I’m completely snowed under with revisions for The Outlaw’s Return. The book is for Love Inspired Historicals, and it’s scheduled for a February 2011 release date. Some of you might remember last August when I posted about discovering my next hero while listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Outlaw Pete on a cross-country flight. That hero turned into the feared and awesome J.T. Quinn, a gunfighter determined to win back the only woman he ever really loved.
There’s a problem, though. More than one actually . . . J.T. has some bad habits. One of those vices is Faro. Most people think of Old West gamblers sitting around a poker table, but poker was a rarity until the late 1870s. Faro was the game of choice, particularly during the Gold Rush period. Just about every saloon in every Old West town had at least one Faro table.
Faro became popular in the Old West because it’s fast, uses a single deck and is easy to learn. It also has better odds than most games of chance, with the odds of winning being close to even. Of course, that doesn’t account for cheating. I won’t go into the rules–they make for interesting gambling but dull reading–but the betting got steeper as the game progressed. The last bet of the game was the most exciting, with players getting rowdy as they stood around the table.
Faro started to fade in the late 19th century. A couple of factors contributed to its demise. Ironically, the thing that made it popular–nearly even odds–also led to its downfall. Saloons didn’t make as much money on Faro as they did on other forms of gambling. To compensate for the lack of profit, the bankers (the house dealers) were known to cheat by using doctored-up banker’s boxes. Not all players were honest, either. Sleight of hand was a common practice. When Hoyle’s Rules for Card Playing was published, it began its Faro section with a disclaimer that an honest Faro game couldn’t be found in America. By 1900 many other gambling games were offered, and Faro faded into history.
Faro has always been a bit disreputable. Its origins go back to 17th century France, and it was called Faro, Pharaoh or Farobank. The name originated during the time of Louis XIV when a deck of cards included a card depicting an Egyptian Pharaoh. The game was also referred to as “Bucking the Tiger,” and back alleys and streets populated with Faro parlors were sometimes known as Tiger Towns.
I don’t remember if the movie Tombstone uses the phrase “bucking the tiger,” but it’s a got a Faro scene with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday played Faro, as well. There are also Faro scenes in Kevin Costner’s version of Wyatt Earp. Showing Faro instead of poker is more accurate, but the western movies of the 1940s largely ignored the game because viewers were more familiar with poker. The first movie to correct that false image was The Shootist (1976) with John Wayne.
When I started the research for my gambling outlaw, I thought poker was the way to go. I’d never heard of Faro, and I had no idea how popular it had been. As things turned out, Faro suits him perfectly. It’s a game of chance, the stakes can be high and he’d have no trouble finding a Faro table in his travels. My hero doesn’t cheat at cards, but he knows men who do, and one of them is going after the heroine. Let the romance begin!
How about you? Do you have a favorite card game? I’m a Skip-Bo fan, but I like just about all card games. Canasta is a favorite, too!