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Poker History

By Gary Steele

There is general agreement that poker was first played in France, but this may not have been the case. The French did have a card game called Poque, but it only used three cards and did not mirror the game of poker as we know it. It is now believed a Persian game called ‘As Nas’ had more influence on modern poker rules than Poque. ‘As Nas’ only used a twenty-five card deck with five suits, yet the game contained many of today’s familiar poker features such as betting, hand ranking, flushes, and full houses.

Most poker historians agree that New Orleans was the birthplace of modern poker in the early 1800’s. The fact that New Orleans was a major French settlement in the United States is another reason poker is attributed to the French. However, it is more likely the game as we know it came from a combination of ‘As Nas’ rules and terms from the game Poque. These terms eventually were distorted with southern and northern United States dialects until the name poker was derived and used commonly.

The game then worked its way up the Mississippi River and across the North American continent. In the 1830’s the 52 card deck as we know it was introduced and the game started to take on characteristics of its own, separating poker entirely from its earliest roots. Americans changed many of the game’s aspects by adding variations to the deck such as jokers, new hand rankings such as straights, and drastic twists such as draws.

The game continued to evolve throughout the 1800’s and into the 1900’s until it has become the chaos it is today. The only thing which binds one poker variation with an entirely different poker variation today is the hand ranking chart. Poker games can be, and have been, twisted into any distorted deviation which can be imagined. It is almost as much fun to make up new games as it is to play.

The World Series of Poker started in 1970 spawning play in modern casinos. This is when Hold’em cemented its place as the world’s most popular poker game. As familiarity of the game spread with this newfound legal avenue of poker play, strategy books started to show up on shelves such as Doyle Brunson’s Super System and David Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker. Each year the World Series of Poker becomes better known and the prize money climbs with no end in sight. In 2004 the total prize money almost doubled from the previous year, eclipsing $49 million dollars, with $5 million going to the eventual winner.

The game is now all over the television and has never been more popular. The Internet has given people access to poker tables no matter what their location or currency worldwide. There is no limit to the global popularity of the game and the players that learn to play today will benefit from their experience in the future as more and more inexperienced players join the online crowd. Poker truly is a game with a fantastic history and an unfathomably bright future.

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