Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Faro - the Gentleman's Game

This game is seeing something of a resurgence in American Western stories in the moving pictures, but very few people understand how to play this gentlemanly card game. Unlike poker, this game is more fast paced and more exciting, as well as having an interesting tactical element. It is a fair and exciting way to pass the time at social engagements as a diversion from Rummy or any of the poker variants.

Despite many modern misconceptions, in an honest faro game, the player’s chances are just a little short of even, and are much better than most games found at contemporary casinos. Contrary to what you may have been told, faro is simple to learn and easy to play. Invented in Europe in the 1700's and introduced to America in 1803, by all accounts, faro was the most popular and celebrated saloon gambling game in the Old West, from 1825 through 1915. By 1925, it had all but vanished, in favor of craps and roulette; other "banking" games that have enticing pay-outs but actually give a much greater edge to the house.

The Rules

A single, standard, 52 card deck is shuffled, cut and placed face down in a stack or face up in a spring loaded card dealing box, in front of the dealer, on the playing table. The game begins with each punter (player) laying their wagers on or around the card layout (sample layout pictured left), consisting of all 13 card ranks (Ace through King) laid, glued or painted on the Faro table, generally in the spade suit (although the suits of cards in faro are not important).

If the wager is placed directly over a card, the punter is betting on only that card rank (also called, "backing" a card, such as "backing the queen"). A bet on a single card was also referred to as a "flat foot". Rather than reaching across the layout, a punter may hand his wager to another player or lookout nearer the intended card and say, "Flat the Ace" or "Flat foot the seven."

Subject to "house" rules, a punter (player) may wager on multiple cards by placing his bet mid-way between a pair or group of three or four cards (also called "splitting" cards, such as "splitting the five-six" or "splitting the Ace-King"). A punter may place as many separate bets as he wishes or can afford, up to the posted table limit. Split bets (between two or more cards) are not a "split" like in roulette. The full wager is actually being bet on all adjacent cards, meaning, if you split the five-six (place between the 5 and 6 cards) then if the 5 wins, you win a full bet, not half. If the 6 wins, you win the full bet.. See more on "splits" and "betting variations" in the detailed sections below. Similar to roulette, once a number of bets are placed, the dealer will wait for a lull or other indication that the players are satisfied with their bets and are ready for the turn to begin. The dealer will then state, "All bets are down" or make some other indication that players are to stop moving or placing their bets. Players are not to touch their bets again until the conclusion of the turn.

Once the dealer is satisfied the punters have stopped moving or placing bets, the first turn begins. If using a dealing box, the Dealer discards the top card of the deck (called the "Soda Card") by sliding it out of the dealing box (pictured right) thereby displaying the next card. The card displayed is the “losing card” and it will eventually be placed in the losing position, on the dealer's right, next to the dealing box. The House wins any wagers placed on the displayed card (e.g. if the card should be an Ace, the Dealer will collect all wagers staked on the Ace, regardless of suit). All other bets remain untouched.

Then the Dealer pulls the losing card (placing it in the right side of the box), revealing the next card, the “winning card.” If that card is, for example, a Five, he will pay off all wagers staked on the Five. The payoff is one-to-one (1:1 or "even money"). A dollar bet wins a dollar. The other card bets on the layout (other than the "high card" bet, explained below) are untouched by the dealer and remain in play for the next turn, unless pulled by the punter or clearly "barred" by the punter (meaning they suspend their placed bets for one or more turns).

After all losing bets are collected and the winning bets are paid, the Dealer will say, "Place your bets" or something similar to indicate the conclusion if the "turn". In the brief interval between turns, punters may pick up their winnings, place additional wagers, increase or reduce existing bets, move wagers from one card to another or leave the game (cash out). New players may also join the game between the turns. Usually, two turns were played each minute. Thus, each deck would play through in 12 to 15 minutes.

From 1853 on, punters had the option of "coppering" their faro bets. This means placing a copper token (traditionally a penny or later a 6-sided composite token , called a "copper") on top of a standard (often called an "open bet" or "straight bet") wager to "reverse" the bet. What this means is, a "coppered" bet wins on the first (losing) card, and loses on the second (winning) card, the opposite of a regular bet, whether it be on a particular card, a pair or group of cards or the "high card" bar.

If a player has a significant "spread" (meaning they have many markers placed on the layout) they may opt to sit out one or more hands, called "barring" their bets. To do so, they must make their intentions clear to the dealer (or his assistant/banker if there is one) and again (usually by pointing at the bet and saying, "it goes") when they wish to resume play. This is a courtesy and the dealer or banker may ask them to "pull" their bets or cash out to avoid confusion or arguments, particularly if the table is crowded or busy.

The game continues in turns, with the first draw going to the dealer (losing card) and the second to the punters (winning card), until the deck is nearly exhausted. The bank pays even money on all bets except for the last turn. There are 24 regular "turns" in a deck.

The Editor wishes to let you know that Faro is a fine game for Gentlemen to play at social events and fundraisers, but he prefers poker as a weekly diversion among friends, as it tends to yield more money and is more easily set up. That being said, he wishes more games of Faro would be played in our modern times, as it is a much better game than roulette or (Heaven Forbid!) craps.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Table Manners

The lesson for today is: Manners, specifically Table Manners. When I was a little girl I was taught how to chew with my mouth closed, to always put my napkin in my lap, and to always maintain respect for others at the dining table. Unfortunately, the families of today have allowed these elements of etiquette to become more of a novelty than a way of life. To correct this mistake of many, I shall make a small list of the proper way to behave at the dinner table. (This is for adults too, since children generally learn by example.)

When sitting down to the dinner table the first thing one must do is place their napkin in their lap. Always make sure that the napkin covers the majority of your lap, since it's first duty is to keep one's clothing clean. For smaller children, a bib is the wisest choice. The other function of the napkin is to dab at your face during the course of the meal to ensure that there is no food left behind. Please note: I used the word dab because you mustn't smear or broadly wipe your face, as this will cause any food there to fall into your lap that is now unprotected by your napkin.

The next thing to remember is that one should always have their off-hand laying in their lap (except when cutting of your food is required). Your off-hand is the hand that you don't eat with. For example, I am right-handed. Therefore, my off-hand is my left hand. So when I sit down at the table I eat with my right hand and leave my left hand in my lap. This discourages you from putting your elbows on the table or laying your arm across the table (both of which are etiquette no-no's by the way).

When you are chewing, always chew with your mouth closed. This means taking small enough bites that your mouth can properly close around your food. Be mindful: nobody enjoys having their meal interrupted by the smacking of lips or by the painful sight of chewed up food in your mouth. No exceptions.

If you need to cut your food (meat, vegetables, etc.) please remember to only cut one bite at a time, and make it small enough to accomplish keeping your mouth closed when chewing.

One of the most important things to remember about manners is: be respectful. That doesn't necessarily mean that you should only speak when spoken to (although many people still adhere to this mantra), but it also means that you should always be thinking of those who are at the dining table with you. Please take your hat off at the table. It is a sign of respect when you remove it as you're sitting down. Do not sing, hum, or shout at the table (unless you sing grace before the meal is eaten). Nobody wants to have the conversation interrupted by loud noises or attention-getters. If you own a portable game console or music player, please do not use it at the table. One of the most horrifying things I've witnessed is children with earphones on or absorbed in some electronic game. The music and game will be there for you when you are done eating. This is probably the most insulting and disrespectful thing a child could do. For adults, this includes your cellular phones, blackberries, pagers, etc. Don't think that just because you are an adult you are off the hook! I have seen this repulsive behavior from all ages and it's heartbreaking. Mealtime is a time to spend with your family/friends, not yourself. Participate in the conversation (if applicable) because you might just learn something.

When you are done eating do not jump up and leave the table immediately. Not only is this disrespectful to your dining companions, but it shows everyone that you believe you are more important than everyone else there. You should never leave the table without asking to be excused first, and you should always wait to ask after everyone has finished eating.

Note to parents/adults: children learn by example more than any other way. If you follow the rules of etiquette the likelihood of the children at your table following them increases. In order to instill proper manners in our children, we must insist that these simple rules be followed.

Thus ends today's lesson. You are excused.

The Governess' column appears sporadically in this publication, both to the relief and consternation of The Editor.

Contributors to Liquid Ether

The Editor has been with this publication since its inception, and is a connoisseur of cigars and comestibles. He contributes to the Smoking Room, and oversees and edits work from all contributors. He is an amateur card player and pool enthusiast. Queries, complaints, advertisements, and general persiflage can be directed to him by way of electronic mail.

Lee Strong is the Librarian for Liquid Ether. He provides book reviews and original fiction for the Victorian enthusiast. His articles appear sporadically, but are always appreciated, and worth the wait. Questions and comments to him should be sent care of the editor, at his request.

The Governess is Liquid Ether's etiquette specialist, and a mother of five. She is an amateur seamstress and chef, and a puzzle and gaming enthusiast. Her column, "The Governess," appears irregularly in this publication, and deals with whatever instruction and discipline she feels our readers require. Questions and comments to her should be sent care of the editor, at her request.

Bruce Kingsford is this publication's resident chess enthusiast and bartender. His chess puzzles appear every Monday, and on Fridays readers can be introduced to one of his exotic alcoholic concoctions in his column titled "Behind the Bar." Other articles dealing with chess and beverages are contributed sporadically. Questions and comments to Mr. Kingsford should be sent care of the editor, at his request.

Lord Magna is the lifestyle columnist for Liquid Ether. He brings all the needed qualifications - he is stuffy and old-fashioned, to say nothing of impeccably well-dressed. His articles focus on behaving like a true gentleman in our modern times. Questions and comments to Lord Magna should be sent care of the editor, at his request.

Ryan Parson was Liquid Ether's resident Sommelier, and contributed sporadically with his column "Budget Snobbery." He is an amateur director and screenwriter for the moving pictures. Mr. Parson has left the employ of this magazine, and the staff wishes him all the best in his future endeavors.