History of Poker

By  //  April 7, 2021

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While poker’s origins are not entirely an agreed-upon fact, there are a couple of places that the beloved, world-famous game could have its roots. It is thought that the earliest games that resembled poker came to be in 10th-century China.

Now, compared to today’s games, such as online slots, they bear little to no resemblance, except for the fact that both of these are considered gambling.

Currently, after a thousand years, hundreds of tournaments are hosted annually, with millions of players attending to win the biggest prizes. While most of them happen at an online casino, some brick ‘n’ mortar ones still operate, even with the pandemic at large.

The simple rules, shallow learning curve, and a large community allow for a quick grasp of the basics, whereas a deeper understanding of the game requires years of practice. Poker could be called easy-to-learn but hard-to-master, which is the main characteristic that made it so popular in the contemporary world.

Ancient beginnings

As was said in the first paragraph of this article, a 10th-century Chinese game is thought to be a distant relative of poker. Still, this one can be considered not only a game somewhat resembling poker but also any other card game. While it’s not necessarily a close relative, it could have been the start of further evolution that, ultimately, led to the birth of poker.

In 16th-century Persia, a card game called As Nas, later transformed into Ganjifa, has emerged, and its playerbase is thought to have been quite massive. As Nas was pretty similar to poker in terms of the way it was played. There were 20 cards of 5 ranks.

The players were dealt five cards each, which means that the entire deck was gone immediately. The high hands were the same as poker, except for flush and straight. With As Nas, players’ strategy limited itself to either bluffing or betting conventionally. While far simpler than poker, As Nas has undoubtedly laid the foundation for the game’s future versions.

One theory is that poker evolved straight from As Nas, though researchers have started to doubt it and began looking for European roots.

Poque and its cousins

A French game called Poque is thought to be the most direct predecessor of poker. There were quite a few variations of the game, each one slightly different in name and rules, depending on the country of origin. German Pochen, soon adopted in Ireland as Poca, was a game mainly focused on bluffing. The Spanish or Italian Primero (Primiera) had three of a kind, pair, and flush as the strongest hands.

Now, the most probable origin of poker was the English game Brag. Brag was brought to England from Germany, largely based on Pochen. Soon after, English and French colonists took the game across the pond, combining it with the rules of Poque, and so, poker was born.

Spread through America

It is thought that the birth of poker happened in New Orleans, which was a French colony at the time. Poker began as a local game, but soon it started to spread like fire. With New Orleans being one of the major ports of the Mississipi River, the conditions for popularising a game like poker were excellent.

Not only did merchants travel down and up the river, introducing the game to towns and villages along the way, but they also voyaged to the Caribbean, as New Orleans was located near the mouth of the river.

Texas Hold’Em Poker

The mid-1800s saw the introduction of the 52-card poker deck, soon named the Texas Hold’Em. It expanded the deck from 20 cards, and poker had become a drawing game. Straight and flush were introduced as strong hands.

The game soon became closely associated with the Wild West, as it was extremely popular in saloons. It was usually played by outlaws and criminals, accompanied by their trusty knives and revolvers. To ensure their own safety, they usually carried weaponry due to the nature of their opponents.

This has made poker seem like a game played only by violent, lawless men. While this was partially true, there were legitimate poker games, though they were extremely tough to come by. It took another one hundred years for poker to redeem itself as your regular card game. Still, it kept growing, finding an ever-increasing playerbase across all of the United States.

New types of poker were constantly introduced to mix up the rules and keep the game fresh. Stud poker, which involved being dealt a mix of five face-up and face-down cards, which was later expanded to seven.

Modern poker

Currently, there are hundreds of kinds of poker, all of which differ wildly or subtly from one another. The rules became normalized worldwide, and soon everybody knew how to play poker, one kind or another.

With the development of casinos, mainly in Las Vegas, international tournaments were being hosted in Sin City. Poker saw unprecedented popularity, as more and more players found the appeal of poker extremely attractive. Studies and books about poker strategy started selling multiple copies, as everybody wanted a piece of the pie.

The invention of the online casino in the 1990s has further increased the gambling industry, along with poker. Online tournaments, especially ones with a low buy-in, attracted players from all over the world to participate.

The possibility to engage in a poker game with gamblers from the other side of the world became incredibly appealing. Currently, according to EGBA, poker accounts for 5% of online gambling revenue in the European Union. This makes the profit generated by online poker games over $1 billion. Comparatively, other casino games such as online slots make up 32.4%.

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