The Origin of Poker
Let us go back in time, before there was a game called Texas Hold'em, or even before there was a game called poker.
While it is commonly believed that poker was created about the same time that Adam and Eve left the garden of Eden, or even that playing poker in the Garden of Eden was the actual reason for them leaving, despite what other sources may say about apples or snakes, the actual appearance of playing cards occurred around 1377.
The actual beginning of card games, as we know them today, was first recorded by a Swiss Monk named John of Rheinfelden. John recorded a card game played in 1377 with a deck of 52 cards. The cards ranged from 1 to 10 in value. This seems to be the best evidence that 1377 is the first year that history documented a card game being played with a 52 deck of cards.
The Chinese were recorded as participating in the actual playing of card games around 950. However, even though it seems clear that the Chinese were probably the first to play a game with cards, the card deck did not contain 52 cards as a modern deck does and the game the Chinese played was more akin to dominos than poker.
So, as far as the origin of a 52 card deck, and games played with it goes, it seems the John from Rheinfelden tale holds the most water, as he took the time to write about the game he observed in 1377.
Having established written records of card games played with 52 card decks in 1377, next is the task of searching the origin of modern poker.
Since 1377 a number of cards games have been played with 52 card decks, most of which bear little or no resemblance to poker. Many were card games just for recreation, but without betting or wagering, while others were betting games but had no similarity to poker. After extensive research, I found two games that had not only similarities to poker and were betting games, but actually used many of the phrases we use for modern poker.
First, I discovered the game from India called "Teen Patti". The game included betting rounds like poker and was played with a 52 card deck. "Teen Patti" also uses a number of poker phrases and hand rankings similar to poker.
Secondly is the old English game of "Brag" which not only includes the similarities of "Teen Patti" but is most likely the origin of modern poker phrases like: blind, blinds, flush, pot, etc. Brag also had betting rules and card ranking similar to modern poker and was played in 3 different versions using either 3, 4, or 5 or more cards dealt to each player. Most importantly, the game involved bluffing, which is what separates poker from most other card games.
However, Brag or Poker could not have been played until cards which contained the four suits of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs had been invented. Diligent research reveals that these suits were invented by the French and standardized throughout Europe by 1480 as the commonly agreed upon suits of the 52 card deck. Now that we have at least the minimum tools required to play Brag and Poker, let's see how long it took our ingenious forefathers to come up with these games.
Early versions of Poker games (called The Lying Game) were described by Joseph Crowell in writing in 1829. Brag games are considered much older and may predate poker by a few hundred years; although, no written records appear to exist to actually date when the first Brag game was played. It is documented that early settlers to America from England brought with them both Cards and their Brag type card games, which eventually became so popular that even native Indians took up the game of Brag or similar gambling card games.
Around the 1850's the Riverboat gamblers were born. These were the early pioneers of Poker, both in the old west and on the riverboats, and they were a curious combination of Professional card players, gamblers, gunfighters and cheats. We assume that the gun fighting skills were essential if you wanted to survive cheating at cards. Various forms of poker flourished, including 3 Card Monte and early versions of stud poker.
The name "Poker" may have evolved around that time from either the French card game name 'Poque', or the German card game expression of 'Poche' or also a possibility, considering the number of cheats and pickpockets who played cards, the slang word for stealing, which was "Poke". Its pretty clear that one of these three names was the origin of the word 'Poker'. The 'Poke' theory is especially interesting, as it already had four of the first letters right and the first poker games were aptly described as 'The Cheating Game' or 'The Lying Game'
From these games and others, Stud Poker eventually evolved to become
the worlds most popular poker game.
As for the modern game of Texas Hold'em Poker, this apparently was invented around the 1920's after it was discovered that the game of Stud Poker could not accommodate all the Texas ranchers that wanted to play, since the cards would run out before all the players had been dealt their cards. Legend has it that it was invented in Texas, which seems reasonable, considering the name. Texas Hold'em Poker, despite its apparent appeal both to beginning poker players and seasoned veterans, did not take the world by storm. In fact, Hold'em poker did not become widely popular until it was adopted as the game of choice for tournaments such as 'The World series of Poker' and later the 'World Poker Tour'.
Join me next time, as I look into what many consider to be the world's first 'famous poker player'.
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