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Home > Poker History


The history of poker

The origins of poker are difficult to pinpoint. There are a number of theories on the antecedents of the game, and these are widely debated themselves. Common threads can be isolated, however, and what seems certain is that modern poker is more a hybrid of a number of older games, rather than the direct descendant of any one in particular.

The development of card playing
Card playing in itself seems to have originated in the Far East, migrating via the Middle East to Europe. The earliest recorded occurrences of card playing are from tenth-century China. Their “cards” would have more closely resembled paper, another Chinese invention, and the games were likely derived from Chinese dominoes. There is a surviving record of the Emperor Mu-tsung playing “domino cards” with his wife in 969 AD. This is one widely held theory of the origin of poker.

The other popular theory is that poker originated from the Persian game of "As Nas". This is a 5-player game, using a deck of 25 cards with 5 suits. It is remarkably similar in concept to poker: two cards are dealt, followed by a round of betting; then two more cards and another round of betting; then a final card, a final round of betting, and the highest ranked card wins.

A third theory is that poker developed out of the Indian card game of Ganjifa.

The Mameluke Empire was purportedly responsible for introducing card playing to Europe in the Middle Ages. Its realm stretched across the Middle East, including Egypt, where remnants of cards have been discovered, ostensibly dating back to the 12th or 13th century.

The earliest reliable records of card playing in Europe can be traced back to the mid-14th century. The notion of royalty and card ranking was adopted by the first European card makers, who were Italian and Spanish. The 52-card pack emerged from Rouen in France in the 16th century. It became known as the “French pack”, and spread to England and America.

The emergence of poker
Research appears to show that the aforementioned Persian game of “As Nas” is probably poker’s closest ancestor. The French game of “poque” can also claim some influence on the modern game. Poque was a card game of bluffing and betting, and is reportedly the first use of a deck consisting of the modern suits.

Other historic games that get a mention are the German “pochen“ and the English game of “Bragg”.

Once poker crossed the Atlantic to America, its origins became easier to trace, and there is more agreement on its development. It is generally thought to have been brought to New Orleans by French settlers, although the first record of an actual game called “poker” only appears in the 19th century. It was played with only twenty cards – four suits from Ace to Ten, each person receiving 5 cards. It soon became the most popular game on the riverboats. From New Orleans it travelled north up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and then further afield by wagon and train. The Civil War saw the introduction of stud poker, the draw and the straight, and the joker made an appearance as a wild card in the last quarter of the 19th century.