One of the games that have definitely enjoyed an incredible growth in numbers and popularity in recent years is poker. The reasons for this are numerous, including the entry of poker into mainstream television and the broadcasting of events such as the World Series of Poker. In addition, popular versions of poker can now be found in the online poker industry to provide players with a diverse range of options.
Within the category of games known as ‘vying games’, poker is by far the most popular.
The definition of this category is simply that players are in possession of cards (hidden or partially hidden) and make bets into a central pot. The player who manages to create the best combination of cards at the end of the poker round is awarded the pot.
Poker is so popular because it provides players with a diverse range of options. Games such as Texas Hold'em, Omaha, 5 Card Draw poker and others appeal to a wide range of players, while video poker also provides a twist to the game and the possibility to ‘go solo’.
Online poker has also contributed greatly to the rise in the game’s popularity, and there are literally thousands of sites out there that provide nonstop entertainment and excitement. Click for details on, hand rankings/nicknames and poker terminology/glossary.
The Origins of Playing Cards
While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact geographical region or even time period when poker in some form or another was first created, it has been claimed that it had to be around the 13th Century when playing cards were first seen in China. However, other experts claim that there is evidence that forms of poker were being played several centuries beforehand, making the origins of poker itself a mystery even today.
It is known that in around 1360, playing cards reached Europe from the region of Egypt through Venice’s ports. These Arabian cards, known as Mamluk cards did not look anything like the traditional Chinese playing cards and, instead, were similar to those that originated in Persia and India. The Mamluk cards were surprisingly similar to the cards we are familiar with today, consisting of 52 cards and four suits of 13 ranks apiece.
By the time these cards reached Europe, the craze for games took off like wildfire on the continent. Different styles, designs and playing formats literally exploded on the scene, and within a few decades, a uniform system of cards was available in Europe, allowing players to enjoy a number of games using the same format.
Early Variants of Poker
There are a number of early variants of the game of poker that lend their features to what we know as poker today. These include poque, As-nas, brag and primero.
Also known as pochen or pochspiel, this poker variant originated in Germany around the 15 th century. A similar game at the time was also bockent. Poschen consisted of a unique staking board and had three phases through the game which consisted of payment for being dealt the best card, wagering which player has the best combination of poker cards and then playing the actual game of poker out.
The French version of pochen was known as poque and landed on the scene in the 16 th century. Also known as glic, poque had an excellent run of popularity and was actually a strong contender for the most popular game in France until the 19 th century. Similar to pochen, poque also consisted of three parts. The game was played by up to six players with a deck consisting of 32 cards.
Bouillote, another version most probably affected the move from a pack of 20 to a pack of 32 cards.
Persian sailors arriving in French ports brought the country the game of As-nas, a five card vying game popular in the Middle East. The similarity between today’s poker and as-nas is the possible combinations of pairs, threes and 2 pairs. As-nas’ popularity reached its peak in France in the 1700’s and introduced rounds of betting not seeing before.
A poker like game that is still popular on the scene in Britain is brag, which has undergone major changes in the past century. The presence of brag in English culture was first seen in the early 1800’s when it formed part of the game known as Post and Pair. The essence of brag (meaning to bluff) is its format as three card vying game. So popular was brag in certain parts of English culture that Edmond Hoyle wrote his famous 1751 treatise on the game.
Brag essentially had up to five players dealing a pack of 22 cards. A round of betting was followed by a draw where players had the choice of improving their hand by drawing a new card from the pile.
If any poker variant comes closest to today’s poker, it has to be primero. The game traces its origins to 1526 in Spain and/or Italy and spread fast to other areas on the European continent and to England within a short space of time. Betting options that we are familiar with today, made up primero, and a 52 deck of cards characterized this game.
Poker Reaches the American Shores
As with most games and commodities, the game of brag came to the shores of America in the late colonial period. Colonial officers and emigrants brought with them the knowledge of the game and it spread to southern plantation colonies to areas such as Maryland and Virginia.
The first written text about poker in America was published in 1805 and entitled The New Pocket Hoyle. The rule book was very true to the treatise first introduced by Edmond Hoyle back in 1751 in England, and was republished several times throughout the next century.
Poker is Born
The true spread of poker across America of the 1800's was thanks to the Mississippi river boats, and the game became extremely popular on the waters and off as people embarked and disembarked, teaching others the game as they went. With not much else to do on these boats, poker soon became one of the hottest forms of entertainment.
The spread of poker’s popularity on the Mississippi is accurately described by Jonathan H Green in his book An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling in 1834. While he first referred to the game as ‘the cheating game’, he soon renamed it poker – a name which has stuck until today.
Green’s version of poker essentially featured 20 cards, consisting of only tens, Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces and played by up to four players at a time. Each player was dealt five cards.
The Spread of Poker into the Wild West
Poker soon moved beyond the river boats of the Mississippi and across the Wild West. The game was traditionally played in saloons which cropped up as more and more towns were built in America.
With the spread of the game also came a number of changes and the development of new variants to the game. In areas such as Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, stud poker became hugely popular and was known as a cowboy version of the game. A new trend also involved limiting players’ right to open unless they had a pair of jacks or higher.
Other games that developed around this time included draw, stud and jackpots, all of which received honorable mention in the 1875 edition of the New Pocket Hoyle. Another game that enjoyed substantial growth was a commerce based variant known as whiskey poker.
Changes to the game were taking place fast, and by 1875, the flush has been introduced to poker, as well as the use of the wild card.
Community Card Poker
The 1900's saw the introduction of a new concept known as community card poker. Essentially, this variant called for community cards to be dealt facing down and to be shared with all the players around the table. Players were then required to complete their hands using a combination of privately dealt cards and the community cards.
The birth of community card poker saw the creation of two forms of poker that are still hugely popular today – Omaha Hold'em and Texas Hold'em. Introduced in the 1920’s, these games are almost identical when it comes to layout and betting rounds, differing only in the way the actual cards are dealt and in the showdown stage.
The Influence of Poker on Culture
Poker became such a common feature in almost every part of America, that words pertaining to the game were adopted into mainstream language. These include phrases such as ‘calling a bluff’, ‘poker face’, ‘ace up a sleeve’, ‘chips are down’, and so forth.
World Series of Poker
Poker continued to be offered in saloons and casinos throughout the twentieth century, eventually leading to tournament play in the 1970’s. The World Series of Poker was the first real event that really put the game on the tournament map, after Benny Benion – legendary casino tycoon and poker pro – thought up the idea. Benion and his two sons dreamed up the concept of tournament style poker in the early 1960s and finally got the idea going at the Binion Horseshoe Casino in 1970. The event was a paradise for diverse poker players, offering different variants of the game such as razz, seven card stud and Texas Hold'em.
The WSOP has transformed from a small affair into one of the world’s most prestigious poker events on a global scale. Events have been added, with the Main Event title one of the most sought after by poker professionals – not only for its huge cash prize but also for the prestige and glory of winning a WSOP bracelet. The World Series of Poker continues to be held in Las Vegas, as it was from the very beginning.
Poker on TV
While nobody can deny the pleasure enjoyed by poker players as they sit around the table, those who watch the game also benefit from a fantastic spectator’s game. The creation of the hold card camera meant that suddenly spectators formed an important part of the poker industry, and the demand for this type of entertainment took off like a shot. Satellite and cable television offered poker as a spectators sport through special channels, while poker tournaments also became hugely popular.
Televised poker tournaments also meant that more nations became exposed to the game, meaning that poker also took off in popularity on a global scale. Poker players from around the world aimed to take part in tournaments, which became a melting pot of nationalities as a result.
The rise in the game’s popularity naturally meant that businesses were sniffing out huge financial potential, and sponsorships and branding became part of the world of televised poker tournaments.
The world of television is not complete without celebrities – and this applied to the world of televised poker as well. International broadcasts meant that previously unknown poker players became household names overnight if they won a tournament.
Online Poker Sites
Nothing has spread the popularity of poker the way online poker has. With the launch of the internet in the middle of the 1990’s, the game of poker soon migrated online to unique casino sites. Because the majority of online sites were launched from the United States, American audiences were targeted, meaning that poker was number one on the list of potential games to offer players over the internet.
Today, it is quite possible to find practically every single version of poker online, ranging from the popular Texas Hold'em, to Omaha, and Stud, 5 Card Draw and much more.
Online poker sites have produced some of the biggest names in the industry and trigger rags to riches stories of players who won their way into live tournaments on a $5 bet, going on to win millions of dollars.
Online poker sites also provide players from around the world with the opportunity to join a greater social community made of people who share their love for the game. Chat rooms allow players to communicate with one another, while tournaments and satellites are the perfect place for players to pit their skills against others at their level.
Online and Offline Poker – the Merging of the Two
It was not surprising that the world of online and offline poker soon began to blend and merge to the point that some feel today that one cannot do without the other. Online poker sites regularly feed live poker tournaments through online satellites, with many of the biggest celebs on the live poker scene starting their careers online.
Poker has been named time and time again as one the most popular online game, and the future of this pastime looks very sure indeed.