P. Edronkin

The History Of An Aristocrat's Game: Baccarat

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Baccarat is a classical game that is being enjoyed by people all across the world for centuries: it originated in Europe as the continent was leaving behind the Black Death, the feudal social system and medieval times. Particularly after the disastrous epidemic that ravaged the world during part of the fourteenth century, killing about fifty million souls - half the population of the globe -, the way in which the average European looked upon life, the universe and everything experienced a major shift.

The Black Death was a particularly noxious cocktail of common bubonic plague (Pasteurella pestis), which is quite lethal alone, accompanied by a neumonic variant that is even worse, and a third, neurological and septicemic form that is not known from any other occurrence of bubonic plague through history. The plague was arguably the most dreadful mass destruction scenario confronted by human beings all thorough the history of our species. It began in Central Asia and then all around the continent until it reached Europe, wiping out entire cities, the fabric of society, economy and even military might. Desperate people tried to find anything that could help them, but to no avail, while others just tried to entertain themselves, waiting for death to come to their homes, playing forbidden games and listening or reading - in a few cases - satirical works like the Decameron: indeed, a paradigm shift was in order.

As it happens quite often, civil and ecclesiastical authorities, the affluent ones and those who had any means available, fled urban areas and into the woods, or rural retreats, having observed that the mortality rate in towns and villages often surpassed 50% of the population. Only in a few places in Europe, like in the eastern part of nowadays Germany and Poland (Silesia) the plague spared most people: those who fled died anyway in most cases but the serfs and freemen abandoned to their own devices felt very upset as they saw those very leaders that a few weeks before were attempting by all means to take all the possible tax money from everyone, began fleeing as cowards. Indeed, that hasn't changed, and one just has to remember that movie where Dr. Strangelove describes how the world would get on its feet again after a nuclear holocaust to see what those medievals were left with.

Surely enough, later on those cowards who fled came back to claim political powers, but the mood had changed, and the new mood was what produced things from games like Baccarat to the printing machine; that is essentially what took Europe out of the dark. It really came out of medieval times not because of political actions, but by opposition to them, a clue to the fact that politics is nothing nice and nothing good but an inevitable fact of life like manure.

Europe had been centred around religion and religious values since the fall of the Roman Empire, or about a millennium, and that way of understanding reality was already overused: but when the Black Death reached Europe and people attempted to save themselves by praying - the only method they could come up with -, to no avail, they became somewhat disenchanted with God but mostly, with religion and their rules who could not and would not give them any solution in most cases. So once that survival was assured after the emergency, and as society began to reconstruct itself, things began to change. One of those changes had to do with gambling and taxes, for after wholesale death there was no way to collect taxes except by stimulating all sorts of games associated to betting and gambling.

Thus, even the Church went into the gambling business for a while, as people preferred to throw dice and use cards instead of going to mass, and little by little certain games evolved and began to take shape, and one of those was an Italian game that we today know as Baccarat and became very quickly the table entertainment of aristocrats and the wealthy, and among these influential people were merchants that took it to the rest of the continent and even to the Middle East. About Baccarat there is a lot of information and it would be impossible to write everything into this single article, so if you want to read more or if you want to play the game right now, I invite you to follow these links:

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