History of Poker – Where Did It All Begin?

Poker is a card game that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world.  There are many variants of poker, from 5 Card Draw to Texas Hold’em.  Poker is played in casinos, local cardrooms, on Poker websites, and even at small home Poker games for low stakes and mostly for fun.  But have you ever wondered about the history of poker?  Where exactly did all of this start, and how did this awesome game evolve into its modern form?

While exact information is a little difficult to find, there are some very good clues that we can use to determine the approximate time and place that Poker was created.  In this article, we’ll go over how Poker was most likely created, different games and their popularity, and the origin of the name Poker.  There’s nothing like getting a little bit of history about our favorite game, so let’s get started:

When did Poker Begin?

You can’t play Poker without cards, so the first thing to look at in the history of Poker is the introduction of playing cards.  The Chinese are known to have used playing cards for some of their games as far back as 950 A.D., but the games they played with them were much more similar to playing dominoes than they were to modern card games.  Also, the makeup of the Chinese deck of cards is unknown, including the numerical values of the cards and if they were suited or not.  The first known documentation of people using a 52 card deck of playing cards took place way back in 1377.

52 Card Deck

A Monk from Switzerland only known as John from Rheinfelden wrote of a game that used a 52 card deck, with cards numbering from 1 to 10.  The game he observed being played is unknown, but the modern deck of cards was born.  The French invented suits around 1480, which were standardized and formed the modern 52 card deck.

Old Casino Cards

After 1377, many games were created that use the 52 card deck and were similar to Poker.  However, none of them included bluffing, which is the main factor that sets Poker apart from other card games.  One of them is an Indian card game called Teen Patti.  This card game used a 52 card deck, and had hand rankings that were very similar to what we use in modern poker formats.

Bluffing Games

Another game was an English card game called Brag.  This game used 3,4,or 5 cards dealt to each player, terms like blind, pot, and flush, and it also included bluffing.  The early versions of Brag were also called the Lying Game, so this game clearly involved bluffing.  The earliest documented mention of Brag was dated around 1829, so this game came before Poker at least by a hundred years.  The English settlers to America brought their game of Brag and their cards with them when they came to the New World, and they were known to play and teach the game to their native friends.

Sometime around the 1850’s, the professional gambler was born.  These first card “sharks” depended on others to win their income, and usually dealt in games like faro, stud poker, and 3 card monte.  They were notorious for cheating, even when the odds were in their favor, so they had to be quick thinkers, and also be good with a gun.  If you got caught cheating in the old days, that was cause for being shot.  Some gamblers were even tarred and feathered or simply hung after they were discovered to be cheaters.  These gamblers refined the 5 Card form of Poker on the riverboats on the Mississippi River Delta, and then spread out to the Western United States all the way to California with the beginning of the Gold Rush.

Throughout the Country

On the riverboats, Poker players received five cards face down, there was only one round of betting, and no draws.  After 1850, gamblers introduced wild cards, more bluffing, and the draw.  These additions to the game provided another round of betting, so the pots for each hand would be larger, and the gamblers could make more money faster.  At the beginning of the California Gold Rush, Poker was a very unpopular past time.  The rough crowds at the gold camps wanted fast-paced action, and poker was anything but that.  They preferred games like roulette where you could win large amounts quickly (and lose them too), or faro.  As the Gold Rush came to a close, the popularity of Poker rebounded, and interest has steadily grown ever since.

How did they come up with the name poker?

History of Poker

During the 16th century, the Spanish invented a game they called Primero.  This game featured bluffing as a major feature, and each player was dealt three cards to start each hand.  France developed a very similar game which they called Poque, and Germany followed suit, naming their version Pochen.  French immigrants to the Louisiana area brought the game of Poque across the ocean with them, where it was played regularly.  With the introduction of the French 52-card deck to the Americans after the Louisiana Purchase, the English speakers changed the name to Poker and started dealing five cards to each player, and poker was born.

Here’s another popular version of how the game of Poker got its name.  The game of Poker was first referred to as The Cheating Game or The Lying Game from the cheating deals of the professional gamblers and in reference to the bluffing that is so common in poker.  Since “poke” was slang for steal, Poker became the name of the card game where others stole from you.  While this potential etymology is not as likely as the first one, it does make a certain amount of sense.

Poker Variants

There are many different versions of Poker that people play today.  First, let’s cover the three most popular ones from history, then we’ll go over the rest of them.

5 Card Draw

This is the original draw version of Poker, with the simple 5-card hand.  This version of Poker was extremely popular between the end of the American Civil War and the beginning of the Second World War.  The Attorney General of California ruled that Draw Poker was a game of skill and not chance. This led to the State of Nevada legalizing gambling in 1931 to attract draw Poker players from across the US.  5 Card Draw is a common form of Poker that beginners learn to play.  With only two rounds of betting, pot sizes never get very large.

7 Card Stud

This Poker variant became extremely popular around the time that World War II started.  It’s popularity continued until the 1970’s, when Texas Hold’em emerged.  This game uses 5 rounds of betting and stakes usually double, so pots can grow rapidly.  Each player gets 7 cards and makes their best possible hand with 5 of them.  This is the Poker game that built Las Vegas. Read how to play it here.

Texas Hold’em

This is the most played and most popular Poker game in the world today.  Texas Hold’em became prominent when the World Series of Poker was created, and the final Texas Hold’em tables began to be regularly televised on ESPN.  Suddenly, everyone at home wanted to get in on the action with the River, Turn, and Flop.  Home games sprung up everywhere, and many players fancied themselves experts overnight.

With the introduction of internet Poker, people could hone their Poker skills in the comfort of their home. Not only that, but they could gain the experience of thousands of hands very quickly.  This led to an incredible surge of Poker talent around the world, and a very prosperous time for the Poker industry.  Internet and live Texas Hold’em tournaments remain extremely popular to this day.  Find out how to play Hold’em here.

Busy Poker Room

Other Variants

Other common Poker variants include Omaha, Lowball games like Razz, High-low split, Omaha high/low, Badugi, and Chinese Poker. H.O.R.S.E., wild card, twist games, and further variations that feature modified decks are out there too.  There are so many different Poker games today, it can be confusing.  Most players will choose to stick to the more popular versions of Hold’em, Draw, or Stud games to start with. Many go on to learn other forms of Poker as their skills increase.

History of Poker Conclusion

Poker is one of the most popular activities in the world today.  Millions of players take part in Poker Sit N Gos, tournaments, or even home games every single day.  The origins of Poker are located in Europe and Persia, but the modern game was clearly developed in North America. Poker was an American game up until the inception of the World Series of Poker, which is televised on ESPN.

As poker quickly gained popularity worldwide, Poker websites were developed to allow players from around the world to play for real money.  Interest in Poker and its many variants continues to steadily grow, and Poker pros are gaining in fame and fortune similar to rock stars or celebrities.  Who could have imagined that The Lying Game would evolve into a multi-billion dollar industry that is popular worldwide? That’s all for today’s history lesson. If you enjoyed our History of Poker, let us know in the comments!

Suggested Reading Materials and Links

[amazon text=Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker&asin=B003BQZ80C] by James McManus

[amazon text=Famous Gamblers, Poker History, and Texas Stories&asin=B0096IQY84] by Johnny Hughes

[amazon text=The History of Poker: The Origins, Evolution, Facts, and Trivia of Poker&asin=1449011373] by Ken Warren

I'm a tech geek who enjoys extreme sports, computing and, of course, an avid poker enthusiast.

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