Like many other casino games, the origin story of baccarat is imprecise. Accounts differ on how exactly this game came to be. Some historians believe that the game has its origins in the Middle Ages. Those who hold this belief maintain that baccarat was originally played with Tarot cards.
Many people think that baccarat is a variant of vingt-et-un, the French game of twenty-one. This would make baccarat a cousin of blackjack. In blackjack, players try to beat the dealer by getting as close to 21 as possible (without busting). In baccarat, players bet on which hand (the banker's hand or the player's hand) they think will be closest to nine. Although there is plenty of difference between the two games, the similarities could point to a common origin.
Out of Italy
There are strong indications that the game started off in Italy. Baccara in Italian means "nothing." In the modern game of baccarat, tens and suited cards have a value of zero. The game apparently made its way from Italy to France in the late 15th century. King Charles VIII is credited with bringing the game to his countrymen.
Baccarat is a European game. It became wildly popular in the casinos in the French Riviera, and this popularity generated different baccarat variations. Nowadays, most continental European players prefer the baccarat off-shoot game "chemin de fer." The version of baccarat that we all know and love came from the Brits. As the British Empire spread across the globe, more people were introduced to the game. The British version is the version that was exported to the Americas.
In the 1950s, baccarat was introduced to Las Vegas. It made its first appearance at the Dunes Casino. Baccarat is usually associated with high stakes and high-rollers. The next time you walk into a casino, take notice of the action at the baccarat pits. Some players wager boatloads of money per hand. Even if you can only afford to play a couple of high-stakes hands, experiencing live baccarat is something that you should try at least once in your life.
In the 1980s, casinos introduced mini-baccarat. Mini-baccarat follows the same rules as the larger, more distinguished form of baccarat. The creation of mini-baccarat was designed to make the game more accessible to the masses. Regular baccarat pits usually have much higher limits than most other casino table games. These roped off areas are typically reserved for high-roller types. If you try to enter a high-stakes baccarat pit in a tank-top and flip-flops, you'll likely be asked to leave and come back dressed in more appropriate attire.
This is not the case for mini-baccarat. Mini-baccarat is like any other casual table game. In mini-baccarat, the dealer distributes the cards (players don't have to worry about handling the shoe). The mini-baccarat table is laid out like a blackjack table. The action goes by much quicker, because the table has fewer seats than the full baccarat table.