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Faro is the English name for a French card game that developed in the 1600s from the game Basset. It is also known as Pharaoh, Pharo, and Farobank. How it made its way over the Atlantic is unknown, but it was probably English immigrants who brought it with them to the New World. What we do know is that it became a very popular saloon game in North America in the 19th century.
Faro is played with a standard 52 card deck. There are no jokers. No cards are wild.
|Banker||The person handling the bank during a game of Faro. The banker will sell checks (chips) to the players.|
|Checks||Chips (playing markers)|
|Shoe||Dealing box (to place the deck in)|
|Soda||The first card in a shuffled deck. The soda is removed and put aside prior to the first round of Faro.|
|Hock||The last card in the deck.|
A punter can reverse the intent of his bet by placing “the copper” on it. This reverses the meaning of the win/loss piles for that bet.
The copper is a six-sided (hexagonal) token. If coppers are unavailable, some gambling halls will use penny coins instead.
When there are only three cards left in the shoe, the dealer will call the turn. Now, the players can make a special bet by trying to predict the exact order of the three remaining cards.
Then, the dealer will draw the Banker’s Card, the Player’s Card and finally the Hock.
If all three cards are of the same value (which is rare) there will be no calling the turn bet.
If the dealer draws a doublet (two cards of the same value), the bank takes half of the stakes upon the card which equals the doublet.
This is the only statistical advantage that the bank has over the player.
During the reign of Louis XIV, a game called pharaon was played in southwestern France. When Basset was banned in France in 1691 Pharaoh emerged as an alternative, but eventually, Pharaoh was banned as well.
In England, both Basset and Pharaoh – known there as Pharo – was widely played in the 1700s. As the game Pharo was introduced to North America, the spelling Faro became dominant. From the mid-1820s and onward, Faro was an extremely popular card game in the saloons and gambling halls in the United States. Data from the civil war period show that Faro was played in over 150 locations in Washington DC alone.
Two slang expressions for the act of playing Faro is “bucking the tiger” and “twisting the tiger’s tail”. In the mid-1800s, the association between Faro and tigers had become so strong in the U.S. that some gambling houses would hang a drawing of a tiger in the window to let gamblers know that Faro was offered inside.
Historically, cheating at Faro has been very common and committed by both bankers and punter.
When played without any cheating, the banker (“the house”) has a very low statistical advantage over the punters, causing low long-term profitability for the house. Unscrupulous dealers would cheat in various ways to improve their odds, e.g. by using stacked or rigged decks that would produce plenty of doublets.
One of the most common types of cheating among punters was moving a wager from a losing card to a winning (or at least not losing) card.