The game of poker is thought by many historians to have originated more than ten centuries ago. Most people believe it to be a combination of different games that have involved playing with ranked cards.
Most people believe that poker came from the Chinese around 969 A.D. Legend holds that Emperor Mu-tsuang played “cards” with his wife on the eve of the New Year. On the other hand, some poker aficionados believe that the Egyptians deserve the credit for introducing the first poker variant. Egyptians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries played several forms of cards; and in the sixteenth century, Persian peoples used “Treasure Cards” for a variety of gambling games.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French game Poque and the German game Pochen were very popular. Both of these games developed out of a Spanish game called Primero. This game was played by dealing three cards to each player and involved bluffing as a large part of the game. This was actually the first game that directly relates to what we now consider poker.
The game was brought to North America by the French and it was eventually introduced into New Orleans in the eighteenth century. After this, it didn’t take long for the game to spread throughout the country.
In the 1800s, Jonathan H. Green referenced poker in his writing when he mentioned the rules to the “cheating game.” This game quickly replaced three-card monte, as many people felt it was more honest and more challenging. Green looked again at the game and named it Poker.
Following this came a time in US history when there wasn’t a saloon across the country that didn’t have a poker table. During the Civil War, both armies played the game. The influence from Europe on the game of poker ended in 1875 with the introduction of the joker.
In just over two hundred years, poker has become so popular that there several different variants of the game that have dominated the poker scene. Five card draw was the most popular for over a hundred years. In fact, the State of Nevada determined that five card draw was a game of skill, and therefore could not be affected by existing gambling laws. However, stud poker was still illegal since it was believed to be a game based only on chance.
In 1931, Nevada reversed its decision and legalized gambling in its entirety. Seven card stud became all the rage after the Second World War and lasted for almost forty years as the most popular variation of poker. Texas Hold’em hit the circuit in the 1970’s when it was introduced as the title game in the famous World Series of Poker, and it continues to be the most popular variation of poker today. You’ll also find many other variations on the game, including Omaha, Draw, Razz, and Manila, but none are anywhere near as popular as No Limit Texas Hold’em.
Some of the significant developments of modern poker include:
- The World Series of Poker begins in 1970. Early champions include Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Johnny Moss.
- Poker strategy books begin to appear in the late 70s, including Super System by Doyle Brunson and The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky.
- Community card poker games appear in California in 1987.
- Poker appears in Atlantic City, New Jersey, thus increasing its popularity and exposure.
- The movie Rounders (starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton) is released in 1998. Players such as Chris Moneymaker and Jamie Gold have admitted to being inspired by the film.
- Late Night Poker debuts on British television in 1999. This show was responsible for introducing a large number of Europeans to the game of poker.
- The introduction of the hole-card camera makes poker more viewer-friendly to a television audience.
- Online poker games begin to increase in popularity during the early 21st century. The game of Texas Hold’em becomes wildly popular.
- Chris Moneymaker wins the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003, followed by Greg Raymer in 2004. Both men qualified by playing online, creating the impression that it was possible for anyone to win the event. Because of this, attendance has soared in subsequent years, and the popularity of poker is at an all-time high.
With the advent of poker rooms online and the ease of playing with real or play money, it’s safe to say that poker will continue to grow in popularity for some time to come. For those who are interested in reading more about the origins of poker, you should pickup a copy of the book Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus.