Faro is a gambling game that was hugely popular in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially in the Old West. Faro’s popularity was due to the fact that not only is it easy to learn, it has a very low house edge compared to other games like Blackjack. Unfortunately, that low rate of return for the house led many unscrupulous dealers to cheat. Crooked dealing boxes and stacked decks were common in the days of Faro.
Faro is closely related to Basset, a game that was played in France up to 1691, when it was banned. Faro arose as a legal alternative until it too was banned, although it spread to England and from there to the United States, where it continued to remain legal. Faro remained popular in the United States until around World War I, and it continued to be dealt in some Nevada casinos until 1985.
Object of Faro
The object of Faro is to win money by successfully predicting which cards will be dealt as “winning” cards.
Faro requires one standard 52-card deck of playing cards. While plastic playing cards weren’t invented until long after Faro lapsed into obscurity, there’s no reason that you can’t use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards in a modern Faro game.
You will also need a dealing box, or shoe, as well as a Faro layout. A Faro layout consists of thirteen cards, one of each rank. Traditionally, the cards displayed are the thirteen spades, but there’s no reason any other suit couldn’t be used. In Faro’s heyday, the layout was often simply thirteen cards from another deck glued to a board, but fancier establishments did use layouts printed on felt. A abacus-like device called a casekeeper was used to keep track of which cards had already been dealt, but a pencil and paper can easily substitute for it.
Finally, you need something for players to bet with, i.e. chips. Rather than using a standard denominational color scheme, Faro is usually dealt with differently-colored chips for each player, as in Roulette, to ensure that different players’ bets are not confused. You’ll also need coppers, which are small lammers used to “copper a bet” (see below). Faro coppers were, in more formal games, small black hexagonal chips; in less formal ones, pennies were common. The dealer is permitted to declare the maximum and minimum betting limits, which they may change at any time depending on how much money they are willing to risk.
Shuffle the deck and allow one player to cut it. Place the deck in the shoe and discard one card, turning it face up. This card, called the soda card, has no bearing on game play.
Players place their bets on the layout. Players may place any number of bets, wherever they wish, but in order to keep the layout less cluttered, bets may be placed in such a way that they cover multiple cards. Possible bets are shown in the image to the right (click to expand):
- Red chip: A bet in this position bets only the card covered, in this case the 9.
- White chip: A bet in this position covers the two cards the chip is between, in this case the jack and 3 for one chip and the 3 and 4 for the other.
- Green chip: A bet in this position (i.e. the outside corner of a card) covers the card it is touching and the card second card in the direction of the chip; that is, it skips one card. In this case, the green chip is covering the queen and 10.
- Black chip: A bet in this position (i.e. the inside corner of a card) covers the card it is touching, the one above it, and the one next to it. In this case, the 10, 4, and 9 are covered.
- Purple chip: A bet in this position covers the four cards surrounding it, in this case the 5, 6, 8, and 9.
- Yellow chip: A bet in this position is betting that the card that wins on the next turn will be even.
- Orange chip: A bet in this position is betting that card that wins on the next turn will be odd.
- Blue chip: A bet in this position is betting that the card that wins on the next turn will be higher than the card that loses.
- Yellow-green chip: A bet in this position covers the card it is closest to and the card diagonal to it, in this case the 3 and the 10.
By default, all bets are bets that the card or cards wagered on will win. If the player instead wishes to bet that the card or cards will lose, they place a copper on the bet.
Once players have had an adequate amount of time to bet, the dealer draws two cards from the shoe (this pair of cards is called a turn). The first card drawn is the banker’s card, which is placed to the right of the shoe, and the second is the player’s card, which is placed to the left of the shoe. The banker’s card is considered a loss, and any money wagered on the card of the same rank on the layout is removed from the layout and placed in the bank. Likewise, the player’s card is considered to have won, and any money wagered on that rank of card is paid out from the bank at even money. (If any of the relevant bets have been coppered, they are, of course, paid out if the card lost and collected by the bank if the card won.) Multiple-card bets win or lose if any of the covered cards win or lose. Any bets on cards other than the two dealt on the turn remain on the layout, neither winning nor losing. The two cards are then marked as having been played (and whether they won or lost) on the casekeeper.
If the two cards dealt are of the same rank, this is called a split. When a split is dealt, the banker collects half of the money wagered on that rank.
After each turn, players may change their bets. Play continues in this manner until all there are only three cards remaining (one last banker/player pair and an unmatched card, called the hoc card). Players then bet on the exact order that the cards will be dealt, which is called calling the turn. If the order is successfully predicted, the wager is paid out at 4 to 1. If the last three cards include a pair and an unmatched card, it is called a cat-hop and winning bets are paid out at 2 to 1. If the last three cards are three of a kind, no bet on the last three cards takes place.
Bets calling the turn are placed on the edge of the losing card facing the winning card. The bet is heeled in such a way that it tilts toward the winning card. If there would be ambiguity because the third card (the one the player is calling as the hoc card) is between the desired winning and losing cards, the bet is heeled toward the outside edge of the layout to signify that the bet goes “around” the hoc card.
After the last turn and hoc card are dealt, the deck is shuffled and returned to the shoe, the next soda card is dealt, and the game resumes.