Without a doubt, poker is the world’s most popular card game. What other casino game has its own televised championship like the World Series of Poker and many other televised events. It’s also the most popular form on gambling online. Whether it’s in a casino, over the internet, a private game, or on a television near you, poker is everywhere.
The most popular form of poker right now is the game Texas Hold‘em. This is a type of vying game which means that players bet into a central pot making judgements on their own cards which are hidden. The winner has the best combination based on the player’s own cards plus the shared community cards.
But there’s a lot more to poker than Texas Hold’em. There’s also 5 card draw, 7 card stud, Omaha, and countless others. The way you bet and the way you build your hand may differ, but the rules regarding winning hands are the same from game to game. You can even play by yourself with video poker.
The online casino industry has exploded over the past decade mainly because of the interest in Texas Hold’em. But that game and the others are staples in casinos all over the world and all over the internet.
Origins of Cards – The Poker Tool
The roots of poker are difficult to trace. Its origins appear to be from all over the world and go back a few centuries.
Europe saw its first playing cards around 1360. They came from Egypt and likely arrived through Venice which was a major trading port at the time. Playing cards were also found prior to this in China, India, and Persia, but this deck from the Islamic Mamluk Empire of Egypt consisted of four suits with 13 different ranks so they bore a strong similarity to the type of playing cards used today.
Cards were incredibly popular in 14th century Europe. There were countless styles and various designs, suit-systems, and formats. By the end of the century a common style was developed which was called the European suit system which allowed a wide array of games to be created which included a few different kinds of poker.
Early Ancestors of Poker
Pochen / Poque:
An early ancestor of modern poker came from Germany. It was a game called Pochen or as it was also known, Pochspiel. This game had many similarities to the 15th century game Bocken. Bocken is known as poker’s closest ancestor because of how both are played. Bocken had three phases that included getting paid for being dealt the best card, having the best combination of cards, and actually playing the cards.
Poque was the French relative of Pochen which descended from Bocken. Poque was first played towards the end of the 16th century. It was also known as Glic or Bog and there are reports of it being played into the middle of the 19th century. In Poque, you had six players and used a 32 card deck. It was also played in three parts. That’s different than other earlier versions of poker which were played in only one part with decks made up of 20 cards.
Many of the players who would have used the 32 card deck would have started out with games played using the deck of 20 cards. One game that moved many players from the smaller deck to the larger one was called Bouillotte. This was a French game played with 20 cards among four players. It shared similarities with today’s Texas Hold’em because each player was dealt three cards each and shared the fourth card, which was the top card of the deck which was turned over for all to see.
Another link in the historical poker chain is the game As-nas. This is a five card game from Persian which was brought to the attention of the French by sailors from Persia. There are many similarities between 20 card poker and As-nas which include the possibility of combinations that include pairs, three of a kind, and two pairs. The height of the game’s popularity came in the 1700s and featured rounds of betting and hand ranking with some similarity to today’s version of poker.
Brag is a card game from the UK that is still played today though it has undergone many changes over the past century. The game was first written about in 1721 as the middle section of a three part game Post and Pair. This game was extraordinarily popular in the 18th century among certain pockets of society and “brag” basically meant to bluff. It was a three card game and the middle section was so enjoyable that eventually the other two sections were discarded creating this new game. Edmond Hoyle wrote a treatise on the game which was published in 1751.
What we know about the gameplay of Brag is that it was said to have been played with a deck of 22 cards among five players or using a deck of 26 cards dealt among 6 players. There was a draw after the first round of betting allowing players to discard some cards to try and make their hands better. The goal was to get a pair or a royal pair.
The game that is sometimes called the mother of poker is Primero and it dates back to 1526. Historians almost universally believe Primero to be the first game that is almost an exact replica of today’s modern day poker. Created in Italy and Spain it then spread to England and the rest of Western Europe. It was played with a 52 card deck and had a variety of different betting options similar to the modern version.
Poker’s Origins in America
English emigrants and British colonial officers brought many things to America in the late colonial period, and one of them was the game Brag. It was played in the South among the plantation colonies especially in Maryland, Virginia, and in the Carolinas. It had reached up to New England by the early 1800s. The first official version of the game was written in “The New Pocket Hoyle” published in 1805. It remained true to the roots laid out by Edmund Hoyle in the mid-1700s and this version continued to be written about all through the 19th century and eventually is believed to have evolved in modern day poker.
Birth of Poker – The Real Thing
Like a lot of card games in the early 1800s poker was very popular on Mississippi river boats. The main form of entertainment on these boats was gambling and poker was one of the most popular ways to gamble.
One of the earliest pieces of writing on poker came in the book “An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling” by Jonathan H. Green in 1834. Green wrote about how the game was spreading and the large role the river boats on the Mississippi played in introducing the game to new people. He called it the “Cheating Game” and when he found out the game wasn’t featured in American Hoyle he named the game “poker”.
Green wrote about a game played with twenty cards and only used the Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks and Tens. This version could be played by two to four people with each being given five cards. Green referred to it as the “Cheating Game” with good reason, by the time he was putting a description of the game on paper it had become the game that featured the most cheating and bluffing on the Mississippi circuit. It was also the most popular taking out Three-Card Monte. More and more people were visiting the river boats to play this 20-card poker game.
The Wild West and Poker Adaptations
In many of the great Western films you’ll find a scene or two where poker is being played in a saloon. These scenes are historically accurate because poker was extremely popular all through the Wild West. Almost every town with a saloon also featured a poker game being played inside the swinging doors.
It was during this period that poker underwent many variations and evolutions that created whole new versions of the game. A cowboy version of the game called Stud poker is thought to have originated around Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and it made its debut appearance in American Hoyle in 1864. Jackpots was another new part of the game which was a rule created that prevented a player from opening unless they had a hand equal to or higher than a pair of Jacks. This rule was created to try and stop players from betting recklessly on any hand which would knock out the more cautious players.
The new versions of poker such as Jackpots, Stud, and Draw are all written about in the version of American Hoyle that came out in 1875. Whisky poker is another version mentioned in the book which featured different combinations in a commerce-based style of poker. A variety of poker combinations were being used at this time though American Hoyle noted that four of a kind was the best possible hand except for games where straights were allowed.
Other changes in this period included using the 52 card deck and the creation of the flush which is having a hand where all the cards are the same suit. The straight was also becoming more common and the creation of the wild card happened around this time as well.
Community Card Poker
In the early 1900s the idea of community cards was introduced to poker in the U.S. which changed the game dramatically. This version saw community cards, cards shared by all players, dealt face up in the middle of the table. Each player was also dealt cards privately they would use for themselves and whoever could create the best hand using their own cards and the community cards would win the pot.
The two most popular versions of poker that use community cards were created in the 1920s. They are Texas Hold’em and Omaha. The games are different in the way the dealer hands out the cards but the rounds of betting are exactly the same. The other difference is at the showdown pertaining to the combination of community and private cards used to make up a hand.
As poker established deep roots in American culture the language of the game also became part of American and British English. Poker terms and slang have become part of the lexicon now. Some of the more common poker terms and sayings used in everyday English include: having an ace up your sleeve, beats me, blue chip, calling your bluff, cash in, high roller, pass the buck, poker face, when the chips are down, wild card, and up the ante. These terms and sayings are so common now the speaker often doesn’t even realize they are saying something that has its origins in poker.
World Series of Poker
For proof that poker has become the most widespread and popular game in gambling history you need look no further than the World Series of Poker. The World Series developed from the birth of the professional poker player and the creation of tournament play. Poker tournaments became the most popular form of the game in the 1970s once the World Series of Poker was created. It was first held in 1970 and is the most prestigious poker championship in the world.
The brainchild behind the World Series of Poker was poker legend and casino owner Benny Binion. Along with his sons Jack and Ted, Benny Binion began working on the idea of a World Series for poker in the 1960s and held the first tournament at the Binion Horseshoe casino. The games included five card stud, razz, seven card stud, deuce to seven low-ball draw, and Texas Hold’em. Casinos were having a hard time stopping cheaters at this time and this tournament went a long way to returning poker to one of the most popular games on the casino floor.
More events were added in the next few years and others have been removed, but one constant is that the tournament has always been held in Las Vegas. Most often the tournament has been held at the Binion casino but also at Harrah’s Entertainment’s Rio Hotel after they purchased the Binion.
The players who have won the World Series of Poker are now legends among fellow poker players. Not only do they win a large cash prize but they also win a gold bracelet which has become part of the tradition of the tournament. Past winners include Johnny Chan and Chris Moneymaker.
Televised Poker Tournaments
The creation of the hold card camera at the end of the twentieth century turned poker into a spectator sport. Satellite and cable TV suddenly began broadcasting key tournaments and fans of the game followed the action on television. The interest among broadcasters spread the idea of tournament poker so that many more people were shown the concept all over the world.
Because of this new global exposure to the game and its stars, advertisers and sponsors began to take notice. Many players and tournaments became sponsored by major brand names and the top players now wore caps and shirts with their sponsor’s logo. Poker as a sport was now making money for people who didn’t have to sit at the table and gamble. The televised tournaments showed the drama of the game and the strategy. The best part of which was the fact that the viewers could see what the players around the table could not, they could see what everyone’s cards were and know who was bluffing and who was not.
Televised poker made the top players into celebrities. Poker champions were suddenly household names for players all over the world who watched their every bet and every move.
Online Casinos: Further Globalization of Poker
Poker didn’t just spread to your television at the end of the 20th century; it also spread globally on the internet. The online casino industry embraced poker as one of its top games and instead of gathering in a casino or a friend’s basement, players could now sit at an online table with other players from around the world.
The online casino industry began in the late 1990s and featured a number of different games. Poker was a natural choice because of its global popularity. Many different versions of poker can be played at online casinos but the most popular are the ones that began in the Wild West more than a hundred years ago: Texas Hold’em and Omaha. Other favourites include 7 Card Stud and 5 Card Draw. There’s also video poker which is similar to online poker because you play on a screen rather than with actual cards, but in video poker there is normally one player who goes up against the machine.
Because poker has to be played against other players, virtual poker rooms had to be created by the online casinos so that players could find each other and start up a game. Some casinos have a huge choice of different games offering a variety of tables with different minimum bets.
For some, the virtual poker room has become more than just a place to play poker, it’s also become a place to meet new people and have a social interaction online. Because you provide an identity, generally a nickname, when you sit at an online table fellow players may recognize you from previous games. Most virtual tables also have a chat option where you can speak to the other players. There’s even tales of virtual poker-playing couples who got married after meeting this way.
Many of the top online casinos are now sponsoring the major poker tournaments. Many times an amateur online player can work their way through many tournaments and if they are successful enough they can earn a place at a top real life poker tournament in Las Vegas. This idea attracted a lot of attention when an unheard of player named Chris Moneymaker earned his spot online at the World Series of Poker in 2003 and unbelievably went on to win the tournament. He started his journey at a $39 online tournament hosted by an online casino.
Because of the accessibility of online casinos the amount of poker players around the world is now in the billions. Poker has been heralded as the top online game and many online casinos now deal exclusively in poker games and don’t offer any of the other games found at casinos. Despite its massive popularity from its humble beginnings, there is no reason to think that poker won’t continue to become more and more popular in the 21st century!.