The Game of Faro

Faro once was the most popular card game in the country.  People like Luke Short, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, made their living as faro dealers.  You can learn all about the history of the game on the history page of the website.  This page will teach you how the game is played.  The photograph above is a faro bank from the movie "The Shootist".  They called it a faro bank because it was indeed a bank where investments were won and lost.  Many faro banks were managed by the saloon or "house".  The dealer was paid, sometimes $6 a four hour shift, and the house detained the profits, or loses.  Some professional gamblers had enough money to bank their own games, those were the high rollers. 

A professional faro game usually required three people to run the table, as seen above.  It was the dealers game, in this case Luke Short.  To his right in an elevated chair sat the Lookout.  Here Bat Masterson sits over the check rack watching every move on the table to ensure a straight game.  Across from the dealer sits the case keeper.  He also watches play, but his responsibility is to keep accurate count of the cards that have been played throughout the game.  Chances are you will be dealing the game solo and will have to do all three jobs on your own.

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Case    Keeper

Check Rack

Dealing Box

To play faro correctly there are several tools needed.  Here is a list and a way to get around them if needed.                    1 -  The faro table : any table big enough will do.                                                                                                                               2 - The faro layout felt:  13 cards from Ace to King are affixed to the felt.  Any suit works, suits are not important.    In later years a high card sign was added to the board for additional play.  Many of the old layout boards were hinged to fold together, making them more compact, for ease of transportation.                                                                                       3 -  The check rack:  Holds the chips or checks for easy access for the dealer and blocked for others.  These racks were used to transport chips from the bank to the table.  A check rack is not required for play.                                              4 - The Dealing box:  Some metal, some wood, all had a spring action to keep the cards in place.  Cards were placed face up in the box and removed one at a time from a slit in the side of the box.  If you don't have a dealing box, cards can be stacked face down on the table and turned over one at a time.                                                                                         5 -  The Case Keeper:  Often called the cue box or coffin.  An abacus type device that counts each card as it is pulled from the deck.  Many were hinged so they could be folded for transportation and so that the beads can be easily reset after each game.  Thus at the start of the game the beads are positioned in the middle and moved to the outer edge.   A special case keeper card can be used to replace the abacus device, where cards can be checked off as played.             6 - Cards:  Any deck of 52 playing cards will work as long as they will fit through the slit in the dealing box.                   7 - Coppers:  Originally copper pennies were used to reverse you bet on the table.  Then coppers were fashioned to be used.  In a tin horn game, pennies still work just fine.


Once the cards are shuffled and cut by a player (referred too as a punter), to ensure the dealer is not working with a "cold deck", meaning a stacked deck.  The cards are placed into the box with the top card showing.  This top card, called the "soda" is a dead card.  The case keeper marks that card as being played (in our example case, the Ace) but it is of no consequence.  At this point the dealer will announce, "Place your Bets".   In modern day play we recommend each punter is assigned his own color of chips to keep track of who's bets are where on the layout.  There is no limit to the amount of checks a punter can spread across the layout.  The winning wagers are all paid one to one.

The play continues through the 11 turns.  Now there are only three cards remaining in the dealer box and we have come to what is called: "Call the Turn."  Everyone knows by looking at the Case Keeper, exactly what three cards remain.  Now the dealer will pay four to one for any player who can call the order in which the last three cards are drawn.  For our example the three cards are the Ace, Queen, Three. 

An original H.C. Evans cue card

Proper card dealing         Springs in dealer box

Layout folded

Pharo Bank Case Keeper card.  Copy and print if you like.

Above is an example of how wagers may be placed on the faro layout.  The yellow has placed bets on the Queen and the Six.  The White has a combination bet on the Three and the Jack.  The Orange is betting the Six, Seven, Eight, and the Queen, Jack.  Pick has wagered on the Ace, Two, Queen, King and the Green is betting the Eight, Nine, Ten and the High Card.  

The game begins.  With the dead card Ace still showing in the dealer box, the dealer draws the first card, he says: "Ace is the dead card and the loser is the Queen."  The dealer places the Ace on the table as a discard pile, and pulls the next card revealing the Seven, he says: "And the winner is the Seven."

Some faro dealers like to use two discard piles, one for the losing cards and one for the winners.  I just use one pile so I can see in front of me what the last losing card was, and the winner, which is still showing in the dealing box.  The play continues but the Punter playing Pink has bet heavy on the Seven.  He gets nervous that the very next card out of the box might be the Seven so his Coppers his bet.  Placing a Copper on top of his stack of chips has reversed the bet.  So if the next card drawn, usually the losing card, is the seven, he wins.  Just his luck the losing card is the Nine and the winner is the Severn.  That copper has just cost him a win.

Now the dealer collects his winnings and pays off his losing.  The new table would be as shown above.  All checks have been cleared from the Queen, and the one to one payoff has been made on the seven.  The High Card bet is that the winning card is higher than the loser.  In this case the loser was the Queen and the winner the Seven, so it was a lost bet by the punter and the check has been cleared.  After the dealer is finishes, he will open the table back open for betting.  

In between each turn the players are allowed to change their bets to wherever they please.  For the sake of this example let us say the players have made no changes on the layout above.  The next two cards pulled from the box are, the loser, the Seven; and the winner, the Seven.  This is called a split wherein the dealer is awarded half of the bet.  In the example case the Orange player both won and lost the turn, and therefore loses one of his two chips on the layout.  Although it is the dealers call, I always have the players make two chip minimum bets.  That way if there is a split it is easy to collect half the bet. 


On the next turn betters have changed their wagers, as seen above.  Notice the Pink has bet heavily on the Seven.  Three Sevens have already been played so the safest bet on the table is the Seven, because there is no possibility of a split.  The dealer draws the next turn with the loser being the Three and the winner is the Jack.  Again there is a split because the White chip punter has wagered on both cards.  The dealer takes half of the bet.  In some games this might be a push, but not when I run the table.  The only other payoff on this layout is the High Card.  The loser was the Three and winner the Jack so the High Card bet is won and the dealer pays Green two chips.

The Pink player has bet four chips that the Ace will be first, the Queen, second and the Three last.  By placing some of the pink chips on the Ace, coppered, it represents the first card out of the box.  By placing at least one other pink chip on the Queen it signifies the Queen will be second.  No reason to place anything on the Three.  Likewise the Green player has chosen the order of Queen, Three, Ace.  While the Orange is going with the Three, Ace, Queen.  The other punters have chickened out and do not bet.  Suspense.  The first card out of the box is the Ace.  That means only the Pink has the chance of winning the 4-1 bet.  The second card from the box is the Three.  The correct order is Ace, Three, Queen.         Everyone loses.  The dealer wins.  So is the way of

A full deck through the faro box usually takes  fifteen to thirty minutes.  If you are just playing for fun a full hand of chips is about twenty in the stack, I would give each player that same amount of chips to start off with.  That way when the round ends it is fun to see which players are ahead and which have lost big.  If they run out of checks, you can offer them more, but allay ask what they will give; perhaps they have a mule or an attractive wife.