Postulating the Early History of Poker Games

Comprehensive and accredited poker history based on chronicled evidence.

Poker HistoryI’d love to tell you that the following text is a concise and factual story of the history of poker. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a genuine, historical account of its origins. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that no one really knows where it truly came from.

Postulating the Early History of Poker

There are multiple versions of the tale. Some say poker is “undoubtedly” derived from “the Persian game of As-Nas”. That quote is taken from the 1937 edition of Foster’s Complete Hoyle, by R. F. Foster. But few believe that anymore.

Evidence also supports the theory that poker originated in France as a game called “poque”. That game was similar to poker, and a direct descendant of the German card game “pochen”, which means ‘to knock‘, or ‘to brag as a bluff‘. These names are certainly more indicative of the name “poker”, as well as the strategic tool of bluffing.

It also makes sense because the French began populating the Louisiana Territory, along the Mississippi River (you’ll see how this ties in below), in the late 1600s. The land was later sold to the United States in 1803, which is about the time the factually-known history of poker games begins.

Known Poker History – 18th Century to Present

One of poker’s most prominent features – betting – came about around this time. In fact, it was the absence of a betting format that leads so many to discount the above tales of its origins. In that regard, today’s poker games can be dated back to the early- to mid-1700s. At that time, the Mississippi River was the most viable means of transporting goods to/from the southern lands of America.

By 1800, poker had spread all along the Mississippi River region, carried northward (from the previously French territory) by riverboats. Over the next few decades, the 52-card deck (also a French derivative) was introduced, ften playing straight poker and stud poker games. 20-card games still existed, but were usually reserved for 2-player games.

History of Poker Games - 114th Pennsylvania Infantry 1864

Officers of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry in Petersburg, Virginia, August 1864

In Jonathan H. Green’s 1843 publication of An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling, he details the history of poker’s suffusion throughout North America via the passage of Mississippi riverboats. As the game made its way further north, it was inevitably carried west by the gold rush of the mid-1800s.

More poker variants came about at this time. The 52-card deck became universally accepted, and the Flush hand was included among the ranks. Draw Poker came about prior to 1850, according to its mention in a game rule guide published that year. 5 Card Stud games, and the straight hand rank, were introduced during the American Civil War, with other additions like wild cards, lowball and split-pot games leading up to the turn of the century.

Texas Holdem Poker

The most popular poker game played today is Texas Holdem. This format dates back to around 1925, when the first community card games were played among small circles in the south. Known simply as Hold’em at the time, it was popular among high-stakes players in that region, but took nearly half a decade for the concept to really catch on.

A group of gamblers from Texas made their way to Las Vegas in 1967. They included Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim, among others. They were determined to bring this game to Vegas poker rooms, because its biggest allure was the four-round betting structure (as opposed to 2-round betting in draw poker).

More betting rounds offer a more strategic approach; a “thinking man’s game”, as Crandell Addington once called it.

Over the next three years, these gamblers managed to get the word out. They also managed to win untold amounts of money from anyone inexperienced at the game who dared compete against them.

First, they played Texas Hold’em exclusively in the Golden Nugget Casino. Then, they were invited to play at the (former) Dunes Casino, where the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention was held in 1969. By 1970, Benny and Jack Binion (of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino) bought the rights to the convention, changed the name to the World Series of Poker, and by 1971, No Limit Texas Hold’em was the crown jewel (main event) of the WSOP.

Popularity of Poker Stems from TV, Internet

Technology really is a marvelous thing. In 1997, European television audiences were introduced to the “hole cam” (or “pocket cam”), allowing networks to broadcast poker games while showing the audience at home what cards each player was holding. That technology came to North America in 2002.

Chri Moneymaker wins 2003 WSOP ChampionshipBy then, online poker was just beginning to blossom. It wasn’t until 2003 that internet poker rooms gained ultimate fame. That was the year poker player Chris Moneymaker won a $40 online satellite (bypassing the $10k buy-in) to the WSOP Championship. He then whittled his way through the competition to win the bracelet and the $2.5 million prize.

Poker history was made that day. Now, it is among most popular professional gambling activities in the world, both online and on land.

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