The game of Basset (in French Bassette, from Italian Bassetta) was considered one of the most polite games with cards, and only fit for persons of the highest rank to play at, on account of the great losses or gains that might accrue on one side or the other.The sums of money lost in France at this game were so considerable that the princes of the blood were in danger of being undone; and after many persons of distinction were ruined the court of France thought fit to forbid Basset. Then faro was invented; and both were soon introduced into England, and after three or four years’ play here, they impoverished so many families, that Parliament enacted a suppression of both games, with severe penalties. The two games are, therefore, of historical interest, and deserve an explanation.
Basset was a sort of lottery. The dealer who kept the bank at Basset, having the sole disposal of the first and last card, and other considerable privileges in dealing the cards, had a much greater prospect of gaining than those who played. This was a truth so acknowledged in France that the king, by public edict, ordered that the privilege of a talliere, or banker at Basset, should only be allowed to the ‘chief cadets,’ or sons of noblemen — supposing that whoever kept the bank must, in a very short time, acquire a considerable fortune.
In this game there was:
- The Talliere, the banker, who laid down a sum of money to answer every winning card which might turn up.
- The Croupiere, the assistant of the former, standing by to supervise the losing cards, — so that when there were many at play he might not lose by overlooking anything which might turn up to his profit.
- The Punter, or every player
- The Fasse, that is, the first card turned up by the talliere, by which he gained half the value of the money laid upon every card of that sort by the punters or players.
- The Couch, which was the first stake that every punter laid upon each card — every player having a book of 13 cards before him, upon which he must lay his money, more or less, according to his fancy.
- The Paroli: in this, whoever won the couch, and intended to go on for another advantage, crooked the corner of his card, letting his money lie, without being paid the value by the talliere.
- The Masse, which was, when those who had won the couch, would venture more money on the same card.
- The Pay, which was when the player had won the couch, and, being doubtful of making the paroli, left off; for by going the pay, if the card turned up wrong, he lost nothing, having won the couch before; but if by this adventure fortune favoured him, he won double the money he had staked.
- The Alpieu was when the couch was won by turning up, or crooking, the corner of the winning card.
- The Sept-et-le-va was the first great chance that showed the advantages of the game, namely, if the player had won the couch, and then made a paroli by crooking the corner of his card, and going on to a second chance, if his winning card turned up again it became a sept-et-le-va, which was seven times as much as he had laid upon his card.
- Quinze-et-le-va, was attending the player’s humour, who, perhaps, was resolved to follow his fancy, and still lay his money upon the same card, which was done by crooking the third corner of his card: if this card came up by the dealing of the talliere, it made him win fifteen times as much money as he staked.
- Trent-et-le-va was marked by the lucky player by crooking the end of the fourth corner of his card, which, coming up, made him win thirty-three times as much money as he staked.
- Soissante-et-le-va was the highest chance that could happen in the game, for it paid sixty-seven times as much money as was staked. It was seldom won except by some player who resolved to push his good fortune to the utmost.
The players sat round a table, the talliere in the midst of them, with the bank of gold before him, and the punters or players each having a book of 13 cards, laying down one, two, three, or more, as they pleased, with money upon them, as stakes; then the talliere took the pack in his hand and turned them up — the bottom card appearing being called the fasse; he then paid half the value of the stakes laid down by the punters upon any card of that sort.
After the fasse was turned up, and the talliere and croupiere had looked round the cards on the table, and taken advantage of the money laid on them, the former proceeded with his deal; and the next card appearing, whether the king, queen, ace, or whatever it might be, won for the player, the latter might receive it, or making paroli, as before said, go on to sept-et-le-va. The card after that won for the talliere, who took money from each player’s card of that sort, and brought it into his bank — obviously a prodigious advantage in the talliere over the players.
The talliere, if the winning card was a king, and the next after it was a ten, said (showing the cards all round), ‘King wins, ten loses,’ paying the money to such cards as are of the winning sort, and taking the money from those who lost, added it to his bank. This done, he went on with the deal, it might be after this fashion — ‘Ace wins, five loses; ‘Knave wins, seven loses;’ and so on, every other card alternately winning and losing, till all the pack was dealt but the last card.
The last card turned up was, by the rules of the game, for the advantage of the talliere; although a player might have one of the same sort, still it was allowed to him as one of the dues of his office, and he paid nothing on it.
The bold player who was lucky and adventurous, and could push on his couch with a considerable stake to sept-et-le-va, quinze-et-le-va, trente-et-le-va, &c., must in a wonderful manner have multiplied his couch, or first stake; but this was seldom done; and the loss of the players, by the very nature of the game, invariably exceeded that of the bank; in fact, this game was altogether in favour of the bank; and yet it is evident that — in spite of this obvious conviction — the game must have been one of the most tempting and fascinating that was ever invented.
Our English adventurers made this game very different to what it was in France, for there, by royal edict, the public at large were not allowed to play at more than a franc or ten-penny bank, — and the losses or gains could not bring desolation to a family; but in England our punters could do as they liked — staking from one guinea to one hundred guineas and more, upon a card, ‘as was often seen at court,’ says the old author, my informant. When the couch was alpieued, parolied, to sept-et-le-va, quinze-et-le-va, trente-et-le-va, &c., the punter’s gains were prodigious, miraculous; and if fortune befriended him so as to bring his stake to soissante-et-le-va, he was very likely to break the bank, by gaining a sum which no talliere could pay after such tremendous multiplication. But this rarely happened. The general advantage was with the bank — as must be quite evident from the explanation of the game — besides the standing rule that no two cards of the same sort turning up could win for the players; the second always won for the bank. In addition to this there were other ‘privileges’ which operated vastly in favour of the banker.
However, it was ‘of so bewitching a nature,’ says our old writer, ‘by reason of the several multiplications and advantages which it seemingly offered to the unwary punter, that a great many like it so well that they would play at small game rather than give out; and rather than not play at all would punt at six-penny, three-penny, nay, a twopenny bank, — so much did the hope of winning the quinze-et-le-va and the trente-et-le-va intoxicate them.’
Of course there were frauds practised at Basset by the talliere, or banker, in addition to his prescriptive advantages. The cards might be dealt so as not to allow the punter any winning throughout the pack; and it was in the power of the dealer to let the punter have as many winnings as he thought convenient, and no more!
It is said that Basset was invented by a noble Venetian, who was punished with exile for the contrivance. The game was prohibited by Louis XIV, in 1691, and soon after fell into oblivion in France, although flourishing in England. It was also called Barbacole and Hocca.