Poker Origins – The History of Poker As We Know It

Dennis Clarke
13 March 2023
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Poker is very much played in casinos, on the internet and even at home. It is a collective name for several card games that are used, whether in a regular, or online casino or just at a friend’s house. Texas Hold ’em is the most popular form of poker.

Hardly anyone knows when poker really started. The first card game played in Europe was Pochspiel, which was often played in Germany. The players could bid and could use betting rounds. Then a game that was very similar to the Pochspiel called Poque arose in France. After Poque originated in France, a card game was created in England that is very similar to the poker we know today. Blinds, pots and flushes were introduced in the English version, and modern poker was born.

In this guide, we will cover the history of the poker game. We will mainly focus on Texas Holdem since that is the most played poker variant. However, we will also briefly cover some other well-known poker variants.

The Very Beginning

It is not entirely known exactly where and when the game of poker originated, that is to say, about almost all card games that we now play. For example, there is still a debate about where exactly poker came from. Some say the first poker games originated in China around 900 AD. There, Emperor Mu-Tsung played “Domino cards” with his wife. A completely different theory says that poker started in France around the year 1480.

There is evidence of card games being played in Europe from the early fourteenth century, but card games were not invented here. The earliest evidence of card games in history comes from ninth-century China, where the Chinese Emperor is said to have played cards during the Tang Dynasty.

A few centuries later, in the sixteenth century, the game As Nas was played in Persia and similar games in other Asian countries. So, when Middle Eastern merchants started trading with European countries and Crusaders came to Europe, different card games came into the hands of European people, and European card games emerged.

Poque

One of the variants of Middle Eastern card games was the French Poque, which was first played in the fourteenth century. People think that the name comes from the German ‘Pochen’, which means to bluff. Cards from that time also already featured the well-known spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs.

When many inhabitants of Europe in the eighth and nineteenth centuries sought a better life and emigrated to the ‘New World’ (America), some also took their card games with them. French emigrants are said to have introduced Poque to New Orleans. The game merged with the English brag and became immensely popular, but it was then also declared illegal due to the wagering aspect of the game.

Since then, the game was only played on large riverboats in the Mississippi River, where professional gamblers and professional cheaters could just go about their business and get rich. The boats sailed through large parts of the country, causing the games to spread quickly in popularity.

Players of the game were often gold diggers who wanted to spend their earned money. When they left the boat and travelled to other parts of the country, they also spread the game, becoming a well-known phenomenon in the Wild West. Slowly more and more places were created where you could play poker, such as in a casino or the Saloon.

American Civil War

In the nineteenth century, elements of the game of poker were constantly changing. For example, the 52-card version of the game was introduced to allow more people to play at the same time. During the American Civil War, when the game was popular among soldiers, new versions of the game were merged. New elements were introduced as well, such as the draw and values​​, such as the street.

Despite the fact that poker descended from European card games, it was not or hardly known in Europe. In 1871, Queen Victoria of Great Britain also became interested in the game through an American minister who explained the rules to her court, but poker’s breakthrough in Europe did not lie there. The game was introduced here by American soldiers who fought in World War I.

From there, the game continued to evolve, and more and more popular versions of the game emerged. Think of five-card draw, 7 card stud, and, of course, Texas Hold’em.

Other Poker Variants

Numerous other poker variants were added in the late 1800s, including wild card, lowball, split-pot poker, and community card poker. A good example of the latter is Texas Hold’em. These variants were remarkably quickly spread abroad by the US military.

Poker tournaments were offered in American casinos in the 1970s, and around the same time, the first serious books on poker strategies and systems were published, including ‘The Theory of Poker’ and the ‘Super System’.

Poker is extremely popular today, and especially with the rise of the internet age and online poker tournaments, its popularity has skyrocketed. The game is now even more accessible to all kinds of players worldwide, and there is plenty of documentation online about the rules of poker and the various strategies that exist.

Texas Hold’em Poker

In the early years, it was mainly Draw Poker that was played, but soon variants such as Stud Poker and Holdem Poker appeared. While all these games have different rules, some things are the same. The most important similarities between all variants and, therefore, what makes poker real poker are the card combinations with which you win, the fact that no one can see each other’s cards and that a lot of money can be wagered.

Sometime during the twentieth century, a local variant of Holdem poker emerged in Texas, which soon became known as Texas Holdem. There were dozens of such regional games, and they are often still played in those regions to this day. For example, think of Chicago or Cincinnati Poker. But unlike many of these other regional variants, Texas Holdem would go on to conquer America and later even the world as the most played poker variant.

Golden Nugget

Texas Holdem has been played for decades since a club of Texan poker players decided to try their luck in Las Vegas in 1967. Among them were poker legends Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson, the godfather of poker. At that time, it was mainly Seven Card Stud that was played in Las Vegas, with a Draw Poker game here and there. But that would soon change.

The Texans settled in the Golden Nugget casino and introduced Texas Holdem there. The owner of the casino saw the potential and decided to set up a few tables for this poker variant. Within a year, there were already dozens of casinos in Las Vegas that also offered Texas Holdem to their players. Less than a decade later, Texas Holdem was the most-played poker game in Las Vegas.

The World Series of Poker

The start of the World Series of Poker in the 1970s was the blow the game needed to gain popularity, which has brought us and the game here in 2023. The World Series of Poker is the largest poker event in the world. It is considered by many to be the world championship of Poker.

The WSOP is the most prestigious tournament in the world, and thousands of poker players head to Las Vegas every year to compete in the World Series of Poker. The WSOP once started with just one event but now has more than 70 tournaments played throughout the summer. The winner of the main event with a buy-in of $10,000 is considered the world champion of poker.

WSOP Online

In 2009, the organisation of the WSOP teamed up with Dragonfish to offer online poker under the name of WSOP. Initially, you could use this app in England to play poker for real money. In America, this was also possible, but only in the states of Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. Dragonfish is part of 888 holdings, so logically the app runs on software similar to that of 888Poker.

Due to the live events of the WSOP being cancelled during the corona pandemic, a number of events in 2020 and 2021 have been moved online.

FAQs About The History of Poker

We receive a lot of questions regarding the history of poker. As we want this guide to be as complete as possible, we decided to answer these questions in the section below.

  1. How Did Poker Get Its Name?

    Most of the early clues to poker history come from China. In the ninth century, a Chinese emperor during the Tang dynasty is said to have played cards. Emperor Mu-Tsung played the card game Dominoes with his followers; the game was called P’ai. In China, P’ai means both Dominoes and cards/card game. The Chinese P’ai is considered the predecessor of “Pai Gow Poker”. This card game originated in America in 1985 and is still played today.

  2. Where Did Poker Originate From?

    The first European card game that is quite similar to today’s poker probably originated in Germany in the 15th century. In the poker history of the “Pochspiel”, many recognisable aspects of the current poker game can be found.

    Poch or Pochen is a game of chance for three to six players. With three to four players, there are 32 cards; with five or six players, 52 cards are played. At the start of the game, each player is dealt five cards. The gameplay consists of three parts: reporting, bragging and shedding. The bragging is very similar to the betting and bluffing of today. One player can brag a number of Chips, and the next player can decide whether to call or brag even higher.

  3. Where Do Poker Cards Come From?

    It is not known when poker cards originated. It is generally believed that the cards originated in China sometime after the invention of paper.

Author Dennis Clarke

As a vivid poker and casino fan, I became a full-time iGaming copywriter to write about what I genuinely love: gambling. I am now a copywriter at UKCasino.com, Casinogrounds.com, and Casinoscores.com