A simpler betting method is often used in private holdem poker games where the accent is on the fun of the game as much as on the chance for profit.  Before the deal each player bets an equal amount (which is still called the ante) in chips or money.  After the deal the players bet again (in draw poker the first bettor is often the player on the dealer’s left, but in stud poker and its variants the player with the highest cards showing must bet first).  After the draw betting continues in earnest, with added tension provided by raising, the possibility of bluffing, and so on.  The betting is halted either when the limit is reached or when the players end the raising by “calling” (i.e., simply covering the last bet without increasing it), or, sometimes, when all the players except one throw in their hands when the betting gets too high.

Poker players should know that there are 2,598,960 different five-card poker hands; that the chances of being dealt a royal flush are approximately one in 649,740, of a straight flush one in 72,193, of four of a kind one in 4165, of a full house one in 694, of flush one in 509, of a straight one in 255, of three of a kind one in 47, of two pairs one in 21, and of one pair one in two.  And players should also be able to calculate their chances of improving their hands in any way by discarding and drawing from the stock.  What, for instance, are your chances of making a full house when you already have three of a kind?  About 15 to 1 against.  At the other extreme, the odds against making four of a kind when drawing three cards to a pair are 359 to 1.  Or against making four of a kind when drawing two cards to a pair, 1080 to 1.  Or against making a straight open in the middle when drawing one card to a four-card straight, 11 to 1.  But it should be added that the usefulness of these or any other calculations will be limited if your opponent’s play is unpredictable, if your understanding of the game (or of your opponents’ play) is faulty, or if there are “wild” cards (i.e., cards that can be substituted for any other cards).
Gin rummy is less involved than poker, but is a game of great excitement and nice proportions of skill and chance.  It is played with a full pack of cards and the ace ranks low.  The dealer is decided by the lowest cut and deals 10 cards to each player and one face up on the table.  The remainder of the pack forms the stock and lies face down.  Each player now tries, by discarding and replacing, to assemble collections of one value (such as fours, sixes, kings, etc.) in different suits or sequences in the same suit.  (Incidentally, there are 15,820,024,220 possible gin rummy hands.)  Court cards count 10 and every other card its face value, ace counting one.

A player may declare his hand (“go down”) when the unmatched cards in his hand count 10 or less, and the strategy of the game lies in watching his opponents’ discards and deducing from them the weakness or strength of the hands against him.  twenty points are awarded to the player who wins each deal, and a 20-point bonus goes to the player who scores “gin”- i.e., who does not go down until he can meld all 10 cards.  The first player to score 100 points wins, with stakes predetermined at so much a point.

As I pointed out earlier, the attractions of the great banking games (faro in particular ) gave way, around the middle of the 19th century, to the attractions of the great rummy games (poker in particular ).  The signs are that now the banking games are coming into their own again.  One rummy game recently reached an international height of popularity canasta, a Spanish game that had only a mild initial success in Spain when it was introduced in 1946 but that , translated to Uruguay a year or so later, left everyone dizzy with enthusiasm.  “Canasta” is the Spanish word for “basket”; it has been suggested that the game is so called because the players must “weave” their cards into complex and high-scoring combinations.

Gamblers in Las Vegas face the house dealer (who is also the banker) in a game of blackjack (or twenty-one), which today is America’s top banking card games.

The game is most usually played by four players in partnership.  Two complete packs of cards, plus four jokers, are needed.  Deuces are “wild,” red threes may not be melded, and black threes may be melded only by a player declaring at the end of a game.  Various melds gain bonuses in points: A “canasta” (a meld of seven of a kind) is top flight and scores a bonus of 500 if it is a “natural” meld or 300 if it includes wild cards.

Canasta whisked through America and back to Europe in no time and has spread now virtually all over the world- though I don’t mean by this that the other universally popular rummy games, poker and gin rummy, have lost ground.  But at the same time banking games have found a lot of new followers in most of the world's famous gambling  centers.

The three modern banking games-baccarat (or chemin-de-fer), blackjack, (of ving-et-un or pontoon), and seven-and-a-half- are all complicated versions of Europan games of the 15th and 16th centuries.  The principle underlying all of them is the same: to assemble cards whose value does not exceed a specific number-nine in baccarat, 21 in blackjack-and, of course, to bet on the probability of player or banker being successful.  (The older French, Spanish, and Italian games were called variously baccaro, trente-et-quarante, trente-et-un, and quinze, and had target number to fit.) only blackjack has any potential for skills on the player’s part, but these skills(i.e., the mathematical systems that was outlined in Chapter 5) may be too esoteric for ordinary players.

In chemin-de-fer, the banker and the “active” player may draw cards after the deal if neither has a count of 8 or 9.  The player draws first; his card (dealt face up) determines the banker’s play.  A chart (attached to sabots in most casinos) sets out the procedure that the banker must follow.  For example: If the banker holds a count of 3 (in the “having” column), and if the player draws 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 or 10 the banker must draw.  If the player draws an 8, the banker cannot draw.  If the player draws a 9, the banker may draw.

Blackjack and seven-and-a half are found more rarely in the casinos of Europe than those of America; but as private games played by friends gamblers in their homes and in the armed forces they are extremely popular.  Both continents have baccarat, America having given it a big welcome in the early 1920s.  Its European popularity has been of longer duration, since it was recorded as being played in Italy in 1500.

The chief difference between the two baccarat games-chemin-de-fer and baccarat banque is that in banque the players play against an appointed banker and in chemin-de-fer among themselves.  Otherwise the method of play is much the same in each, and can be outlined as follows:

Any number of people between three and 11 may play.  The cards bear their face value (10 for each court card).  Six complete shuffled packs are used and are dealt from an open-topped, open-ended box called a sabot (or shoe).  (This is the item of equipment that gives the game its name in the chemin-de-fer version, for it is passed round the table from banker to banker and looks somewhat like a toy train.)  One player is banker and dealer and puts his stake before him at the head of the table.  The other players set themselves on the two sides of the tale in equal numbers.  Any player may bet against the whole of the banker’s stake by calling “banco”; but  it no player does so the players may combine their bets to match the amount of the banker’s stake.  The player staking the highest sum takes upon himself the responsibility of representing the others against the bank, and is called the “active” player.


A diagram of the chemin-de-fer layout (the numbered sections are for players).  After every deal, the croupier pushes tips into the slits on the left, used cards into the center cylinder, and the bank’s winning poker rules into the cognotte on the right. The banker deals one card each to the players on his right and left and one to himself, then repeats this operation while the suspense mounts up.  The cards are then examined by the players and if any pair totals eight or nine the holder of that pair says so and wins, and sets are settled at once.  If not, the banker offers a third card to the player on his right, who may refuse it, as may the player on his left-in which case the banker himself must take it.  All cards are exposed again and the banker pays the player who is nearer nine than himself, or vice versa.  A player who has declared himself against the bank by saying “banco” and who loses his stake has the right to lead against the bank on the next deal, and he announces that he will do so by saying “banco suivi.”

This is just a sketchy outline of the rules of baccarat –which are in fact extremely intricate and demand a high decree of concentration, particularly if a system is being followed.  Baccarat, like roulette, is  game of pure chance, and many of the same systems are used in both games (some of which are outlined in Chapter 9).  But since the house takes a percentage (sometimes five per cent, but it varies considerably from casino ) of every winning bank after the first one, it is difficult to end up in pocket after any extended period of play, system or no system.

To wind up this survey of cards and card games, let me again stress that the rules of all the games I have written about here are as variable as the English weather.  You are unlikely to find play exactly the same in Wisconsin as in Beirut.  But card players generally prefer variety; and this preference has been in large measure the reason for the development of so many different card playing games over the centuries.  For in cards rules must be malleable enough to suit tradition, regional or national character, and the convenience of the millions for whom the card table is the central focus of relaxation or hard and fast gambling.