John Gates, but the casinos in America intentionally hid the game away in high roller rooms, so that players would be encouraged to bet high. 

Baccarat Nowadays

Whilst the tradition of the baccarat high roller room is still true today, there are now ways that are far more accessible to enjoy it. Online casinos have repopularised the game by offering incentives such as no deposit bonuses, which allow the player to get a small head start. Playing online in this way removes the air of superiority that some associate with the high roller rooms and instead levels the playing field for everyone.

The inclusivity of online casinos has made it possible for people from all walks of life to enjoy this ancient game. Whilst the big names such as John W Gates and James Bond may have played only in the glitziest casinos, there is something to be said for being able to sit down at your computer for a quickfire game of a truly historic game like this.