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Faro

History in USA

The Bourbon whiskey poster illustrated in Figure 1 shows a scene at the old Orient Saloon in Bisbee, Arizona, about 1890. Such scenes, liable to erupt into sudden gun-play, were common in this meeting-place for stock promoters, road agents and con-men (tricksters). During the 1880s the 'Orient' was a favourite haunt of 'Nifty' Doyle, the singer; 'Dutch Kid' with 'Sleepy Dick' at his side; Murphy the dealer in a black fedora, and close to him 'Smiley' Lewis, - a Beau Brummel with a pocket full of mining stock for sale. Meanwhile, in the background, Tony the proprietor kept a watchful eye for possible trouble.

Bucking the Tiger
Figure 1                        Whiskey advertisement, c.1890.

The 'Suicide Table' of Virginia City's Delta Saloon in Nevada, USA, was infamous, even by standards of the mining West. Three of the table's owners suffered such heavy losses that they committed suicide, giving the table its bad reputation. Originally a Faro bank table, it was brought to Virginia City in the early 1860s. The first owner, said to have been one Black Jake, lost $70,000 in one evening, and shot himself.

The second owner, whose name has been lost, ran the table for a single night's play. Unable to meet his losses, it is said that he committed suicide, although another version of the story claims that one of the punters saved him the trouble.

The table was then stored for several years, because no one would deal on it. In the late 1890s, however, it was converted for playing another gambling game known as Blackjack or Twenty-one. Its evil reputation seems to have been forgotten until one night, during a snowstorm, a miner, who had been cleaned out in another gambling house, stumbled half-drunk into the 'Delta'. According to the story, he gambled a gold ring against a $5 gold piece, and won. He played all night, and by morning had won $86,000 in cash, a team of horses, and an interest in a gold mine; everything the owner of the table possessed. A third suicide followed, and the table has never been used again. It can still be seen in the old Delta Saloon in Virginia City, and evokes memories of a past era. Perhaps the ghosts of its dealers still lean on its green cloth, watching for the turn of a card.

Equipment

1. A table covered with green baize, bearing the images of a complete suit of cards, usually the spade suit.
2. A dealing box, from which one card can be slid at a time without exposing those underneath.
3. A case-keeper. This is a frame, like an abacus, used to show which cards in the pack have been played (Figure 3).
4. One standard pack of 52 cards.
5. Betting chips (suggested: 50 of the lowest unit, 25 of a higher unit, and 25 of the highest).
6. Faro coppers — round or hexagonal chips, red or black, — used for betting a denomination to lose.
7. Bet markers — small flat oblongs of ivory or plastic — used to make bets over the limit of a bettor's funds.

Rules

Players: Any number, although ten is probably a comfortable maximum. House officials are a dealer, a lookout who supervises betting, and a case-keeper official.

1. The dealer acts as the banker, and the stakes involved may be limited at his discretion.

2. Players purchase chips from the banker to facilitate making bets. These were made of ivory or bone, but are now usually made of plastic. Their value is denoted by different colours, or numerals stamped on them.

3. The limits imposed by the banker on the size of bets are of two kinds, either a plain or a running limit.

4. The plain limit is the greatest amount to be staked on a card as an initial bet.

5. The running limit is the plain limit multiplied by 4. For example, if the plain limit is 5, the running limit would be 20. When the player bets 5 units and wins, he can leave the original stake and its winnings, amounting to 10 units, where it was, or move it to another card, where he may win another 10 units, thus making his stake 20 units, which is the running limit imposed by the particular dealer. If he wins again he can stake only 20 units on the next turn.

6. Allowing a bet to run on in this way is known as parleeing a bet. If the first bet was 5 units, the second would be 10 units, the third 20 units, the fourth 40 units, the fifth 80 units, etc. Most bankers allow players to parlee indefinitely, because the percentage is in their favour.

Faro Table
Figure 2                                                                                                           Faro table

7. The banker has a board about one metre long and a half metre wide (three feet by one and a half feet), covered with a green or a grey cloth, on which are painted the thirteen cards of one suit, usually spades. The board is placed on a table about one and a quarter metres by three quarters of a metre (four feet by two and a half feet).

8. Having decided which cards on the Faro board they wish to bet on, the players lay their chips down on the cards selected.

9. When all the bets are placed, the dealer shuffles and cuts the pack, then places the cards face up beside the board, to his right on the table. Traditionally a metal box is used, to avoid cheating. This has an opening at the top, large enough for the full face of the uppermost card to be seen. At one end of the box, near the top, is a horizontal slit, wide enough to permit the passage of a single card. The top card is always kept opposite the slit by four springs in the bottom of the box forcing the pack upwards.

10. The first top card is known as soda, and is not used, but discarded to the left of the board. The next card is the first loser, and is placed between the unplayed pack and soda (discard pile) in front of the dealer. The card left face up on the pack is the winner for that turn. There is a winner and a loser for every turn, the loser being placed to the left of the pack, and the winner left on top of it. On the next and following turns, the winning card of the previous turn is discarded onto the same pile as soda.

11. Loser cards win for the banker, and he takes all stakes resting on the corresponding card on the board, unless the stake has been coppered. (See Rule 14.)

12. Winning cards win for the players, the amount of any bet placed on the corresponding card on the board being paid by the banker.

13. Each pair of cards is known as a turn. There are 25 turns to a game; the soda and hock (the last card turned up) making up the 52 cards of the pack.

14. A player may bet that a card will be a loser by placing a copper on the top of his stake. This is called coppering, as copper coins or copper washers were originally used for this purpose.

15. Whenever the winning and losing cards in a turn are the same, (two kings, two sixes, etc.), this is known as a split, and the dealer takes half the chips staked on them. In an honest game this is the bank's percentage, and can be expected to occur about three times in two deals.

16. At the end of each turn bets are settled, and new ones made for the next turn.

17. When the pack is exhausted (note, the last card or hock is not used) a fresh deal is made and the playing continues as before. Originally the hock card belonged to the dealer, and increased the banker's percentage.

18. A player may avoid risking his stake on any particular turn by declaring to the dealer: "I bar this bet for a turn."

19. A player may reduce his stake by half, if he declares to the dealer: "One-half of this bet goes," and, unless the order is revoked, it remains in force until the end of the deal.

20. When there is only one turn left in the pack (two cards plus hock), players may 'call the last turn', that is, guess the order in which the last three cards will appear. If the three cards are different, and the player guesses correctly, he wins four times his stake. If there are two cards the same, he wins twice his stake.

Case-keeper
Figure 3                                Case-keeper

In gaming saloons, a record of the game was also kept on a case-keeper, managed by an employee of the banker. The case-keeper is like an abacus in the form of a miniature board with four beads on a wire opposite each card, as illustrated in Figure 3. When the deal begins all the beads are pushed against the cards, but, as soon as soda is discarded, the corresponding bead is moved to the far end of the wire. With every turn (see Rule 13) the two beads opposite the cards involved are moved away. When all four cards of a denomination have been played, that denomination is dead. If anyone places a stake on a dead denomination, it becomes the property of the first player, including the dealer, to notice it and declare the error.

Faro is a game of pure chance. There are many esoteric methods of staking bets, but they add little to the game, and tend to confuse the inexperienced; so, they are omitted here. (Full details are to be found in The Official World Encyclopedia of Sports and Games, Book Club Associates, 1979.) The betting units are decided before play begins. These may be units of currency — from the smallest to the highest; or may represent any other commodity; or the game may be played simply with gaming chips as token units without actual value. A full pack of 52 cards is used, and, as it is essential for the dealer and players to know which cards remain in the pack, cue sheets (Table 1) may be used in the absence of a case-keeper. A winner is indicated by a stroke ( | ). A loser is indicated by a zero (0). Soda is indicated by a dot (•). Hock is indicated by a dash (–). A split is indicated by a cross (X). (See Rules 11, 14 and 15.)

A
0 0 0 |
   
2
0 | | |
3
| | 0 0
4
| 0 0 0
5
0 0 X
6
| | | |
7
| 0 0 |
8
| | 0 |
9
0 | 0 –
10
0 0 0 |
J
| | | 0
Q
| 0 | 0
K
• 0 0 |

Table 1                                   Faro cue-sheet

From 'The Board Game Book' ISBN 0 85685 447 6
© Marshall Cavendish Ltd 1979

 

Variants

Stuss

Stuss is also known as Jewish Faro. It is a simplified form of Faro, with a larger percentage in the house's favour.

Equipment

1. A table.
2. A dealing box, similar to the Faro box, but with a pocket, a recess at the bottom of the box, deep enough for the thickness of four cards. This prevents the last four cards of the pack appearing in play.
3. One standard pack of 52 cards.
5. Betting chips of various colours.

Rules

Players: Any number, although ten is probably a comfortable maximum. House officials are a dealer and a lookout who supervises betting.

The objective is for a player to bet on a denomination to appear subsequently as a winning card before it appears as a losing card.

Cards appear in play two at a time. The first in each pair is always the losing card, the second is the winning card.

The house dealer shuffles the cards, cuts the pack, and puts it face down in the box. Bets are then placed.

A player may place as many bets as he wishes, but each bet is on one denomination only. A bet is always for a denomination to win — i.e. that the next card of that denomination to appear will be the second (winning) card in a turn.

A turn consists of the removal of the next two cards from the box. The dealer removes the top card from the box, and places it face up to the right. Any bets on the denomination of this (losing) card are collected by the house. The dealer removes the next card from the box, and places it face up to the left. Any bets on the denomination of this card are won by the bettors. Their bet is returned together with an equal payment by the house. Between turns other bets may be changed, and new bets placed.

Play continues in this way through the pack. The two cards in play in each turn are added to those played previously, to form a winning and a losing pile. Eventually no more cards can be dealt, the last four cards remaining in the pocket of the box.

The dealer opens the box, and shows the four remaining cards. If any bets had been placed on their denominations, they are all won by the house.

Second bets are bets on a denomination of which one card has already been dealt; Usually they are bet on in the normal way. Some casinos, however, do not allow second bets. In this case, the last four cards are not pocketed, but appear for play and for betting in the normal way.

In a very simple form of Stuss, the cards are dealt from the hand.

Stuss is sometimes played as a private banking game; The role of banker is taken by the player willing to put up the largest bank.

From 'The Official World Encyclopedia of Sports and Games'
© Diagram Visual Information Ltd 1979

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