The history of baccarat can be traced through the history of card games that originated over 2000 years ago. People were playing cards even before the invention of paper. There has been much debate on the origin of card playing but evidence has been uncovered indicating a form of card playing in ancient China, India and Egypt.
There is one theory that the Crusaders brought cards and dice back with them to Europe in the 14th century. Not long after, the church took the opinion that they were invented by the devil. In 1440 Gutenberg printed playing cards - the same year he printed the famous Gutenberg bible. This deck of cards was called Tarot cards - which is from where modern playing cards evolved. The four different suits represent the four classes of feudal society.
Swords, in the form of Spanish espadas, symbolized the nobility and are the origin of the modern suit of spades. Coins represented the merchant class. Coins were often in a square shape and turn on their sides is the origin of the suit of diamonds. The club was the symbol for the serfs and although it now has a cloverleaf shape, it is still referred to as a club. The sign for the church was the grail of chalice and is the origin of the shape and suit of hearts.
The deck of Tarot cards developed by Gutenberg had 22 trumps and four suits of 14 cards, each having ten numbered cards, plus a king, queen, knight and a valet or jester. By 1500, the 22 trumps were dropped but in some card games today, the first five highest cards are called trump. The joker or
jester is used in some games. The face cards had originally portrayed the likenesses of actual people and small traces of them remain today. Charlemagne was the model for the king of hearts. The Hebrew King David was portrayed by the king of spades. Julius Caesar was portrayed by the King of Diamonds and Alexander the Great was the model for the king of clubs. The Queen of Hearts was portrayed by Helen of Troy, Palas Athena by the queen of spades and the biblical Rachel by the queen of diamonds. Over the years Joan of Arc and Elisabeth I were represented. The knights became known as jacks and were represented by famous soldiers such as Sir Lancelot for the jack of clubs, Roland, nephew of Charlemagne for the jack of diamonds, Hodgier Le Danois for the jack of spades and Etienne de Vignoles for the jack of hearts. The modern deck of cards as we know it was established and brought to America by Christopher Columbus.
It was at about the same time that the first appearance of the forerunner of the modern baccarat appeared. One theory is that baccarat is based on a game found in France and Italy around 1490. This game was based on the old Etruscan ritualism of “Nine Gods”. The legend holds that 26 hundred years ago in the Temple of Golden Hair in Etruscan Rome, there were 9 gods praying standing on their toes to a golden-tressed virgin who threw a nine sided die at their feet. If here through resulted in an 8 or 9, she was crowned priestess. If her throw was 6 or 7 she could no longer hold religious office and here status was transmuted. If the throw resulted in a 5 or less she would walk gracefully into the sea. The game of baccarat was designed with similar rules of numbers.
In Europe, baccarat, baccarat en banque and chemin de fer are all descendents of the original game of bacara originating in Italy. The Italian term baccarat refers to the number zero and the value of all the ten cards. The French nobility took ownership of the games and they did not make their way to public casinos for quite a while.
In the 1500s the French upper class called the game Chemin De Fer - the French term for the railroad. By the 1900s the game became popular on the French Riviera and was referred to as Chemmy of Shimmy.
Chemin De Fer found popularity in South America and traveled to Argentina. Rich South Americans came to the casinos in Mar Del Plata to play the game. When the game reached Cube, a change in the rules formed what we know as American Baccarat (each player bets against the house). A young casino executive named Renzoni watched gamblers play this game for hours at the Capri Hotel Casino in Havana in 1958. When he settled in Nevada, he convinced the Sands Hotel to open a baccarat pit. The game was not a big success at first. The separate pit area and sense of sophistication didn’t interest American gamblers who at the time were mostly ex military more interested in craps.
During this time a new variation of baccarat was introduced where the role of the banker is usually permanently held by the house, only one non-banker hand is dealt. Players may bet either with or against the banker. Baccarat’s popularity has steadily increased over the last century. The baccarat pit is still usually separated from the common casino games and common players in the main casino area.