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History Of Poker: China to Texas Hold’em

Posted on | September 22, 2008 |

Ancient Origins of Poker

The history of poker is an interesting matter for study, and a question for debate among card game historians. Over the last thousand years poker has evolved from numerous different games which incorporated such poker specific aspects as card rankings, bluffing your opponents, and betting. Legend has it that the card game of poker has its origins in ancient China. During the reign of emperor Mu-tsung is said that he played a card game using domino cards. Poker can also have its roots traced back both to Egypt, and Persia. During the 12 and 13 hundreds it is known that the Egyptians had played card games with decks of playing cards. Additionally, Poker is also known to have resembled the Persian game of nas, complicated game which involved an extremely intricate 96 card deck, made from natural materials such as wood or ivory. This game resembled poker, especially the modern and popular form of Texas Hold’em, because both card games share similar features like multiple rounds of betting, subterfuge, and card rankings.

Poker’s European Roots

Poker can also be seen to have significant roots in Europe, particularly Germany, France, and Spain. During the 16th a card game by the name of “primero” was very popular in Spain. A large number of poker historians refer to the card game of “primero” as “poker’s mother.” This game involved the dealing of three cards to each payer, with betting and bluffing being integral aspects of the game. The popularity of this card game spread from Spain in the 16th to both Germany and France in the 17th and 18th centuries. These countries’s had game’s which closely resembled poker, Pochen in Germany and Poque in France. In fact the game of Poque was considered the national card game of France. This card game made its way over to the United States during the colonial era. French colonists brought it to Canada, from where this origin of poker made its way south into America, starting in New Orleans where French colonists set up shop, and traveling up the Mississippi river on the river boats, until the card game had infiltrated the entire country.

Poker’s Beginnings in America

Early references to poker can be found in the writings of Jonathon H. Green, where, in the 1830’s, he talks about a new card game that is sweeping the gambling circuit of the river boats which run the Mississippi river. This new card, referred to him as the cheating game, replaced the traditional game of Three Card Monte. In fact, it was Jonathon H. Green who originally termed the name Poker, as the game had not been officially titled previously. This game was perceived by the card sharks of the day as being venerably more honest, as opposed to Three Card which had a terrible reputation for being rigged. Additionally, the actor Joseph Crowell reported in 1829 that a game similar to poker was being played in New Orleans, with the participants betting on which of the other players hands had the highest value. The card game of poker spread throughout the United States during the period of westward expansion spurned by the gold rushes beginning in the 1840’s. Poker, with its gung ho atmosphere and wild abandon, became synonymous with the saloons card parlors of the American West. One of strongest lasting images in the American lexicon is the poker tables of the Wild West. We can all imagine the cowboy slamming open the doors of a saloon, throwing his dollars on the card table for some poker chips, and sitting down to test his luck and skill at the card table. These images, as well as many other facets of the card game, have become essential traits of the American cultural legacy.

Evolution of Poker

The game was very popular during the Civil War, with soldiers for the North and the South both playing the card game in their spare time. It was during this period of time, after the end of the major gold rush era until the end of the 19th century, many important advances came in the game of poker, the first of which was the introduction of the 52 card deck during the war. The new deck allowed for new types of hands to be included, for example the flush entered into the picture around this time. It was also after the initial introduction of the 52 card playing deck that new variations of the game emerged. Draw poker and stud poker, the first five card version, began in this period. Additionally, in the mid 1870’s the concept of the wild card first emerged, signified by the addition of the Joker to the poker deck.

Popular Forms of Poker

5 Card Draw was the most popular version of poker in the United States for almost a century. It was characterized by its unique combination of luck and skill, an advantageous trait which prevented it from being banned in California under anti-gambling laws-though the 5 card stud version of poker was banned due to it being solely a game of chance. Ironically, Nevada banned 5 card draw from the mid 1880’s until 1931 when it legalized casino gambling.
During World War II the 5 Card Draw version of Poker was replaced by 7 Card Stud as the favorite variant of Poker. This style was remained popular until the 1970’s, mainly as a result of the growing prestige of Las Vegas. However, it was not until the emergence of the World Series of Poker in the 1970’s that poker really became mainstream. The world series of poker used Texas Hold’em, poker’s supposed “Cadillac” as the vehicle for its tournament play.


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