I’m trying to understand the phrase va banque, which the OED defines as “In baccarat and chemin-de-fer, a bet against the whole of the banker’s stake.” (Their first cite is 1946 A. J. P. TAYLOR Course of German Hist. ii. 38: “Both dynasties desired the defeat of Napoleon; but the Hohenzollerns, having nothing more to lose, were ready to bid va banque—the Habsburgs were not.”) An apparently synonymous exclamation is “Banco,” which goes back considerably farther (1789 J. MOORE Zeluco I. viii. 38: “As he shook the box, being about to throw, the Hussar officer cried, Banco; and the others took up what they had staked.”) I gather it’s an all-or-nothing bet, but I don’t grasp how it works in the card game. Can anyone explain in simple terms, suitable to someone who has never played baccarat, what goes on when you make such a bet?


  1. Wikipedia covers it pretty well:
    A summary of the relevant portion as I have come to understand it: The dealer sets the stake, and deals two hands. In calling “banco” or “va banque”, a player covers the whole of the dealer’s stake, and plays the second hand himself. If no player exercises this option, then the players (and possibly the spectators) bet each however much they wish, in order to total the amount proposed by the dealer, and the responsibility to play the hand falls to whoever bet the greatest portion of the stake.

  2. It’s weird that the first quotation is from 1946; wasn’t it standard jargon for German military strategy in the middle of the 19th century? For instance, here’s one of von Moltke‘s letters and its translation.

  3. By coincidence, TCM has been doing Sean Connery as 007 in prime time on Fridays this month. Tonight’s weren’t relevant for understanding Chemin de Fer, but a couple weeks ago it was Dr. No. In an early scene, containing the most famous Bond line of all time, Sylvia Trench keeps betting banco and losing to the banker (unseen until later). The gentleman to her left calls, “banco,” but she calls, “suivi.” The Wikipedia omits this, but banco suivi is the right of a player who bets banco and loses to go banco in the next coup, in priority over the normal geographical precedence.
    You can figure out a bit more watching Orson Wells camp it up as Le Chiffre in Ca$ino Royale (against Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble / James Bond), like that the only discretionary play (other than how much to bet, before any information is known) of whether to draw on a 5. IIRC, in the novel, Fleming actually explains a good bit of the rules through Bond to Vesper Lynd.

  4. It’s a fairly common expression in Russian: играть/пойти ва-банк, used figuratively to mean “risk everything” or “go all or nothing/go all the way.”

  5. So, if I’m understanding this correctly, the dealer puts down, say, $1,000 as a stake, and normally people will put down $100 or $200 or whatever they feel like betting, but if someone calls “Banco” or “Va banque,” they themselves bet $1,000 and everyone else is out of the action? Thanks, all, and especially to MMcM for that wonderful Bond scene—I haven’t seen Dr. No in decades and really should see it again (especially now that I understand the rules).

  6. Oh, and be sure to send that Moltke cite to the OED.

  7. MMcM, would you please explain how to harvest those links you plant here, such as letters? I always land on a Google Buchsuche page showing the book’s title, but I don’t know what do do then. Other people’s links here @H@ take me directly to pages of books “at Google” (I’ve never bothered to look closely at what those pages have to do with Google. I just barely notice the logo from the corner of my eye. I usually surf the internet with blinkers on, because too many ads and colored blinky-blinky stuff put me into mental fibrillation).

  8. Gee, I find myself wondering if there is a connection to the name of another game: “bunko”?
    But I am way too lazy/pressed for time to look it up myself.

  9. “Banko” is Danish for “bingo” – the game of chance. It’s also what you call when you have your plate full rather “house!” or some version thereof. We do use “bingo!” in place of “eureka!”, though (pardon my Greek).
    I think there’s a “banko” in l’Hombre, too, but I’ve only tried being taught it once, so I don’t recall.

  10. I think that scene has all the card play in the movie. Not that that should stop you from seeing it all again. It also has the iconic scene with Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) coming ashore.
    please explain how to harvest those links
    I have no idea what the issue is for you, though I assume it stems from coming in from a different region. books?id=r2IPAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA188&vq=va-banque tells GB to go to the book with id r2IPAAAAYAAJ, page 188, with the phrase va-banque highlighted. If you ended up on the title page, are there no Suchergebnisse in the right-hand column, with Seite 188 and an excerpt available to click on? Maybe it’s trying to tell you that you’re not allowed to see all the pages of the book outside of the Anglo-Saxon world. Can you download it? In which case, there is a copy (as there usually is) in The Internet Archive.

  11. dearieme says

    It seems to mean Going the Full

  12. Also worth noting is that in that 1789 quotation, it’s a dice game (passage, the very same page is used as a quotation for the OED’s pass-dice entry) that’s being played, though the sense is identical and in fact explained there.

  13. And explained very well indeed—thanks for that excellent find!

  14. Interestingly, some Russians use ‘va banque’ in the sense of ‘all-in’ in poker, although the French would say ‘tapis’.

  15. Random Voice says

    I saw the term in an old black and white movie I was watching. To me the game looked like 21 since one of the players is given 2 cards, an ace and a 10, and they tell him he had a winning hand. He was hypnotized so he doesn’t remember the hand or who he played.

  16. Yes, Hull’s club is named 17 und 4.

  17. Peter Williams says

    I had to look it up, too.
    It appears in the quote of a conversation between Hitler and Goring in 1939 about whether or not to attack Poland.

  18. It is common expression among Russian and German speakers. Va bank means to put everything at risk in order to win. As a result you would win everything or lose everything.

  19. My favorite movie Vabank.

  20. David Marjanović says

    It is common expression among Russian and German speakers.

    I’m sure it once was, but I’ve only ever encountered it in reading (in German). I’m not even sure what it’s meant to mean beyond “some kind of dangerous gamble”.

  21. Yes, to me it also seems more a literal than a colloquial expression in contemporary German.

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