The History of Poker and Its Origins

Table of Contents

Poker is a game that traces back to very early times. While its exact beginnings continue to be debated up to this day, one thing is for sure — poker has been an influential form of entertainment that has been enjoyed by several generations. And the popularity of poker is still going strong up to this day. In this article, we will analyze the history of poker and its origins.

With that said, the question that is begging to be asked is how poker has spread across different cultures and in different periods of history. What makes poker an enjoyable game that has survived the test of time? Here is a complete and informative guide to the game we now all refer to as poker. 

Origins of Poker 

As mentioned earlier, there are many debates as to how poker actually began. While its exact origins are still unknown to this day, many theories by experts have sprung up since the influence of poker has been spread across the globe. The earliest claim of the existence of poker (or an ancient variation of it) goes back to over a thousand years ago. 

A few historians have claimed that the origins of poker can be traced back to a domino-card game that was usually played by a Chinese emperor in the 10th century. Other experts have argued that poker is a later variation of As Nas, a Persian card game made popular in the 16th century. 

When and Where Poker Started 

While the debates on the first existence of poker continue, the most popular theory as to when poker was first invented was during the 17th century when the game called ‘Poque’ first gained traction and popularity among the people in France. 

French colonists were able to bring the practice of Poque into the areas they occupied around regions such as New Orleans, which was previously occupied by the Spaniards in the late 1700s but was turned back over to France under the famous military leader Napoleon Bonaparte.

However, the occupation of French authorities in the region of New Orleans would soon come to an end with the enactment of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. 

Napoleon agreed to sell New Orleans to Thomas Jefferson, the president of the United States at the time, as a means to finance the several wars he was engaged in all over the continent of Europe. In its early years, the game of Poque, which soon merged with American culture, was enjoyed as a typical saloon game across the region. The several mechanics and features of Poque were soon adopted into a system that Americans are more familiar with. 

Another popular claim about the origins of poker is that the British game Brag had a major influence on the evolution of the early mechanics of poker. Inspired by a German bluffing game, Brag was also carried over to areas of the United States by traveling merchants and colonists at the time. Some have proclaimed that Brag has had a significant influence on how poker was played back then, which was with a 20-card deck. 

How Was Texas Hold’Em Poker Invented 

Texas Hold’Em is considered by many to be one of the most popular versions of poker. Basically, the game goes in that two cards are given to each player, which are also referred to as ‘hole cards. Afterward, five community cards that are in the face-up position will be dealt with in the span of three stages. 

When divided, the community cards are distributed in a specific order: the first three cards also called ‘the flop’, then an additional card which is nicknamed ‘the turn’ or ‘fourth street’, and then the final card of the set called ‘the river’ of ‘fifth street’. As with regular poker, the player with the best hand at the end of all the rounds wins the pot or the money bet for the respective set. 

Now, similar to the origins of poker itself, the Texas Hold’Em variation’s beginnings are also shrouded in mystery. But as the name implies, the most widely accepted theory is that the game originated in Texas - specifically in the town of Robstown around the early 20th century. 

While the influence of the game gradually became known around the state of Texas over time, Texas Hold’Em finally entered the mainstream in 1963 when it was introduced to Las Vegas at a casino called the California Club. Eventually, word of the new twist to poker went around in neighboring gambling areas such as The Golden Nugget, Stardust Resort and Casino, and The Dunes Hotel. Since then, Texas Hold’Em Poker has become a staple game in Sin City. 

How Poker Spread 

While we now all know poker as one of the most popular gambling games known to man, that was not always the case. Every trend has a beginning, and it’s safe to say that the addictive and fun system of poker has been a growing hit during its first years in the city of New Orleans as a pastime among the common folk. 

In terms of geography, New Orleans was the perfect place for poker’s influence to spread all across the country. 

The city was a huge port right smack in the middle of the Mississippi River, also known as the second-longest river in North America — this means that many merchants and tourists pass by the said body of water and into New Orleans, where they learn about poker and pass it on to their next destinations. 

Several other events in history have surprisingly contributed to the growing spread of poker, especially in the United States. Political instabilities in certain regions of the country, wars, and even the growing innovations and developments in the transportation industry have all had a part to play in cultivating the influence of the popular game. 

It is a given fact that poker has had an exponential influence among the people back then up to today. While some mechanics have changed over time, one thing remains constant in poker — and that it is a way for people to relieve themselves of the stress of daily life. While the conditions of the world today don’t seem as harsh as how life was back then — everyone can share a drink and laugh together over a game of poker. 

Evolution of Poker 

Poker, as with any other popular game, has encountered many significant changes throughout the years that have passed since it first hit the mainstream. With more efficient mechanics, a better quality of life, and making the game a fun experience in general, poker continues to be enjoyed up to today for the excitement and tension it brings with every card and move tied to the element of luck and chance. 

People across different generations and walks of life have grown fond of poker for this very reason. With that said, let us take a look at the history of poker and how it has evolved across the years and centuries. 

Poker Throughout The 19th Century 

From its disrupted origins, poker first made its breakthrough as a popular household game during the 19th century. While it was mentioned earlier that poker shared similarities with the English game brag, many experts have also assumed that the gambling game has elements that have been inspired by the game of primero — a 16th-century card game popular during the era of the Renaissance and brelan, a French vying game that rose to prominence between the 17th and 19th centuries. 

However, modern analysts have denied that poker has been mainly inspired by earlier card games, citing the betting mechanics of the game that were known as early as the 19th century, which was clearly different from other games and did not resemble the system used by previous games that have come out at an earlier time. As mentioned previously, the origins of poker can be found in the Mississippi River region. However, there was a lot more to that than just the mere spreading of poker’s popularity. 

It was in this area that poker’s mechanics also transformed into many different forms and systems. One of the most popular of these changes is the upgrading of poker’s standard deck to 52 cards from the previous norm, which was 20 cards. The original five-card poker variation evolved into a drawing game. 

On top of that, an additional betting round was also included to raise the stakes even higher. Hand rankings such as the “flush,” which was five cards of the same suit, were also first established in this century. In the 1860s, the “straight” hand ranking, or five cards in a sequence, was also added to the list. 

During the height of the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, poker was a popular game on both sides of the war. And when the war subsided during its later years, and troops went back home, the game of poker also spread to different areas of the United States as well. The game was so popular that eventually, it became a hotspot for criminal activities, especially during the era of the Wild West, which marked a time of lawlessness and violence in the country. 

Poker's Progress In The 20th Century 

However, the image of poker as a game of criminals and law-breakers soon had an overhaul with the onset of the 20th century. A time when civilization was getting back on track in the country. One of the biggest milestones in the game of poker to occur during this century was the creation of Texas Hold’Em, which was already a popular variation of the game back then, as mentioned earlier in this article. 

Texas Hold’Em was actually an evolution of stud poker, a form of poker that first made the rounds in 1849 during the time of the California Gold Rush. A particular time when poker peaked in the 20th century was during the 1970s, which marked a period in the game’s history where it received the most developments and improvements, which was a better fit in modern times. 

Playing poker using a tournament system was particularly a hit in American casinos. During the later years of this decade, the first poker strategy books hit the stores, such as Super/System, written by poker player Doyle Brunson, and Caro’s Book of Poker Tells, written by another poker player named Mike Caro. 

There were two significant events during the 20th century that can be classified as contributing to the “boom” of the poker scene back then. The first event was the legalization of Texas and Omaha (another poker variation) Hold’Em and even the game of stud poker by the state of California. 

While only draw games were previously allowed, the legalization of poker flop games made the game of poker even more popular which in turn attracted businesses and investors as well. The second event was the passing of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by Congress in 1988. This move allowed casino games to be played on Indian lands. 

Eventually, this law was a green light for many casino operators and poker room organizers to expand their businesses into these previously untouched lands. Unsurprisingly enough, the poker scene rapidly increased in popularity in the span of a few years. 

Poker In Modern Times 

Unsurprisingly, with the turn of the 21st century, the hype for poker only got even more intense. While rapid modernization of the United States was underway during this time, many casino operators also expanded their reach into more areas of the country and the influence of poker spread even more. 

In fact, the game of poker received its biggest “boom” during the early years of the 21st century which will be discussed later on in this guide. However, there have been many features and upgrades as well to the game that have significantly contributed to its further increase in popularity during this time. 

Online poker was first introduced during the current era, and with that, hole-card cameras were also common in televised games of poker. It was in the 21st century that poker finally became a spectator sport enjoyed not only by the players themselves but by millions of viewers in the country and abroad as well. 

Professional poker players soon became celebrities among fans and competitions all over the world are held in high regard. Prizes that amount up to the million-dollar range were a common sight in poker tournaments and with the hype surrounding the game — things had nowhere to go but up for poker. 

Active Poker Organizations and Tournaments 

Usually, broadcasts of poker games are centered around tournaments sponsored by several organizations all over the world. Since the game’s modernization in the 21st century, many communities have come together to form active groups that all focus on the shared love for the game of poker. 

Some organizations that have sprung up in recent times include the Poker Players Alliance, which was formed in 2005. 

A nonprofit group, the Poker Players Alliance was created in order to protect the rights of poker players in the United States. During the first year of its establishment alone, a whopping 600,000 members signed up to join the PPA. 

One of the most high-profile moves of this organization was a protest against the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 which banned financial institutions from transacting with online gambling websites. Another active poker organization making the rounds is the International Federation of Match Poker which was founded in 2009 in Switzerland. 

The core purpose of the organization is to promote match poker all over the world and to raise its status as a mind sport that requires the use of mental skill and precise strategies. A lot of poker tournaments have also gained popularity in the United States. 

Broadcast to many viewers across the nation, some of the most popular competitions in the country include the World Series of Poker — a tournament series held every year in Paradise, Nevada. Since its conception, the tournament has expanded its reach to other continents, such as Europe and Africa.

Other notable poker tournaments that have attracted millions of fans as well include the World Poker Tour — an international televised poker competition, and the Super High Roller Bowl, which features a high stakes No Limit Hold’Em poker format held in several areas all over the world. 

Famous Poker Players 

As big as the game itself, the world’s best poker players are highly regarded in the industry they belong to for their sheer mental fortitude and ability to make on-the-spot decisions and strategies that give them an edge over their competition. Ever since the iconic poker boom, many prominent names have stood out among the rest — and with good reason. 

Besides the previously mentioned Doyle Brunson and Mike Caro, who have been renowned for creating one of the pioneering poker strategy books that would cement the game’s place in the mainstream, many other personalities have earned their place in the golden halls of the best players in poker history. 

An example of this is Daniel Negreanu, who is known among many as perhaps the most popular poker player in recent times. Nicknamed “Kid Poker,” Negreanu has enjoyed a massive fan base since his rise to stardom during the peak of the poker boom in the mid-2000s. 

Phil Ivey, known as the “Tiger Woods of Poker,” is a regular in high-stakes televised games of poker all over the world. From sneaking into card rooms when he was young to bagging a number of WSOP bracelets, Ivey is one of the most respected figures in modern poker. 

One of the pioneers of mainstream poker is Johnny Moss. A player who has earned the title of “Grandfather of Poker” for his numerous achievements and trailblazing contributions to the game of poker — playing a helping hand (no pun intended) in introducing poker to the masses. One of the biggest highlights of his career is his well-deserved induction to the first-ever Poker Hall of Fame. 

Poker In The Media 

Coincidentally, with the rise of poker in modern times, the evolution of media and how people consume it nowadays has made a significant impact on the reach and popularity of poker in the contemporary age. 

Besides the previously mentioned televised tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour, many other forms of poker entertainment have emerged since the media boom of the 21st century. 

Here are some of the most popular forms of media that poker has had a huge following on in the years that have passed. Attracting people of all ages from different areas of the world. 

Poker in Films and Shows 

The dawn of television is, without a doubt, one of the biggest factors in the current success that poker enjoys worldwide. With just the click of a button, dozens upon dozens of channels featuring poker tournaments and other forms of entertainment related to the game are accessible to viewers whenever they choose and wherever they may be. 

Some of the most popular TV shows that feature the game of poker are Poker Central, which features a 24-hour broadcast of poker events and news, and PokerStars TV, which uses a streaming service format for the shows that they own under the brand, such as the European Poker Tour and the Global Poker League. 

High Stakes Poker, an ongoing show on the Game Show Network that features the no-limit Texas Hold’Em variant of the game, is also making the rounds in broadcast media with over nine seasons under its belt — with the latest season airing in February 2022. 

Poker has also made an impact in Hollywood. In movies both new and old, poker has made an impressive and lasting presence on the silver screen that has definitely resounded in the minds and hearts of audiences. 

Some of the best poker-related movies to come out as of date are Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, and the Western comedy flick Maverick, which casts iconic actor and director Mel Gibson as lead actor. 

Casino Royale is a spy film included in the blockbuster James Bond film franchise.

The Grand, an improv comedy film released in 2008 featured a star-studded cast that included renowned actors such as Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, and Ray Romano. 

Poker in Video Games 

With poker’s meteoric rise to fame, it’s almost expected that it would also penetrate the video game market. As both a household and a professional-level gambling game, poker was able to captivate the hearts of people of all ages. With many casinos bound by law to cater to more mature audiences only — the introduction of poker into video games was a game-changer in revitalizing the popularity of the game among younger audiences. 

From increased functionality to much smoother gameplay, the translation of poker into the language of video games has proven to be a big help in further attracting audiences to the game. Some of the top poker video games to come out since the poker boom include the World Championship Poker series which was first released in 2005 by Crave Entertainment. 

One of the most popular installments in this franchise is World Championship Poker 2: Featuring Howard Lederer. Another game that hit the big time was Prominence Poker, which was published by American developer Pipeworks Studios in collaboration with 505 Games and allows players to play in poker matches with other people online. The game is available on platforms such as the Playstation, Xbox, and even the PC. 

Poker's Internet Stardom 

Of course, the most effective form of media that poker was able to capitalize on and take full advantage of is the Internet. Besides online games that make use of the huge networking possibilities of the domain known as the Internet, poker as entertaining content has also experienced a massive surge in growth with the development of the Internet into the massive web of social networks that we have all come to know in the modern day. 

Tiktok, a video-sharing platform that has undoubtedly dominated the social media scene today, records a whopping 2.1 billion views for videos tagged with #poker. 

From tips and tricks to pure entertainment, the poker scene is a growing media hub in the popular social media app and is only increasing its numbers as time goes by. Jason Ladanye, more known by his online alias on Tiktok as @cardmagicbyjason, has created a huge following on the platform for his card tricks and tutorials for the game of poker. As of writing, Jason currently has 649,000 followers and over 13.5 million likes. 

The video-sharing website YouTube is another social media platform that poker influencers and content creators use to share their knowledge and love for the game. Nathan Williams, also known as BlackRain79 to his subscribers on YouTube, is a professional poker player who uses YouTube to upload tutorial videos and poker lessons to his huge following, which, as of the moment, is 41,000 subscribers strong. 

Joe Ingram, also referred to as Chicago Joey among many other aliases, hosts a podcast channel on YouTube, which a lot of people have recognized as the best poker-centered podcast on the social media website. With over 140,000 subscribers, Joe conducts interviews with the biggest poker players, where they discuss everything about poker and then some. 

The Poker Boom 

As mentioned earlier, the 21st century marked one of the most significant events in poker history popularly known as the poker boom. Occurring between the years 2003 and 2006, the poker boom was marked by the rapid rise in popularity of the Texas Hold’Em version of the game. 

Also, this period impacted the game positively with the advent of online poker games. Numbers-wise, the population of online poker players actually doubled every year on the Internet during this time. 

Many people also consider the poker boom as the official period in which modern poker transformed into a mainstream game that was enjoyed by people globally. 

Beginning and Peak of the Poker Boom 

While the boom itself happened in the early years of the 21st century, many indicators and signs of poker hitting the mainstream were observed as early as 1998 with the release of the previously mentioned flick Rounders. It was also during this timeframe that Planet Poker was established. 

Planet Poker is also known as the first-ever dedicated online poker cardroom. Fast forward a couple of years later, there were two events in 2003 that finally kickstarted the poker boom into overdrive. First, during the spring season of this year, the World Poker Tour’s first season officially aired on the Travel Channel. 

This growing presence of poker was further pushed to even greater heights with the victory of poker player Chris Moneymaker in the World Series of Poker held that year. What’s impressive about Chris’ win is that he first qualified for a place in the tournament by competing online. 

Soon after his victorious run, many people tried to follow in his footsteps, thus spreading the influence of online poker and poker in general even more. This phenomenon even had a name; it was called the “Moneymaker Effect.” The following year, the overall player pool for the World Series of Poker Main Event tripled to an estimated 2,576 players. 

The End of the Poker Boom 

As the popular saying goes, every good thing eventually has to come to an end. While no exact date can be pinpointed as the official ending of the poker boom, many observers have noted the timeframe of October 2006 to be the confirmed end of the historical poker boom. 

It was during this time that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (also previously mentioned in this article) was implemented. In reaction, many online poker sites opted out of their operations in the United States, with the departure of the leading poker website Party Poker dealing the most damage during this time. 

In fact, overall attendance for the World Series of Poker event that year drastically dropped by 30% from its average number. While poker still retained its presence even after the passing of the UIGEA, the end of the poker boom was finalized during Black Friday in April 2011 when the US government seized the web domains of major poker companies in the country, such as PokerStars and Ultimate Bet. 

While the United States has not been too keen on the idea of online poker, the overall game has still enjoyed massive success worldwide. And with lovers of the gambling game still increasing as of today, it is guaranteed that poker will still survive the coming years with ease. From then until now, the fiery love for poker has not died down — in fact, the flames have just got even brighter and hotter by the minute.

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