History of Baccarat: The Oldest Card Game

Baccarat is definitely one of the most popular casino games in the world. In fact, it is considered to be a part of the Big Four of card games with blackjack, roulette, and poker. This popularity is not surprising since James Bond himself has shown his preference for playing this card game.

Most people credit the popularity with the simplicity of the game. It is so simple that you can actually complete a play in no time at all. This is why a lot of people opt to play this game over other casino games. It helps that it has a low house edge and that the rules are easy to follow. This is great for those who are not really high rollers just yet. You only have to play it a couple of times to memorize the rules of the game.

But what exactly is the history of Baccarat? When did all of these start and who influenced it to be the Baccarat game that we play right now?

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The origin of Baccarat

It is believed that the history of Baccarat goes way beyond the first documentation of the game during the 19th century.

The truth is, it is hard to pinpoint because anything that happened before that first record is just recalling and retelling of stories. However, it helps to be thorough in going back because it gives you a clearer picture of the real Baccarat history.

So what are these stories circulating about the real history of the Baccarat game?

Well, there is one about it being developed from the Chinese game of Pai Gow – which means make nine. While it is played using tiles instead of cards, people still like to speculate the connection between the two.

Another tale about this game involves Ancient Rome. Back then, there was a ritual wherein vestal virgins were asked to cast dice to find out their fate. When they rolled an 8 or 9, they will become a high priestess. A 6 or a 7 will have their status as vestal virgin revoked. The rest of the numbers would mean death.

Both of these may seem too far-fetched but some people just like to be dramatic when it comes to figuring out how the game of Baccarat really started. This is probably why the majority prefer to consider Italy as the real origin of Baccarat.

The very first description of the game was that it was a “play of cards at tables.” This was taken from a French manuscript that was believed to be written back in the 1330s. While the records are mostly from France, there is strong evidence that it actually started in Italy.

It all started in Italy…

In the past, the Baccarat game was considered to be for Italian aristocrats only. There were only a few chances to play cards simply because the cards themselves were limited. It is safe to assume that the cards were probably hand-painted or even block printed. The idea was taken from the Pai Gow tiles that Marco Polo brought to Italy in the latter part of 1290.

When the printing press was invented, more cards were printed and the game started to gain popularity. It was printed in packs of 78 and was called The Devil’s Picture Books – not far from the tarot cards we see today.

The Baccarat history can be traced to the Tarrochi card game that was played in the 1300s. To be specific, this card game is considered to be the predecessor of various card games. But if you need a name for the person who invented Baccarat, that would be Felix Falguiere. This Italian used tarot cards to create the Baccarat game.

Other people also think that Macao, another popular game that played to a total of nine, influenced the card game that is well-loved today. Le Her is also a fixed-number game that declares the one with the highest score to be the winner. It could also have an influence on the rules of Baccarat.

In the 19th century, Hoyle’s Official Rules of Card hinted similarities between Baccarat and the Vingt-et-un games. In the book, the game was referred to as Baccarat en Banque. The updated version of this described the difference between Baccarat en Banque and Chemin de Fer.

…then it spread to France and England…

After being born in Italy, the Baccarat game started to become so popular that it eventually reached France and England. In fact, the name of Baccarat came from the French. Sure, it was Felix Falguire who gave it the name “baccara” – an Italian term for zero. But it was the French who spelled it the way we know it right now.

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So how did this game get from Italy to France?

You can thank the soldiers for that. In the 1490s, the soldiers returned from helping with Italian conflicts with this game. The French nobility loved the game! There were two versions of the game – the Baccarat Deux Tableux (Baccarat en Banque) and Chemin de Fer.

The games became really popular during the Napoleonic era that Louis Phillip has to make casinos illegal in 1837. Of course, when you make something illegal, the more that people will feel intrigued. So the popularity of Baccarat continued to grow together with other casino games – even all over Europe.

Among the famous people who were known to love the game include King Charles VIII and Ian Fleming. The latter’s preference for the game is probably the reason why James Bond is considered to be one of the most famous Baccarat players – even if he is just a fictional character.

…before crossing to the New World…

With its success in Europe, it was not long before the game of Baccarat crossed the ocean to land in the New World. If you are looking to records of the first Baccarat game, you will see one dated in 1911. It was played in a gambling establishment and various card game experts and Baccarat authors backed it up like Steve Forte and John Scarne. But there was one printed record of this card game being played in 1871. It was a publication by the New York Times about the Club-house at Long Branch. It was described as having a “roulette table and the Baccarat board.” Obviously, the latter refers to Baccarat tables.

That means it is safe to assume that the game may have been in the United States even before that. However, the game is still considered to have officially been recognized during the early 1900s. Back then, it was said to have been more popular than blackjack and craps – two of the most popular games played by the Americans during WWI.

Despite its early beginnings, Baccarat was not considered as one of the major casino games until 1959. This was when Punto Banco was created by Tommy Renzoni as a new version of American Baccarat in Las Vegas. It has soon become a favorite among modern-day gamblers.

With its growing popularity in the United States, Baccarat spread to South American countries and even the Caribbean.

Right now, Baccarat is more of an exclusive game – with only limited tables that require reservations. That means it is again a game for the modern “aristocrats and nobility.”

What about the other gamblers who want to give the game a try?

…and gaining popularity online

Fortunately, the Internet happened. What used to be an exclusive card game is now available for everyone to enjoy. We can all pretend to be James Bond if we wish! This is thanks to the popularity of online casinos. It does not matter if the Baccarat tables are limited in Las Vegas or other casinos all over the world. You just have to go to a reputable online casino and you can easily play Baccarat.

All the different versions of Baccarat is available in online casinos. You have European Baccarat, Punto Banco, Chemin de Fer, Mini Baccarat, and even Banque. If you like the idea of socializing with the dealer and other players, you have the option to try the Live Baccarat. You get to play in real-time with real live dealers and players coming together via the Internet. It is convenient and quite satisfying at the same time.

It is exciting to see what the future holds for Baccarat players – and how the game will evolve over time.

Senior Content Writer & Casino Analyst | + posts

Emily Thornton boasts a degree in Digital Media from the University of Bristol, accompanied by an obsession for the online casino world. Over the past six years, she's combined her tech-savvy skills with a flair for writing, producing in-depth reviews and slots analyses for various casino platforms. A frequent contributor to free-spins.org, Emily's articles are grounded in research, ensuring readers gain trusted insights into the dynamic world of online gaming.