Poker is a card game with many theories about its history and many debates about its origins. Poker may have been around for more than ten centuries in the form of other card games. It is believed that the word ‘poker’ was derived from an underworld slang word ‘poke’ – this was a term used for pickpockets. When card-sharks cheated somebody out of their money they boasted about having ‘poked’ that person. An ‘r’ was added to the term ‘poke’ so that the sharks could refer to what they were doing in front of their victims, who would be none the wiser!
While there seems to be no clear ancestor to the game, for the United States at least, Poker has a definite history. Poker began in New Orleans when the French settlers introduced poque in the 18th century. This was a card game which involved betting and bluffing and there are many game historians who believe that this is where poker originates. There have been many modifications to the game, including ‘stud poker’, the ‘draw’ and the ‘straight’ which became popular during the Civil War. Slowly ‘poker’, as the game became known, spread to other states via steamboats, wagons and trains.
Poker initially began with a deck of 20 cards, and eventually evolved into a deck of 32 cards. During the 1830s a 52 card deck became the norm. In 1875 the joker was introduced as a wild card. At the end of the Civil War poker reached the towns of the Old West. It wasn’t long before they realized that easy money could be made from playing (or perhaps cheating at) poker. Legends were created involving the potent mixture of saloons, poker and guns. Brave gamblers in the old west towns of Dodge City and Deadwood could be found taking their chances with their backs to the walls and their guns at the ready.
By the end of the 19th century, gambling and poker had spread throughout both the United States and the world. American states and cities began to see an opportunity for raising money. They taxed the gambling dens to raise money for their communities.
Nowadays casinos have taken over from the saloons and the game is strictly regulated by gambling laws. It is played more than any other card game in the world and has even become a sporting event, offering very rich pickings for the serious player. Finally, there is no doubt that poker has a rich and interesting history.