The game of Poker is thought to have evolved over more than ten centuries from various games, all involving the basic principals of ranked card or domino combinations and the use of ‘bluffing’ to deceive opponents.
One popular belief is that a game similar to poker was first invented by the Chinese sometime before 969 A.D, when The Emperor Mu-tsung is reported to have played “domino cards” with his wife on new years eve.
Egyptians in the 12th & 13th centuries are known to have used a form of playing cards, and in 16th century Persia “Ganjifa” or “Treasure Cards” were used for a variety of betting games. A Ganjifa deck consisted of 96 elaborate cards, often made of paper thin slices of ivory or precious wood. The Persians played “As Nas” which utilized 25 cards, rounds of betting and hierarchical hand rankings.
A French game named “Poque” and a German game named “Pochen” became very popular in the 17 & 18th centuries, both developed from the 16th century Spanish game called “Primero” which involved three cards being dealt to each player. Bluffing, or betting high stakes whilst holding poor cards to deceive opponents, was an integral part of the game. Primero dates back to 1526 and is often referred to as “poker’s mother” as it is the first confirmed version of a game directly related to modern day poker.
French colonials imported the game to the new world when they arrived in Canada. Their beloved poque was the national card game of France and from the beginning of the 18th century, when a hardy group of French-Canadian settlers founded New Orleans, it spread from the state of Louisiana up the Mississippi river and then throughout the whole country.
In 1834, Jonathan H. Green made one of the earliest written references to poker when in his writing he mentions rules to the “cheating game,” being played on Mississippi riverboats. The Cheating Game” quickly began to supplant the popular cardsharp game of 3-card monte on the gambling circuit. Gamers embraced the new game as it was perceived as a more challenging and ‘honest’ gamble than the notoriously rigged 3-card game. Green took more than a passing interest in the new game and took it upon himself to formally name and document the ‘Cheating Game’ in his book ‘An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling’: Poker was born.
During the Wild West period of United States history, a saloon with a Poker table could be found in just about every town from coast to coast. It was extremely popular during the Civil War when the soldiers of both armies played. European influence of poker ended when the joker was introduced as a wild card in 1875.
In just over two centuries, poker has never looked back. Since its humble beginning on the banks of the Mississippi, the popularity of this widely played game has grown in leaps and bounds to evolve numerous variations and sub-variations.
There have been three games that have, in turn, dominated the modern poker scene:
- 5 Card Draw rose from relative obscurity during the American Civil War to the most popular game for almost a century.Nevada made it a felony to run a betting game. However the Attorney General of California declared that draw poker was based upon skill and therefore the anti-gambling laws could not stop it. But stud poker was still deemed illegal as it was based solely on chance. With this decision, draw poker games developed and grew. This caused Nevada to reverse itself in 1931 and legalize casino gambling.
- 7 Card Stud then took over the throne shortly before WWII and maintained its position for about 40 years with the help of the new and thriving Las Vegas casino industry.
- Texas Hold’em, christened the ‘cadillac of poker’ rose to promienence in the 1970’s when it was featured as the title game in the World Series of Poker. Today, Texas Hold’em is indisputably the most frequently played and most popular poker game in the world, played in casinos and on home game tables the world over.
No Limit Texas Hold’em played at The World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour have been captivating American television audiences to the point that there are now made for TV events such as the National Heads Up Poker Championship and the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions being filmed especially for TV and shown in prime time.
Poker looks like it is here to stay and its popularity has never been as widespread nor as quickly growing as it is right now. With the wealth of poker information available online, and the relative ease of logging on and playing with other poker players from around the world, including the ever-growing online poker community in the United Kingdom, there is no time like the present to join the poker craze.
Read our history of online poker guide.