Faro (card game)

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Faro
Faro card game.jpg
Men playing faro in an Arizona saloon in 1895.
OriginFrance
TypeGambling
PlayersNp.
Skill(s) requiredCounting
Cards52
DeckAnglo-American
PlayClockwise
Playing time10–15 min.
Random chanceMedium
Related games
Baccarat
 
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Faro
Faro card game.jpg
Men playing faro in an Arizona saloon in 1895.
OriginFrance
TypeGambling
PlayersNp.
Skill(s) requiredCounting
Cards52
DeckAnglo-American
PlayClockwise
Playing time10–15 min.
Random chanceMedium
Related games
Baccarat

Faro, Pharaoh, or Farobank, is a late 17th century French gambling card game descendant of basset, and belongs to the lansquenet and Monte Bank family of games, in that it is played between a banker and several players winning or losing according to the cards turned up matching those already exposed or not.

Although not a direct relative of poker, faro was played by the masses alongside its other popular counterpart, due to its fast action, easy-to-learn rules, and better odds than most games of chance. The game of faro is played with only one deck of cards and allows for any number of players.

History[edit]

France[edit]

The earliest references to a card game named pharaon are found in Southwestern France during the reign of Louis XIV. Basset was outlawed in 1691, and pharaoh emerged several years later as a derivative of basset, before it too was outlawed.[1]

England[edit]

Despite the French ban, pharaoh and basset continued to be widely played in England during the 18th century. Pharo, the English alternate spelling of Pharaoh,[2] was easy to learn, quick and, when played honestly, the odds for a player were the best of all gambling games, as records Gilly Williams in a letter to George Selwyn in 1752.[3]

United States[edit]

With its name shortened to faro, it soon 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.[4] Faro could be played in over 150 places in Washington, DC alone during the Civil War.[5] 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.[1]

The faro game was also called "bucking the tiger" or "twisting the tiger's tail", which comes from 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".[6] In fact, some gambling houses would simply hang a picture of a tiger in their windows to advertise that a game could be found within.

Faro's detractors regarded it as a dangerous scam that destroyed families and reduced men to poverty because of rampant rigging of the dealing box. Crooked faro equipment was so popular that many sporting-house companies began to supply gaffed dealing boxes specially designed so that the bankers could cheat their players. Cheating was prevalent enough that editions of Hoyle’s Rules of Games began their faro section warning readers that not a single honest faro bank could be found in the United States. While the game became scarce after World War II, it continued to be played at a few Las Vegas and Reno casinos through 1985.

Criminal prosecutions of faro were involved in the Supreme Court cases of United States v. Simms, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 252 (1803), and Ex parte Milburn, 34 U.S. (9 Pet.) 704 (1835).

Etymology[edit]

Historians have suggested that the name Pharaon comes from Louis XIV's royal gamblers who called the game pharaon because of the motif that commonly adorned one of the French-made court cards.[2]

Rules[edit]

The layout of a faro board.

Description[edit]

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,[7] covered with green baize, and had a cutout for the banker. A board with a standardized betting layout consisting of all cards of one suit pasted to it in numerical order, called the "layout", was placed on top of the table. Traditionally, the suit of spades was used for the 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[edit]

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. As a card was played, either winning or losing, one of 4 counters would be moved to indicate that it 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.[8] 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.[1]

Cheating[edit]

In a fair game the house's edge was low, so bankers increasingly resorted to cheating the players to increase the profitability of the game for the house. This too was acknowledged by Hoyle editors when describing how faro banks were opened and operated: "To justify the initial expenditure, a dealer must have some permanent advantage."[1]

By dealers[edit]

Dealers employed several methods of cheating:

By players[edit]

Players would routinely cheat as well. Their techniques employed distraction and sleight-of-hand, and usually involved moving their stake to a winning card, or at the very least off of the losing card, without being detected.[1] Their methods ranged from crude to creative, and worked best at a busy, fast-paced table:

Being caught cheating often resulted in a fight, or even gunfire.[1]

French terms used in Faro[edit]

By 1870, the words used in the game were a mixture of French and English words and spellings.

In culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Faro card game - Cheating at faro". 
  2. ^ a b Scarne, John Scarne on Card Games: How to Play and Win at Poker, Pinochle, Blackjack, Gin and Other Popular Card Games pg. 163 Dover Publications (2004) ISBN 0-486-43603-9
  3. ^ Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine vol. 15 pg. 176 London 1844
    Our life here would not displease you, for we eat and drink well,
    and the Earl of Coventry holds a Pharaoh-bank every night to us,
    which we have plundered considerably.
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, p. 16, David Parlett – Oxford University Press 1996 ISBN 0-19-869173-4
  5. ^ a b c "How to play faro". Bicycle Playing Cards. 
  6. ^ a b "Faro, or Bucking the Tiger". Legends of America. 
  7. ^ The hand-book of games, p. 336, H.G. Bohn – Bell & Daldy, London 1867
  8. ^ The book of card games, p. 121, Peter Arnold – Barnes & Noble 1995 ISBN 1-56619-950-6
  9. ^ ""Soda to hock: The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable"". Oxford Reference. 
  10. ^ William M. Breakenridge,Richard Maxwell Brown Helldorado: bringing the law to the mesquite pg. 171 University of Nebraska Press (1992) ISBN 0-8032-6100-4
  11. ^ Wesley Treat, Mark Moran, Mark Sceurman Weird Arizona: Your Travel Guide to Arizona's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets pg. 190 Sterling (2007) ISBN 1-4027-3938-9

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]