Faro

The history of faro is long, starting in the 1600’s in France – so lets fast forward to a more interesting time… the 1800’s.

Faro, spread to the United States in the 19th century to become the most widespread and popularly favored gambling game. It was played in almost every gambling hall in the Old West from 1825 to 1915.  Faro could be played in over 150 places in Washington, DC alone during the Civil War. An 1882 study considered faro to be the most popular form of gambling, surpassing all others forms combined in terms of money wagered each year.

The faro game was also called "bucking the tiger" or "twisting the tiger's tail", a reference to early card backs that featured a drawing of a Bengal tiger. By the mid 19th century, the tiger was so commonly associated with the game that gambling districts where faro was popular became known as "tiger town", or in the case of smaller venues, "tiger alley". Some gambling houses would simply hang a picture of a tiger in their windows to advertise that a game could be played there.

 

Description

A game of faro was often called a "faro bank". It was played with an entire deck of playing cards. One person was designated the "banker" and an indeterminate number of players, known as "punters", could be admitted. Chips (called "checks") were purchased by the punter from the banker (or house) from which the game originated. Bet values and limits were set by the house. Usual check values were 50 cents to $10 each.

The faro table was typically oval, covered with green fabric, and had a cutout for the banker. A board was placed on top of the table with one suit of cards pasted to it in numerical order, representing a standardized betting "layout". Each player laid his stake on one of the 13 cards on the layout. Players could place multiple bets and could bet on multiple cards simultaneously by placing their bet between cards or on specific card edges. Players also had the choice of betting on the “high card” bar located at the top of the layout.

Procedure

  • A deck of cards was shuffled and placed inside a "dealing box", a mechanical device also known as a “shoe”, which was used to prevent manipulations of the draw by the banker and intended to assure players of a fair game.
  • The first card in the dealing box was called the "soda" and was "burned off", leaving 51 cards in play. The dealer then drew two cards: the first was called the "banker's card" and was placed on the right side of the dealing box. The next card after the banker's card was called the carte anglaise (English card) or simply the "player's card", and it was placed on the left of the shoe.
  • The banker's card was the "losing card"; regardless of its suit, all bets placed on the layout's card that had the same denomination as the banker's card were lost by the players and won by the bank. The player's card was the "winning card". All bets placed on the card that had that denomination were returned to the players with a 1 to 1 (even money) payout by the bank (e.g., a dollar bet won a dollar). A “high card” bet won if the player’s card had a higher value than the banker’s card.
  •  The dealer settled all bets after each two cards drawn. This allowed players to bet before drawing the next two cards. Bets that neither won nor lost remained on the table, and could be picked up or changed by the player prior to the next draw.
  • A player could reverse the intent of his bet by placing a hexagonal (6-sided) token called a "copper" on it. Some histories said a penny was sometimes used in place of a copper. This was known as "coppering" the bet, and reversed the meaning of the win/loss piles for that particular bet.
  • When only three cards remained in the dealing box, the dealer would "call the turn", which was a special type of bet that occurred at the end of each round. The object now was to predict the exact order that the 3 remaining cards, Bankers, Players, and the final card called the Hock, would be drawn. The player's odds here were 5 to 1, while a successful bet paid off at 4 to 1 (or 1 to 1 if there were a pair among the three, known as a "cat-hop"). This provided one of the dealer's few advantages in faro. If it happened that the three remaining cards were all the same, there would be no final bet, as the outcome was not in question.

A device, called a "casekeep" was employed to assist the players and prevent dealer cheating by counting cards. The casekeep resembled an abacus, with one spindle for each card denomination, with four counters on each spindle. As a card was played, either winning or losing, one of four counters would be moved to indicate that a card of that denomination had been played. This allowed players to plan their bets by keeping track of what cards remained available in the dealing box. The operator of the case keep is called the "casekeeper", or colloquially in the American West, the "coffin driver".

Certain advantages were reserved to the banker: if he drew a doublet, that is, two equal cards, he won half of the stakes upon the card which equaled the doublet. In a fair game, this provided the only "house edge". If the banker drew the last card of the pack, he was exempt from doubling the stakes deposited on that card. These and the advantage from the odds on the turn bet provided a slight financial advantage to the dealer or house. To give themselves more of an advantage, and to counter the losses from players cheating, the dealers would also often cheat as well.

 

Sound confusing?  How about a visual??


                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012