Casino Royale – The First James Bond Novel
Iconic hero/villain James Bond made his first appearance in the novel Casino Royale, written by Ian Fleming in 1953. It can be assumed that Fleming was a keen fan of casino card games; given that the entire plot of the book revolved around a high stakes card game, Chemin de Fer.
Chemin de Fer is a variant of the classic casino baccarat game and at the time was the most popular high stakes game played in France, where the book is set. Although the book is evidently not about poker, it is interesting nonetheless to note that this was one of the first popular novels to show casino card games in an exotic, sophisticated light, rather than dismissing cards as a dangerous and seedy backstreet vice.
The plot centres on Bond, a British agent, being sent to bankrupt a French political agitator by beating him in a high stakes card game. As the Frenchman was known to gamble using Russian secret service funds, a heavy loss could prove quite unpleasant for him, which is in the event how it turned out.
Quite why Chemin de Fer was chosen as the bankruptcy method is unclear, as baccarat is largely a game of chance, and at one stage in the novel Bond had to rely on an injection of extra funds from American allies after having been cleaned out. It’s intriguing to wonder what game would be at the centre of the book had it been written today – and that’s a question that the makers of the 2006 film adaptation seem to have answered fairly convincingly…