The History of the Game of Poker
The History of the Game of Poker
The history of Poker is much debated and not all Poker historians agree. Hundreds of years ago we could not have known that our ancestors would want to know every detail of why a card game was played a particular way, why a card game evolved from 20 cards to 52 cards, when and why the Flush was added or the Straight. They had no idea we'd want these details. For them it was simply a fun card game and somewhere along the way, a person decided to make a change much as you might in your own game room playing with friends. The change catches on and the next thing you know everybody is playing that way. Nobody keeps a record of the whys and wherefores and centuries later all we can do is try to piece together what might have happened and when. We will never know for certain.
The French are sometimes credited for bringing the card game of Poker into what is now called New Orleans in 1480 as the French card game Poque. The game of Poque included bluffing and betting and was played with 20 cards from tens thru aces and four players just as the original New Orleans Poker.
However, the French betting game of Poque may have evolved from an even older German card game called Poch, Pochen (meaning to brag or bluff), Bock, Bocken, Boeckels, Bogel or Pochspiel. The French game Poque is believed to be the descendent of an older French game Glic which was almost identical to the German game Pochen. This German card game was played in the 1400s and includes bluffing and betting. With the German version having so many name variants of itself it's no wonder the history of Poker is so hard to pin down!
The German card game Pochen was a five card game which used a staking board and was played in three rounds. The player with the highest card in the first round got paid. The second round was for betting and the third round was won by the person with the hand being closest to 31. Why some would attribute this game as the origin of Poker I cannot guess, it sounds more like Blackjack to me. Perhaps it was simply the act of betting that links it to the game of Poker in the eyes of some. Perhaps if you ask a Frenchman he will tell you France created Poker. An Irishman would attribute it to his Irish ancestors and a German would surely put its root in Germany.
To up the ante in the Poker pot there was a Persian card game called As Nas which closely resembled Poker. As Nas was played with 5 players and a 5 suited deck with 25 cards. Some believe that Persian merchants and sailors taught As Nas to the French settlers in New Orleans. The 1937 edition of Foster's Complete Hoyle claims As Nas as the origin. The catch is that Poker is written about decades before As Nas as written about. Poker was known prior to 1811 while As Nas isn't written about until 1890 which negates As Nas as the origin in the minds of many historians. In addition, "As" is not a Persian word but it is the French word for "Ace" leading one to believe that the French brought the game to the Persians and not vice versa.
The card game Poker was originally played with a 5-card hand using a 20 card deck of 10s thru Aces and requiring four players much like today's card game Euchre. The hands in those days were fewer consisting only of one or two pairs, three of a kind (called Triplets), full house (called Full) and four of a kind. The best hand you could get was four aces with king high.
The French also had a three-card game called Gilet, renamed Brelan and renamed again as Bouillotte that traveled to England and became Brag (sometimes spelled Bragg) which included bluffing. Brelan was well known to the French settlers of New Orleans and could easily have contributed to the game of Poker as we know it. Brag was played with three cards and hand ranks were as follows:
Spain and Italy could also jump into the fray claiming that the card game Primero (aka Primiero, Primiera, Ambigu, Prime, Primus and Primavista) originating in 1526 to be the original root of Poker, but of course you first need to determine which of these countries Primero first hailed from. Edmond Hoyle believed Poker to be a derivative of Brag, which was believed to be a derivative of Post and Pair, which was believed to have come from Primero according to The Young Folks' Cyclopedia of Games and Sports by John D. Champlin in 1890. Primero was a variant unto itself with rules that were never written down and variants which differed from game to game. The Italian writer Berni said that "the game is played differently in different places". By the 18th century no one could tell you how the card game Primero should actually be played as there were so many variants.
One of the more well known variants of Primero was similar to Draw Poker where players were dealt two cards followed by a betting round, then two more cards followed by more betting. Players could Hold, Pass or Fold much like today's poker games. However there were major differences between Primero and Poker. Primero was played with a 40-card deck in which the eights, nines and tens were removed. Cards had point values and so did card combinations. The card combinations were quite different than Poker hands.
Primero hands were as follows:
The following chart offers a comparison of the various games showing Poque as the lead contender for similarity in both name and hands.
In conclusion, the definitive history of Poker cannot be 100% settled. The only fact that can be reported with any certainty is that the game of Poker was first written about in the New World as being played in New Orleans by the French.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 as the French city Nouvelle Orleans in the territory of New France. Four years later a hurricane blasted the city smashing most of the buildings to smithereens. The French ceded the colony to the Spanish in a secret treaty in 1763. During the Spanish ownership the city was again destroyed, this time by a great fire known as the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 which destroyed 856 buildings. A few years later another fire destroyed 212 buildings. You'd think we'd have learned our lesson and left the city to the ocean, not tempting the gods to send Katrina to destroy it yet again centuries later. But we puny humans possess a stubbornness about places and things we hold dear and New Orleans was one of those places.
The Spanish rebuilt the city into the beloved style as we know it today with iron balconies, bricks and courtyards. New Orleans returned to French rule in 1800 in another secret treaty but the French didn't hold ownership for long. In 1803 Napolean sold French Louisiana (which included parts of what is now Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota) to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Once the buck stopped passing from owner to owner, the territory was finally free to flourish and it did just that.
John Davis, a patron of the arts who rubbed elbows with the elite of New Orleans, opened one of the first American gambling casinos on Orleans Street near Bourbon Street in New Orleans in 1827. He also built a ballroom and a theater. He knew that the elite society wouldn't want a cheap casino in the backroom of a saloon so he built a different style of gambling hall with carpeting, fine furniture, art on the walls and the best food and drink. The food, drink and entertainment were free.
The card game of Poker (which may not have yet been named as such) was a mainstay of the casino as were Roulette, Faro and other gambling games. Other casinos started popping up in the seedier parts of town but fell short of the high standards John Davis had set. Cheap casinos sprouted in a waterfront area called the swamp, an area so notorious for its lawlessness and thieves that even the police dared not enter. Professional gamblers and card cheats flocked to the swamp where the law dared not enter and the pickings were easy. Even if a poker player were lucky enough to win, he'd likely lose his winnings to thieves as soon as he set foot out the door of the casino.
Sometime in the mid-1830s, poker games were adapted to a full 52 card deck to accomodate more players and incorporate a new type of hand called a Flush. Where the earlier forms of poker did not include drawing new cards, the adapted version did include the draw which turned poker into a game of skill rather than just the luck of the initial deal. The addition of the draw added excitement to Poker allowing bad hands to be improved and additional rounds of betting to be added to the poker game.
With the spread of Poker and other gambling games came a flood of nefarious card sharpers who preyed on travelers bound for the New Frontier with all their life savings. Con artists, card sharpers and confidence men flourished along the pioneer routes. Citizens became angry as more of the card sharpers were exposed as cheaters and one fateful night in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1835 it came to a head when an angry lynch mob hanged five card sharps spurring the anti-gambling reform movement that closed all the New Orleans casinos.
A skilled gambler who later became an active crusader against gambling, Jonathan H. Green wrote the book An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling in 1845. He called Poker "the cheating game" and exposed the various gambling tricks used by himself and his fellow poker players. Some historians believe that Green was the first to use the name Poker in reference to this card game.
Reminiscent the Salem witch hunts, gamblers were becoming unpopular and many professional gamblers moved their stakes to the riverboats. New Orleans became famous for its riverboat saloons known as the Mississippi Steamers. While all along the Mississippi cities were passing laws against gambling, the river steamers chugging up and down the river were immune to the laws on land.
Laws could not stem the flow of this very popular card game. Once it gained a foothold Poker spread like wildfire thru the United States later evolving into several variants such as Stud Horse Poker, Jack Pots and Whiskey Poker. Traveling up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers by steamboat then out thru the Wild West by wagon train, a game of Poker could be played in virtually any saloon with disputes being settled by the barrel of a gun.
In 1845 the status of poker was elevated by inclusion into American Hoyles Games which referred to it as Poker aka Bluff played with a 52-card deck and Twenty-Deck Poker (played with 20 cards, not 20 decks and also referred to as Twenty-Deck Poke). He denotes the hands for Poker aka Bluff as being:
Gambling houses sprang up all over northern California with the 1849 California gold rush offering gambling, musicians and pretty women. San Francisco replaced New Orleans as gambling capital of the U.S.
Draw Poker is mentioned in the 1851 journal The Literary World Volume VIII listing Bohn's New Handbook of Games as containing Draw Poker.
Stud Horse Poker (Stud Poker) originated in the Midwest (Ohio, Indiana and Illinois) as a variant devised by cowboys and first appears in Hoyle in 1864 as Stud Poker.
By 1864, Hoyle lists the hands as:
Whiskey Poker appears in Hoyle 1868 and is described as a variant of Draw Poker with an extra hand dealt on the table called the "Widow". As the play goes around the table each player can take a card from the Widow to improve his hand, discarding a card back into the Widow. Hoyle 1868 also mentions Draw Poker, Stud Poker and Straight Poker.
By 1868, Hoyle lists the hands as:
Note that the Straight Flush and Royal Flush weren't listed as official hands. Hoyle states that: "It is strongly urged by some players, that the strongest hand at Draw Poker should be a Straight, or Royal Flush, for the reason that it is more difficult to get than Four of a Kind and removes from the game the objectionable feature of a known invincible hand. It is impossible to tie four Aces or four Kings and an Ace, but it is possible for four Straight Flushes of the same value to be out in the same deal. No gentleman would care to bet on a sure thing, and we therefore think the Straight Flush should be adopted when gentlemen play at this game."
A 53 card variant called Mistigris aka Mistigri aka Poker with a Joker appears in Hoyle 1907 and included a wild card which was either a blank card or Joker. In 1909 Hoyle refers to it as Joker Poker. Some believe that the Joker card was added specifically for use in wild card Poker games but the Joker was already being added for the card game Euchre according to Hoyle in 1880.
Euchre aka Uker is believed to originate from the Alsatian card game Juckerspiel. The "J" being pronounced as "Y". Juckerspiel denoted the two trump Jacks as "Bauer" meaning "farmer" in German. The term "Joker" is believed to derive from the term "Jucker".
Poker traveled from the New World of America to Britain in 1872 on the coattails of General Schenck, the American ambassador to Britain, who referred to Poker as a "peculiarly American game" and taught it to several eager protoges one weekend. He penned a written guide which was turned into a booklet by the eager recipients. However, references were made in the 1885 biography of George Eliot to a card game known as Brag or Pocher.
Jack Pots (Jacks Or Better) appears in Hoyle 1907 and required you to have a pair of jacks or better to open. Allegedly this version was intended to eliminate those players who would bet on anything. While common in the West, Jack Pots was not so heartily embraced in the East and was non-existant in the South.
The gambling boom stopped abruptly when Nevada declared gambling illegal in 1909, leading the way for other states to follow suit.
While Poker was all the rage throughout the New World you couldn't play Poker in Nevada in 1910. Betting games were a felony. California, however, declared it a card game of skill and as such not bound by anti-gambling laws.
Wild Widow was known in 1922 as a variant which used a single community card and was considered a variant of Deuces Wild. Hoyle describes it as being practically the same as Draw Poker except for a single card dealt face up which denotes the wild card, and the three other cards of that denomation becomes wild. Sometimes a Joker was added to the deck to allow four wild cards.
In 1931 Nevada reversed its ruling and legalized casino gambling, opening the doors to the incredible boom of casinos. Gambling became organized and regulated and the first gambling license to be issued was to the Northern Club. Other casinos soons followed paving the way for Las Vegas as we know it today.
Once poker became the mainstay of the casinos, the next big ticket change was to introduce tournament poker. The first tournament poker game was reputed to be held in 1969 at the Holiday Hotel and Casino in Reno. They called it the Texas Gambling Reunion and it was sponsored by Tom Moore. The idea took hold and in 1970 at Binion's Horseshoe Casino, Benny Binion chose six of the best of the known poker players to invite to a new tournament called the World Series of Poker. Tournament poker play soon turned poker into a spectator game to be watched on TV. The poker players which had before been unknown except to other poker players, suddenly became instant celebrities with audiences all over the world bringing a new breed of poker game to the table.
With the popularity of the Internet thrown into the play, online gambling became the next big casino boom. Without the overhead of a physical location, online casinos could offer games with bets as low as a penny to entice new poker players. Free online Poker was played in the 1990s with the first real money Poker game to be played in Planet Poker in 1998. The internet brought the marriage of poker tournaments to online poker allowing anyone to win their way into the World Series of Poker via smaller tournament games called "satellite games." From there, Poker moved to handheld devices, allowing you to play Poker for fun as well as offering real money Poker on iPhones, iPads, PDAs and other similar devices. It's anyone's guess what the next major leap will be. Holographic poker, intergalactic poker, or perhaps just a few new variants to spice up the poker pot will bring the next big poker boom.
Online poker games profit the casinos in four ways: the rake, tournament entry fees, side bets, and earning interest on player deposits.
The rake can be anywhere from 5-10% of the poker pot. Sometimes instead of a percentage the casino will collect a table charge known as a "timed rake" where you pay a fee for the time you play. Timed rakes are usually reserved for higher stake Poker games. Online poker players can check their rake with a rakeback calculator.
ABOUT THE GAME OF BLACKJACK AND POKER
The History of Gambling
The History of Blackjack
The History of Poker
The Odds of Winning
The Men Who Beat Las Vegas Blackjack
Blackjack Legends and Strange Casino Tales