Chemin de Fer

Baccarat's older cousin, Chemin de fer. Learn about this non- bankingpredecessor to baccarat. The original James Bond, when head to head against his arch nemesis not on a poker table but playing Cheminde For.


7/6/20227 min read

Chemin de Fer was most popular in France during the 1800s. Chemin de Fer migrated to the United States sometime prior to World War I and was played in the homes of wealthy Americans and in the finest illegal carpet and sawdust joints in the country. Starting in 1958 Chemmy or Shimmey (as it came to be known in the US) was also played in the only legal casinos in the US found in Nevada. The last legal Chemin de Fer table closed Las Vegas sometime in the mid 1970’s. My inquiries with the Nevada Gaming Control Board concerning the life span of Chemin de Fer in Nevada proved fruitless. Chemin de Fer was grouped in with Baccarat and there is no way to separate the two games from official records. There was a “shimmey” game played in an Atlantic City casino in the 1990’s: it could not sustain itself and is no longer available. Chemin de Fer has retained some of its former popularity in European casinos and is the game famously featured in James Bond movies. European casinos still offer Chemin de Fer and other versions of Baccarat. Casino de Monte-Carlo and Summer Casino in Monaco provide Chemin de Fer for their patrons.

Chemin de Fer normally is/was dealt from a shoe also known as a sabot, using six or eight decks of 52 cards each. The ten & face cards all have a value of zero, hence the name Baccarat, which is said to mean “zero” in Italian (but actually doesn’t). Only the number of positions available on the table limits the number of players, normally there are twelve seats at a Chemin de Fer table. The Banker handles the sabot and deals the cards, giving the first and third cards to the active player and the second and fourth cards pulled to him/herself. A third card is drawn for the Player and Bank as the rules dictate. The house does not risk any money and instead takes a commission from the winning Banker bets as a fee for running the game. The slot in the middle of the Chemin de Fer table known as the “cognette” is where the dealers drop the commission. If you find yourself in Europe don’t be surprised when you hear a gambler lamenting the amount of cognette he had to pay. The word for the commission slot has over the many decades come to mean commission for many players.

The privilege to Bank the first round in a modern Chemin de Fer game goes to the player making the largest wager. In older incarnations of Chemin de Fer a more complex system was often used to determine Banker. The player sitting immediately to the dealer’s right has the first chance to act as Banker. If he declined the Banker option by declaring “La Banque passe” the sabot then passed to the next player on the right. At some games the right to bank was auctioned to the highest bidder. Since the Bank hand is slightly more likely to win than the Player hand there is some incentive to bank. The player acting as Banker holds the sabot until he/she loses a bet, at that point the sabot passes to the next player on the right. The Banker determines how much he/she is willing to risk and places that amount on the table in front of him. The players then make their bets called “fading” starting from the Banker’s right. The player bets can be less than but cannot exceed the amount the Banker has put up. A player may “fade” the entire Bank himself by calling “Banco,” at which point the other players pick up their wagers and the hand is a head-to-head affair between the Banker and one player who called Banco. In order to remain Banker a player must risk the entire amount faded and his own stake from the previous round.

Chemin de Fer is really an “all or nothing proposition” for the person banking. The appeal of acting as Banker is that after winning the first hand the “Banker” risks only his initial stake for every hand after, while doubling the amount the players wager against him after every Bank win. This is an elegant form of a win progression betting system, where the bettor doubles up after every win but risks only his original stake. The Banker may elect to keep his profits after a win and relinquish the Bank to another player.

The drawing rules for Chemin de Fer are very similar to modern Baccarat. The object of the game is to win a round (coup) by being closest to nine with two or three cards. If the Player or the Banker draws an “Abattage,” that is a two-card 8 or 9, they have a Natural and the round is over with the hands being resolved accordingly. The two-card total of nine is known as “La Grande” and beats all hands except another “La Grande”. The two-card eight called “La Petite” loses only to a Natural 9. These rules are identical to both modern Baccarat and Baccarat en Banque. The terms: Abattage, La Grande, and La Petite are not commonly used in the Modern Baccarat game in the US. In Nevada, circa right now, you would get confused stares if you excitedly yelled out “ABATTAGE!,” “LA GRANDE!” after being dealt a 3 followed by a 6. Do it anyway, than impress your tablemates with your vast knowledge of the game by explaining what an Abattage and La Grande means to them.

Chemmy requires some specialized equipment not used in modern Baccarat called palettes. These palettes (usually 3 of them) are wooden paddles used by the croupiers to hand players their cards across the table. The chips used for making wagers are different too, they are larger and rectangular in shape. Equipment is not the only differences found in Chemin de Fer; the third card draw rules are slightly modified to give the participants more playing options.

Decisions, Decisions…

In Chemin de Fer the player holding the shoe and acting as Banker deals the first card to the active Player, the second card he deals to himself. The third card goes to the active Player and the fourth to the Banker. If a Natural 8 or 9 has been dealt to either position the round or coup is over. If no Natural has been dealt the Player and Bank draw a third card based on the Third Card Rule.

Player two-card total of 0 - 4 If the Player has a 0 through 4 he must take a card.

Player two-card total of 5 With a two-card total of 5 he may elect to take a card or stand pat.

Player two-card total of 6 or 7 If the Player’s hand equals 6 or 7 he must stand.

The Bank’s Third Card Rules are a little more complicated.

Bank always draws on 0 - 5 when the Player stands.

Banker two-card total of 0, 1 or 2 When the Banker has a hand of 0, 1 or 2 the Banker must draw.

Banker two-card total of 3 On a Bank hand of 3 the Banker takes a card unless the Player has drawn an 8 or a 9. The 9 draw card for the Player affords the Banker the option to stand or to draw as he sees fit.

Banker two-card total of 4 Banker draws if the Player stood or was dealt 2 – 7. The 2-7 rule

Banker two-card total of 5 Banker draws if the Player stood or was dealt 5 – 7. The Banker has the option to draw or stand if the Player was given a 4. The 5-7 rule.

Banker two-card total of 6 Banker draws if the player was dealt 6 or 7. The 6-7 rule.

Banker two-card total of 7 Banker always stands on a two-card total of 7

These rules are rigidly adhered to and any deviation is considered a misdeal.

As you can see there is little opportunity for self-expression here. The Player is given the freedom to exercise choice on only one hand total, a 5. The Banker’s two optional plays do offer more choice than in a modern Baccarat game. Punters normally play the optional hands just as the fixed rules dictate in modern Baccarat, as they are believed to be the optimal plays. While researching the evolution of the Third Card Rule I discovered that the draw rules for modern Baccarat are not quite perfect. As for the optional Bank hands (9 and 4), taking a card is the better play for both.

In Chemin de Fer the Player has the option to either draw or stand when holding a two-card total of 5. The house advantages if the Player always stands are: Banker 0.79%, Player 1.52% and the Tie 17.0%. The Player should adopt the same strategy as used in Punto Banco and draw whenever holding a 5, Right? Maybe not, please read on.

Richard Epstein explained the Player’s option when having a total of 5 in his book The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic. Epstein explains that a player can improve his odds of beating the Bank by mixing his hit/stand strategy when having a 5. If the Banker knows the player always draws on 5 he will play optimal strategy and have a 1.23% advantage over his adversary. If the Bank cannot be sure what the player will do with a 5 things get a little more interesting. Epstein showed that there are 11 possible 5 total Player situations and a player should stand two of those times and draw on the other nine. The problem is that without a computer on the game tracking the cards and giving the correct move a player can only guess which two hands he should stand on. Players should randomly stand 2 times in every 11 chances to keep the Banker guessing.