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When faro was king!

Jan 6, 2004 1:45 AM

FARO has a layout, on which, players place their bets

Those of you that perhaps have wondered what it might have been like to play craps in the old west might be a little disappointed. Craps, BJ and roulette were not invented until the beginning of the twentieth century. Faro was the undisputed king of the banking games during the 1800’s.

Faro might have origins in Italy but most certainly gained support in the court of Louis XIV in the early 1700’s. At that time it was called "Pharaon" because one of the French face cards used bore the image of an Egyptian pharaoh. The English changed the name to "faro."

Faro was introduced to America by way of New Orleans and by the beginning of the nineteenth century was the most popular gambling game in America. Saloons would advertise the presence of a faro game by hanging a picture of a tiger outside their establishment. This is why faro became known as "bucking the tiger."

Faro is played with one 52-card deck, the layout pictured above right (suits mean nothing so usually spades are pictured), a spring-loaded dealing shoe and an abacus like devise known as a "casekeeper." The dealer shuffles the deck and inserts it face up in the dealing shoe, so the bottom card is face up and visible in rectangular opening at the top of the shoe.

At this point players make bets on the layout by placing bets (like roulette there were different color chips for each player) on the image of the card they want to bet will be a winning card or a losing card. The player indicates he is betting on the card to lose by "coppering" his bet (placing a penny or other marker on top of his bet). The bottom card that has been visible is now removed and put to the side. This card is known as the "soda" card and is similar to the burn card in BJ and has no bearing on the game. The dealer will now start the "turn" by removing the next card and placing it next to the shoe. This card is the losing card and anyone betting on that card to win loses his bet. The card that remains in the shoe is the winning card. Anyone who bet on the winning card to win or the losing card to lose is paid even money.

The dealer in charge of the casekeeper will now slide a bead next to the winning and losing card so everyone can see that those two cards are now out of the deck. The casekeeper can even indicate that the card was a winning card by sliding it to a point half an inch from the frame.

Players are free to make or change their bets after every turn. A new "turn" begins by removing the previous winning card and discarding it to the soda pile. There are twenty-four turns before there are only three more cards left in the shoe. Players can bet the "last turn" as they would any other turn or they can bet on the exact order the last three cards will appear. If the player is betting the last turn in the ordinary fashion the last card in the shoe is known as the "hoc" or "hock" card and any bets on that card push. If the player wants to "call the turn" and bet on the exact order of the final three cards, he heels his bet on the edge of what he thinks will be the first card dealt (losing card) so it is leaning towards the card he believes will be the second card (winning card). There are six combinations that the three remaining cards can appear so the odds against the bettor are 5 to 1. Since he is only paid 4 to 1, he suffers a house percentage of 16.667%. If a pair is contained in the last three cards (called a "cat hop") the bettor is paid 2 to 1.

Some of my more astute readers might be wondering how the banker extracts a house percentage on the previous turns. When both the winning and losing cards are the same value the banker takes half of all bets on that card to win or lose. This is called a "split" and the HP runs about 2%. Of course if a savvy bettor wants to wait until all but one of a card has appeared he can bet on that last remaining card to win or lose and not give the operator an advantage. That is why savvy operators won’t allow a bet on a "case card" unless that player has given him action on previous turns.

The last bets I need to mention are the "high card" listed on the top of the layout and betting on more than one card. Players can bet that the winning card will be the high card by placing a bet on the "high card" section of the layout or bet the losing card will be the high card by coppering the high card bet. High card bets are paid even money. Players can split a one chip bet between two or more cards by positioning their bet between the cards on the layout. If any of the cards win the bet is paid even money and if any of the cards lose, the player loses his entire bet. If one card wins and the other loses, it is a push.

One aspect of the game I find particularly amusing is that if, after the last turn, there are still wagers on the layout on cards that were depleted before the last turn, the banker collects them. I think this was suitable punishment for those that didn’t watch the casekeeper. Of course there were those "players" that hung around a game in hopes of being able to collect a reward from a rookie by warning him he was betting on a dead card.

(Dale S. Yeazel is the author of "Precision Crap Dealing" and "Dealing Mini-Baccarat." Full color E-books on CD-Rom available for only $20 each (plus tax) at Gamblers Book Shop and Gamblers General Store in Las Vegas. www.geocities.com/lump450).