Faro: Favorite Gambling Game of the Frontier

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Gambling cowboy

Faro (card game)

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Postby Kazracage В» 03.12.2019

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In his autobiography Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi , gambler-bunco artist George Devol described a brush he had with a celebrity in The fellow placed the same bet again and this time won. Without warning, the furious player whacked the dealer and his partner over the head with his walking stick, toppled the table and began stuffing his pockets with the contents of the till.

Born in France, the game came to America in the s. In later years, a framed tiger portrait hanging outside a gaming house announced the presence of a faro game within. Faro was possibly the simplest gambling game ever devised.

Players bet against the house, placing bets upon a green cloth-covered layout with painted images of 13 cards, ace through king. The dealer dealt two cards per turn from a standard deck of 52, and the object was for players to predict which cards would appear.

The first card of each turn lost for the player, but won for the bank. The second card won for the player. Players could bet a card to lose by placing a hexagonal token called a copper pennies were used in earlier days atop the checks. Players could back any number of cards and, if their cards did not appear, could change bets between turns.

A lookout often supervised the game to prevent cheating, and would pay and collect all bets. Originally, players could only back single cards, or groups of cards called figures, pots and squares. Players could also wager that the face value of either card turned up would be odd, even, or the higher of the turn.

Unique to faro was the casekeeper, an abacuslike frame with miniature cards matching those on the layout. Some houses even provided printed cards, called tabs, so players could keep a similar tally. In early faro, the dealer dealt from his hand, and sleight-of-hand cheating was commonplace. In , Virginia gambler Robert Bailey invented a brass dealing box with a hole in the top, which allowed cards to be slid out one by one. Bailey claimed this device prevented any shenanigans by dealers, but because it concealed the deck, many houses were skeptical and barred it from their premises.

In , an Ohio watchmaker named Graves perfected an open-top, spring-fed box that held the deck face up to eliminate any suspicion of cheating.

Faro was the premier game; high-rolling gamblers liked the easy odds, and others enjoyed the quick action and the thrill of staking it all on the turn of a single card. Although it provided a colorful spectacle for both player and spectator, faro was a stately game, even amid the pandemonium of the typical gambling house. Chicanery was employed by players as well as dealers, but to be caught invited gunplay.

Graves cashed in on this development, designing many of these contraptions himself. Close behind these boxes came an array of specially designed cards. Since splits occurred naturally only about three times in two deals, there was an obvious house advantage in increasing the number dealt.

No casekeepers or lookouts were employed, and cheating ran rampant. In tamer houses, players cheated in a more discreet fashion. Some used devices such as the horsehair copper-simply a copper with a strand of horsehair attached so it could be secretly yanked from a winning card. Redoubtable gunman Ben Thompson destroyed a Leadville, Colo. On a later occasion in an Austin, Texas, saloon, Thompson idly watched a dealer named Lorraine clean players through several turns; then, without warning, Thompson cleared leather and began shooting stacks of checks off the layout.

Lorraine buy another. Luke Short, one of the sporting fraternity equally skilled with a dealing box or a six-shooter, could not tolerate cheats.

In February , an argument over a faro game in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, led to fatal gunplay between Short and gambler Charlie Storms, a clash witnessed by Bat Masterson. Masterson entered the Oriental Saloon and found the two, both friends of his, about to do battle. Bat persuaded the drunken Storms to go home and sleep it off, personally escorting him there.

He had scarcely returned to the Oriental when Storms suddenly reappeared and yanked Short off the sidewalk. Before Masterson could intervene again, both men drew their guns. Short was quicker, and Storms fell dead with bullets through his neck and heart. Doc found gambling more lucrative and satisfying than yanking molars, and it was a trade he plied across the West throughout his brief life.

During his sojourn in Tombstone, Earp owned gambling interests in several saloons, sharing the green cloth with his brothers and a cadre of Earp allies, most notably Holliday, Luke Short and Bat Masterson. He not only dealt but also, like a true aficionado, avidly bucked the bank. When Wyatt announced he was cashing in, Behan protested, lamely offering to make good any further winnings. After the O. Corral fracas and its bloody aftermath, Wyatt Earp left for friendlier and healthier regions.

He landed in Gunnison, Colo. Unlike many professions, gambling in the 19th century was not strictly a male domain. Saloonkeepers quickly discovered that a pretty dealer boosted business, and many a faro bank featured a lady behind the dealing box. Poker Alice, despite the nickname, was a skilled faro dealer. Born in England in , she turned cards in Colorado boom towns like Leadville and Creede, as well as in Tombstone, and lived to be nearly Deno was nearly 90 when she died, the wife of a bank vice president.

Perhaps the best-known woman gambler was Frenchwoman Eleanor Dumont, nicknamed Madame Mustache for her downy upper lip. She appeared in California during the gold rush, opening a posh gambling house in Nevada City to the dismay of city fathers who thought a woman gambler scandalous and the delight of the rough-and-tumble miners who felt it a privilege to have a pretty lady lighten their pokes.

When the Nevada city boom went bust, Madame Mustache followed the gold and silver, and for 25 years she dealt games in camps throughout the West, adding to her resume, as fortunes declined, a much older profession than gambling. Madame Mustache ended her days in Bodie, Calif, where she eked out a meager existence turning tricks as well as cards. Throughout the latter s, faro dominated Western gambling. Of all the banks in Denver, only six were known to be square.

When mudslingers charged that senatorial candidate Edward O. As state after state followed suit, the tiger became an endangered species whose last stand was, predictably, in Las Vegas, Nev. More important, casino operators learned what the old-time sharpers had known for centuries: Honest faro made no money for the house.

Joe W. When a friend found Bill bucking the bank in a gambling hall along the Mississippi in the late s, he warned Bill that the game was brace. This article was written by John R. Sanders and originally appeared in the October issue of Wild West.

For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!

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