It All Started With… The History of Poker, or How We Got Our Poker Faces On

Betiton
26 min readJun 25, 2021

It all started with … the series that explains the beginnings of gambling powered by Betiton™

We welcome you to another entry of our series ‘It All Started With…’, where we look deeply into the history of casino games. In this entry, we’ll be going over the history of poker, another world-famous casino game whose origins have been heavily shrouded by the dim veils of history.

‘It all started with a card game of European origin that found its way to the culturally French region of the US…’

However, that doesn’t mean that we won’t try to find out anyway! What little information there is about the origin of poker proves useful just the same.

a pile of casino chips and four cards that almost make up a royal flush
Photo by Dylan Clifton on Unsplash

Attempting to discover the origin of this renowned and beloved card game is quite the task, and very likely an impossible one. Even so much as locating a definitive predecessor of poker has proven a difficult, let alone locating the origin of the game with confidence…

Persian or European Card Game? Attempting to Pinpoint the Origin of Poker

In spite of that, a number of possible precursors have been identified and proposed. The first of which is a Chinese game played with cards resembling dominoes by a 10th-century Chinese emperor; yet, the ties to this game are tenuous at best. However, as we have seen with our article on the history of baccarat, a Chinese domino game by the name of pai gow was proposed as the origin of baccarat.

Thanks to the Silk Road — a number of trade routes extending from parts of China to Constantinople and Cairo — the connection from the East to the West lends some credence to these theories. Despite that, it would seem that there wasn’t any Chinese influence on poker. However, another game from Asia has also been proposed.

In fact, the second proposed precursor is a Persian card game called “As-Nas”. The origins of As-Nas are also unknown, however it’s speculated that the game dates back to the 16th century. The game used a pack of 20 cards with 5 suits, which were: the As (ace), the Shah (king), the Bibi (lady), the Serbaz (soldier), and the Couli (dancer).

The game required 4 players and each one was dealt 5 cards. Other than that, the game seemed to have a gameplay that was quite similar to poker: for example, the winning hands very much resemble those of modern poker, with the exception of flushes and straights. In fact, the following are the winning hands for As-Nas:

  • She va just: also known as a “full”, this is the same as a full house, that is, a three of a kind and a pair.
  • Sehta: same as a three of a kind.
  • Do just: same as a two pair.
  • Just: same as a pair.

At the same time, the ace is the most valuable card in the game of As-Nas. Moreover, betting was an integral part of the game: after the dealer finishes dealing, he laid down a stake. The player after him would then have to match the dealer’s stake; if he did so, he would declare dîdam (I have seen) and match the stake or even raise.

Naturally, this would progress until all players’ stakes are equal. However, if a player would like to fold, he would declare nadîdam (I have not seen) and throw his cards. There was also the possibility to “straddle” — that is, to bet without seeing one’s cards — in As-Nas; to do so, players would have to declare nadîd dîdam (not seeing, I have seen) and place their stake.

Finally, even bluffing was an actual part of the game, and it was known as tûp zadan (to fire off a gun). However, despite knowing the rules of As-Nas, they come to us from 1895. This means that they can possibly not be the original rules of the game. At the same time, there is no historical evidence to support the influence of As-Nas on poker.

The entire basis of this theory is on the strong similarity between the rules of early poker and those of As-Nas. However, by the time of the writing of those rules, poker was already being played, which could mean that poker’s rules weren’t influenced by those of As-Nas — or even that the rules of As-Nas were influenced by those of poker.

In fact, the word “âs” (“آس” in Persian) in the name of the game is not found in Persian dictionaries and is likely related to the word “ace”. Whilst the English word “ace” comes from the Old French word “as”, David Parlett argues that it’s likely that the Persian word is a Portuguese loanword that arrived in Persia from India.

Thus, it would seem likely that the rules of As-Nas were influenced by poker and not the other way round.

Closer to the West: Looking at Poker’s European Predecessors

Despite the uncanny similarities between As-Nas and poker, recent scholarship casts serious doubts on the veracity of the origin of poker being As-Nas. In fact, a number of other games have been proposed as being the ancestors of poker, which are:

  • the French game of Poque;
  • the Irish game of Poca;
  • the English game of Brag;
  • the Spanish game of Primero (related to the Italian game of Premiera and the French game of la Prime);
  • the French game of Brelan;
  • and others, like the Spanish game of Mus and the English & American game of Post & Pair.

It’s possible that all of these games somehow contributed to the development of poker, though this is highly unlikely. Out of all of these, however, it seems that poque is the likeliest contender for being the precursor of poker. Poque is actually quite an old card game which seems to have descended from a German game called Poch (also known as either Pochen or Pochspiel).

a pile of old playing cards in the context of the history of poker
Image by vn7925 from Pixabay

In fact, the words “poque” and “poch” seem to have ultimately descended from the German verb “pochen”, which means “to brag as a bluff” (although its original meaning is “to knock” or “to strike”). The earliest record of this game comes from 1441 where it was played in Strausberg.

Poker’s French Cousin: The Possibility of Poque as Poker’s Predecessor

The reason that poque and poch are considered to be the closest ancestors of poker is due to the fact that the names of these games seem to be etymologically related to the word “poker”. The theory, as explained by Parlett, goes that the final “e” of the word poque (which was pronounced the same way as “poke”) is pronounced only fleetingly.

Thus, this may have created the perception that it needed to be pronounced, giving rise to the pronunciation of poque as “pok-uh”. In fact, Louis Coffin, a former treasurer of the United States Playing Card Company, writes: ‘The French name was poque, pronounced poke, and Southerners corrupted the pronunciation to two syllables to pokuh or Poker’.

Whilst these are speculations at best, the theory does seem to have some credence. In fact, it’s not all that difficult to imagine a phonetic corruption of “poque” to “pok-uh”. Moreover, the rise of rhoticity (that is, the pronunciation of every “r” in a word) in America as a way to differentiate American English from British English might also play a part in the formation of the word “poker”.

America as an emergent nation (having successfully expelled the British Empire in 1783) was looking for ways to differentiate itself from England, and thus lay claim to a “unique American culture” or “Americanness”. One of these ways was to consciously change the way English was spoken in the US.

Amongst these methods of conscious linguistic change was the adoption of pronouncing all the “r’s” in a word, which is contrary to the majority of British accents. This accent became quite popular in the US, becoming at the same time a marker of prestige, and thus, spreading very quickly around the country.

Thus, it may have been the case that the final “r” of “poker” was added due to an overuse of this conscious adoption of rhoticity, or as an instance of hypercorrection resulting from this conscious rhoticity. Another reason poque is considered to be poker’s predecessor is due to the simple fact that poker emerged from a Frenchified region of the US (more on this in a later section), thus “poque” is a very likely candidate to being the predecessor of poker.

The rules of poch, however, are quite complex, with the game being broken down in 3 stages, and there’s no clear way of how they relate to poker. However, the second round of poch consists of a vying round, where players contest against each other on who possesses the best combination.

Thus, it might be said that this vying round was found to be more exhilarating and interesting than the rest of the game, and thus was expanded upon to become its own game. Moreover, even the rules of poque prove difficult to reconcile with those of the earliest form of poker.

Poque was played with 32 cards distributed amongst 6 players, whereas the earliest form of poker used 20 cards that were evenly dealt to 4 players. Another possible source of influence for the development of poker in this direction might have been the French game of Bouillotte since it also used a 20-card pack.

However, even the rules of this game don’t quite match up to this of early poker. This makes it all the more difficult to pinpoint any true origin or predecessor of poker. If anything, Parlett argues that it might have been the case that the rules of poque were applied to a 20-card pack since the players playing the early form of poker were familiar with 20-card games.

But, without any definitive evidence pointing to this, it’s practically impossible to make any real conclusions. However, recent scholarship has also pointed to another game that seems to have had some influence on poker

Maybe It’s More English than We Thought? The Role of Brag in Poker’s Development

Another game that seems to have had some sort of influence on the evolution of poker is the British game of brag. The game is also rather old — though not quite as old as poque or poch — and it was first mentioned in 1721. It was largely popular with “high society”, especially with the female side of the well-off.

Brag was a vying game with 3 cards dealt to each player. It started with an initial round of betting which was then followed by a drawing round, where players could discard undesirable cards and take new ones from the deck. This is, of course, quite similar to draw poker as we know it.

It’s theorised that brag was imported to the US via British migrants and became popular in New England by 1800. However, by 1850 was dying out after being pushed out of the spotlight by the increasingly more popular game of poker. Or, more accurately, the game of brag was merged with that of poker.

In fact, Jeffrey Burton says that roughly in the period between 1848 and 1853, brag disappeared entirely in the American gambling scene. As we already said, this was due to the merging of brag’s “drawing” feature with the rules of poker. Burton continues to explain the reasons for brag’s fall from grace in no uncertain terms:

The five-card Poker hand yielded a far greater range of distinctive combinations than the Brag hand, in which the pair-royal (three of a kind) and pair were still the only ones recognized by American players. Hence, when the draw was transplanted from Brag to Poker, the three-card game lost its following in next to no time. The result of the amalgamation could have been called Five-card Brag; instead, it became known as Draw Poker.

And Poker Was Finally Born: The Birth of Poker in 19th-Century New Orleans

Despite the immense difficulty of locating a predecessor to the game, we can actually locate poker’s birthplace with confidence, as well as reasonably estimate its date of birth. It would seem that poker emerged sometime in the early 19th century, sometime between the years 1810 and 1825. At any rate, poker emerged in the New Orleans area after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

For context, the Louisiana Purchase was an acquisition of 827,000 mi² (2,141,920 km²) of land by the United States from France, for the paltry sum of $15 million (around $350 million in today’s pricing). The reasons behind this cession of land were manifold, most important of which were Napolean’s failing hopes of re-establishing France in the US and his fears of British invasion in their American territory.

Moreover, France’s minister of finance, François de Barbé-Marbois, argued that Louisiana isn’t all that valuable and France wouldn’t be able to afford sending her soldiers to occupy the territory anyway. Thus, he advised Napolean that it would be best for France to concentrate her efforts elsewhere and sell off the land. Napolean was in agreement and thus, acting under counsel from his minister of finance, decided to sell off the land at a pittance.

Not long after the land fell into American hands, poker started being played in the region. Anyone familiar with the history of the region would know that gambling thrived in New Orleans, most especially in gambling saloons and on the Mississippi steamboats, which began operations in 1811.

These dates might give us an idea of when poker came into existence. However, the earliest reference to poker is from an 1836 book, but two later texts (one published 1843 and the other in 1844) show how poker was already popular in 1829. This early form of poker, however, was different to the poker we know today.

The game was played a pack of 20 cards — divided into aces, kings, queens, jacks, and tens — evenly dealt amongst 4 players. Moreover, there were 5 possible combinations: pair, two pair, three of a kind, “full” (full house; known as “full” because all the 5 cards in a player’s hand are active) and four of a kind.

These rules look uncannily similar to the rules of As-Nas we mentioned above, which is precisely why we believe that the rules of As-Nas as we know them cannot have influenced poker. If anything, we’re more likely to believe that things happened the other way round, although there is no evidence to support this either.

20-card poker continued being played up until sometime during the 1830s, when 20-card poker was being replaced by poker played with 52 cards, as we know it today. The reasons for the adoption of 52 cards were multiple:

  1. firstly, it was to accommodate more players per game rather than just 4;
  2. secondly, it might have been for the sake of making it easier to land a flush (which was a new card combination at the time);
  3. and lastly, it was ‘to ensure there were enough cards for the draw’, another novelty of the game that went on to change it from a mere gambling game to one of skill.

By 1845, the draw — a stage in poker where more cards are drawn out from the deck, giving players the chance to improve their hands — was a standard part of the game, transforming it in the process. The adoption of the draw would have obviously given rise to draw poker, which is said to have first appeared in print in 1850. At the same time, the adoption of the 52-card deck helped to naturally develop the flush.

The Sons of Poker: How Poker Started Evolving into New Variants

By 1864, stud poker — said to be short for “stud-horse poker” — appears in The American Hoyle (a compilation of games played in the US), meaning that it was definitely played sometime before that. Stud poker, however, is said to have originated from a bit of a funny story.

It is said that the game originated in a saloon somewhere in Ohio after the Civil War where a draw poker game was being played. One particular player — having opened the pot with 3 kings and went all in during the course of the game, thus having no more money to play with — quickly went outside during the game to fetch his horse.

When he came back, he tied his horse to his chair in order to be able to wager it later. However, in his drunken state, it only occurred to him when he came back that the other players might have peeked at his cards. Upon his realisation, he addressed the others saying:

You fellows know damned well what I’m betting on and I’ve got all my money up on it. Now I propose that to make it fair all around each man turns three of his cards face up, discard two, and draws two more face down. I’ll gamble this here thoroughbred stud horse on my chances.

However, whilst the story seems plausible, especially with the mention of the stud horse being bet, it’s just a story. Moreover, the dates don’t match: the American Civil War ended in 1865 whilst the game was already recorded in 1864, a whole year earlier. In fact, the game is said to have been popular during the American Civil War.

Not long after the appearance of stud poker, the jack-pot rule was introduced. We’ve already spoken about this rule in our article on the history of the jackpot slot, which we suggest reading if you’d like to know more about this rule. However, it suffices to say that it seems that this rule was introduced for players to practise caution rather than just blindly betting on anything.

Moreover, it was also a way to encourage more cautious players to play the game. At the same time, the rule was met with some criticism, with one writer in 1897 even going so far as to write ‘The jack-pot… has completely killed bluffing’. At the around the same time, the full gamut of poker combinations was recognised as “official”. However, it was in 1904 that the official and definitive rules of poker were finally in print.

The final “family” of poker — after draw and stud — is the one that the famous Texas Hold’em belongs to. It’s officially known as “community card poker” but can also be found as “flop poker”, and the earliest record we have of a game of this type is from 1926. The game was called “Spit in the Ocean” and had only one communal card, known as the “spit”.

The Most Popular of Its Children: The Birth of Texas Hold’Em

It was maybe at around the same time that the game “Spit in the Ocean” was recorded, that Texas Hold’em was also being developed in Texas (obviously). It’s difficult to pinpoint the date of origin of Texas Hold’em too, but it’s said to be sometime in the early 1900s.

a pack of playing cards purposely for texas hold ‘em
Photo by Rich Smith on Unsplash

Although that doesn’t really tell us all that much, it’s at least a decent estimate as it places it close to the date of birth of the community card poker family. However, what is for certain is Texas Hold’em’s place of origin. In fact, the place of origin of Texas Hold’em is officially recognised in the state legislature of Texas.

According to the 80th Texas Legislature, the office birthplace of poker is Robstown, Texas. Of course, the importance of Texas Hold’em can hardly be understated as it was quite clearly the poker variant that placed poker on the map more than any other variant of the game. In fact, the biggest tournament in poker started out with a Texas Hold’em tournament as its main event, which served to truly popularise poker like never before.

Of course, the next logical step is to trace the history of the poker tournament, which we’ll be doing in the following section.

The Rise of Competitive Poker: The 20th Century as the Age of Poker Tournaments

After Texas Hold’em spread through Texas, becoming ever more popular, in the 1950s, Texas found its way to the heart of gambling in America: Las Vegas. In 1963, a professional poker player known as Corky McCorquodale introduced Texas Hold’em to a Las Vegas casino known as the California Club.

The game was quickly picked up by a number of other casinos, namely the Golden Nugget, the Stardust, and the Dunes. However, despite the game spreading quickly, it was only available at the Golden Nugget for some time; moreover, the dedicated poker room at the Golden Nugget was immensely dingy, meaning that professional poker players avoided it at all costs.

It was in 1969 that things took a turn for the better when professional poker players were invited to play at the Dunes. This new location proved much more prominent than the squalid room at the Golden Nugget, breathing new life into the game. At the same time, a certain Tom Moore held the very first poker tournament, featuring multiple poker games, at the Texas Gambling Reunion in 1969.

However, Benny Binion and his son Jack Binion saw that a poker tournament would be profitable affair and thus acquired the rights to the convention in 1970, moving it to their casino, Binion’s Horseshoe, in the process. The Binions also changed the name of the convention, renaming it to the World Series of Poker.

After the first edition of the convention, a journalist named Tom Thackrey suggested that the tournament’s main event should a no-limit Texas Hold’em game. The idea appealed to the Binions, who implemented it with immediate effect; since then, the main event continues to be no-limit Texas Hold’em.

The decision proved to be a good move as the event attracted more and more players as time passed. In fact, the number of entrants in 1972 was a mere 8; however, the event had over 100 entrants just 10 years after in 1982, and over 200 in 1991. The massive success of the World Series of Poker caused other poker tournaments to spring up.

Nowadays, however, the World Series of Poker is the biggest poker tournament in the world, where every year, poker professionals compete against each other for tens of millions in prize money. The final stage in the history of poker that we’ll be looking at is its digitisation; in other words, how poker made it to the internet.

Poker in the Age of the Internet: How Poker Became a Digital Game

With the creation of the internet, several aspects of our lives were significantly altered — so much so that nowadays, it would be impossible to imagine how the world would be without the internet. Of course, one of the many things that changed dramatically thanks to the internet was the way poker was played.

In 1998, after interest in the game skyrocketed, the first online poker room was launched. This was the birth of Planet Poker, founded by Randy Blumer. Planet Poker would eventually fall off the map as it was overtaken by its competition; despite that, we have Planet Poker to thank for paving the way for modern online poker.

In fact, only a year after Planet Poker was launched, another poker room by the name of Paradise Poker was launched. This new poker room quickly picked up and gave Planet Poker a run for its money. Moreover, by the year 2000, more and more companies started popping up, offering online poker as well.

In the following year, several of today’s biggest poker rooms — including the likes of partypoker and PokerStars — were launched. These were already dominating the market by 2004, pushing Planet Poker into relative obscurity. These poker rooms continued to grow, and nowadays, PokerStars boasts the title of being ‘the largest real money online poker site in the world’.

Why Was Poker Created?

For the very same reasons that any of the other games we’ve mentioned in our series: for players to pass the time! In fact, poker has even been called ‘the Great American Pastime’ by Allen Dowling (it’s the title of his book on poker), which only reinforces poker’s status as something that was played to pass the time.

Of course, as we saw above, poker wasn’t invented per se but developed organically out of similar games that found themselves together in the same place. Different aspects of these different games must have contributed to the development of the game which we have come to known as “poker”.

Moreover, these different aspects may have been picked apart by the players that were familiar with these games. The rules might have been consciously applied to a different game in order to spice it up a little, or they might have been unconsciously used because players confused which game has which rules (especially in the absence of any guide detailing the official rules of a game).

a player folding a pair of kings
Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Whether through a deliberate application of another game’s rules, or through their accidental misapplication, the new format of the game would have been well-received and thus, the new game would have caught on, becoming established as an entirely new game with its own rules. Poker would have probably undergone a similar process.

How Did Poker Become Popular?

Before the 1910s-1920s, poker was viewed as a game for questionable men and was frequently associated with violent brawls. These associations were likely due to the “Wild West” image that had come to be associated with the game. However, after the 1920s, poker was started being accepted throughout all levels of society.

There are a number of reasons for this, including widespread legalisation of the game, the creation of new poker variants, as well as the depiction of poker in a number of movies (the earliest of which is from 1912). Some are also of the opinion that US involvement in WWI also helped to spread poker throughout Europe, causing it to become accepted by more and more people.

As to when poker was introduced to Britain, on the other hand, it is said that a certain General Robert Cumming Schenck, an American ambassador to Britain, had introduced it whilst at a party in Somerset in 1872. However, an earlier reference to poker might be found in George Eliot’s 1885 biography written by her second husband, where it is said that the great writer wrote in 1855: ‘One night we attempted “Brag” or “Pocher”’.

However, what certainly boosted poker to widespread acceptance and popularity the most was its depiction in various media, as well as a number of factors which contributed to the Poker Boom of 2003–2006. We’ll be taking a look at what contributed to poker’s popularity in the following section.

From American Pastime to World Sensation: How Poker Was Made Popular by Various Media

As we’ve already seen, poker has been the subject of movies since 1912, when the silent movie A Cure for Pokeritis was released. This was the first movie that featured poker but many others would later follow. However, most movies that would follow were hardly well-known, even if, for example, A Cure for Pokeritis was declared a success at the time.

In fact, the first poker movie that would reach long-lived popularity would be the 1965 movie The Cincinnati Kid. This was 5 years before the first World Series of Poker, which is arguably the biggest poker tournament in the world. However, whilst the World Series of Poker of 1970 would help to bring popularity to poker, the tournament would only been known amongst professional poker players interested in participating.

The general public was largely unaware of its existence — that is, until 1973. The World Series of Poker of 1973 is one of the most significant in the history of the tournament because it was the first edition to be televised. This was the first in a series of moves that served to bring poker to the masses and further popularise it. If we were to move chronologically, the next step in poker’s popularity would be the publication of a number of important books.

With the publication of Super/System — a book on poker strategy written by Doyle Brunson who, at the time of publication had won the World Series of Poker twice, once in 1976 and another time in 1977 — in 1978, the way poker was played was changed entirely. It was one of the first book discussing Texas Hold’em strategy and it became an instant success.

In fact, the book is still considered an authoritative source to this very day and one of the most important books ever written on the subject. Only 5 years later, in 1983, another of the most important poker books ever written was published: The Biggest Game in Town, by British poet, novelist, and critic, Al Alvarez.

The book — which describes the World Series of Poker and the realm of professional poker players — was the first of its kind, establishing an entirely new genre of literature at the same time. Thus, the book was responsible for giving birth to the genre of “poker literature”, as well as bringing poker to a wider audience.

Poker’s popularity from there on continued steadily growing — it was in 2003, then, when poker really took the world by storm and its popularity skyrocketed to unprecedented heights. But what contributed to poker’s unprecedented claim to popularity?

When the Game Exploded in Popularity: What Contributed to the Poker Boom?

Undoubtedly, the trembling beginnings of the poker boom can be traced to 1998, specifically to two things that happened in that year: those that have been paying close attention to our article will already figure out the first one: the launch of Planet Poker’s poker room. This served to make poker even more available to a large number of people.

In the same year, one of the cult classics of poker cinematography was released: the famed Rounders. Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and John Malkovich amongst others, Rounders also served to introduce poker to a number of people — in fact, a number of professional poker players admit that it was Rounders that influenced them to take up a career in poker.

These, however, were merely the seeds of the Poker Boom, which was set to bloom 5 years later, in 2003. One reason was the creation of a new televised series of poker tournaments, known as the ‘World Poker Tour’. This obviously contributed to the further popularisation of poker.

However, the main reason behind the Poker Boom was one player in particular: Chris Moneymaker. Other than his very appropriate surname, Chris was a 27-year-old amateur poker player and accountant from Georgia who managed to do the unthinkable: he managed to defeat professional player Sam Farha and win the World Series of Poker of 2003.

playing cards and casino chips in the context of the history of poker
Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay

Chris’ victory was significant for a number of reasons: firstly, he was the first player to win the World Series of Poker after qualifying online. Secondly, he was the underdog in the tournament; in fact, the odds were heavily in favour of Farha. This gave all amateur players hope that they also can win a tournament themselves.

Finally, and most importantly, Chris made off with more than $2 million in prize money. The poker community went wild after Chris emerged as champion of the World Series of Poker, and quickly tried their best to emulate his success. In fact, the number of participants in the 2004 World Series of Poker was 2576.

This was an increase of over triple over the number of entrants in the 2003 World Series of Poker, which was 839. The number of contestants continued increasing up until the 2006 edition, which had a peak number of participants of 8773, more than ten times the number of participants in 2003.

After 2006, the number of participants decreased by over 2000 players, meaning that there was a total of 6,358 at the main event of the tournament. This number didn’t really change significantly for a number of years — until recently, when participation improved greatly. In fact, the 2019 World Series of Poker’s main event had 8,569 — only 200 players shy of the number of participants in 2006.

The Future of Poker

As things stand, it’s nearly impossible to imagine our world without poker. In fact, it would be a great loss to humanity if poker were to disappear from the face of the planet. However, we don’t believe that that would happen unless it were due to extremely extraordinary circumstances.

On the other hand, we believe that poker will continue becoming even more popular. Moreover, we think that it might actually be the case that poker will continue being developed in interesting new ways. For example, virtual reality poker is already being offered by poker giants PokerStars.

Other than the obvious influence of technological advances (such as virtual reality), poker might be innovated in much more basic ways: the creation of a new poker variant. Remember that poker is not a specific game but a group of “families” of different games, all under the common name of “poker”.

Thus, poker can be reinvented in a number of ways, either through the creation of new variants or through the implementation of new technology or other ways we wouldn’t even know about!

Conclusion

It’s difficult to say where poker truly came from. The Persian game of As-Nas is a tempting candidate for being poker’s predecessor but there are problems with this theory, especially the fact that firstly, no contemporary evidence of As-Nas’ influence on poker exists.

Secondly, the rules of As-Nas come to us from a source late in the 19th century, when poker was already being played, and has been played for decades. Finally, there is evidence to believe that As-Nas might have actually been influenced by poker (or another game) rather than the other way round.

Thus, poker’s predecessor would have to be found elsewhere. The most likely candidate of being poker’s parent would be a French game of German descent known as poque. Poque seems to be the likeliest ancestor of poker mostly due to the fact that poker emerged from the culturally French region of Louisiana in America.

Moreover, it seems to be the case that the names of the two games are etymologically related: we saw above how it was theorised that the word “poque” gave rise to the word “poker” due to the corruption of the word by Louisiana Creoles. At the same time, another French card game by the name of Bouillotte might have contributed to the development of poker since they’re both games using a 20-card pack.

However, none of the rules of these games align with those of poker, meaning that the evolution from poque to poker wasn’t as organic as we might be led to think. On the other hand, the English game brag might have contributed to the development of poker too. Brag was popular at the same time that poker was picking up speed.

The rules of brag and draw poker are actually quite similar, and it’s believed that brag was co-opted by poker, temporarily pushing it into obscurity as well as taking some of the rules for itself. In particular, the rule that was adopted from brag was its ‘drawing rule’, where undesirable cards can be discarded and replaced.

Despite not knowing for certain which game was the true predecessor of poker, we at least know that the game emerged from New Orleans in the early 19th century. Through the course of the 19th century, the game evolved quite rapidly, with the game adopting the 52-card deck by the 1830s and draw poker emerging in its modern form by the 1840s–1850s.

Stud poker and the jack-pot rule emerged during the 1860s or so, and whole range of poker hand combinations was accepted by the 1890s. However, the official rules of poker were only in print by 1904. By about 20 years later, in 1926, the final family of poker — community card or flop poker — came into existence.

It’s believed that Texas Hold’em developed in the early 20th century as well, but there is no real evidence to back this up. However, by the 1950s, Texas Hold’em became extremely popular in Texas, and by 1963 found its way in Las Vegas. A few years later, in 1970, Texas Hold’em became the main event of the biggest series of tournaments in poker: the World Series of Poker.

This paved the way for poker’s eventual popularity but there were more steps that needed to be taken. These include: the 1973 televising of the World Series of Poker; the publication of important poker books in the 1970s–1980s; and poker’s depiction in movies, starting from 1912 but really seeing any significant success in 1965 with The Cincinnati Kid.

However, the most significant steps towards poker’s popularity were in 1998 when two particular events would sow the seeds of the Poker Boom of 2003: the making of the movie Rounders and the opening of the first online poker room Planet Poker. Already, these were making poker seem more appealing, attracting new players in the process.

In 2003, then, poker exploded in popularity, owing largely to one single event and one man in particular: Chris Moneymaker. Chris, an amateur player and accountant, managed to outplay the competition (mostly made up of professional players) and go on to win the 2003 World Series of Poker, winning over $2 million in prize money.

Suddenly, everyone wanted a slice of the action that Chris Moneymaker was enjoying. Chris’ rise to fame, then, was primarily the source of poker’s explosion in popularity; in fact, the numbers of participants in the main event of the World Series of Poker increased tenfold in 3 years: from 839 in 2003 to 8773 in 2006.

Whilst the hype for poker seemed to have died down afterwards, it seems to be making a comeback as of late, especially when you consider the increased number of entrants in the World Series of Poker. This brings us to the end of our article on the history of poker, and what a ride that was.

Poker has seen its fair share of characters — like Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Rousso, and the infamous Isildur1 — and has also seen some interesting changes — such as VR poker and massive changes in poker strategy — and thus, we can easily say that the game is alive and well. However, only time will tell what happens next in the world of poker…

In the meantime, join us on our next entry where we’ll be going into the history of another highly popular casino game!

Other Articles in Our Series It All Started With…

Curious to know more about the history of gambling? You can find out more by reading our other articles in our series It All Started With… which you can find below:

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