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History of Poker

The History of Poker

We have all come to know poker as that American game that has been played by fathers and sons, privates and generals, and everyone in between. What many of us do not know however is where America’s favorite card game got its start. There are about as many ideas of how when and where poker started as there are variations of the game itself.

Common belief is that the poker is derived from a French game called “Poque” and a German game called “Pochen”, which subsequently became very popular in the 17th & 18th centuries. Both of these games developed from the 16th century Spanish game called “Primero” which involved three cards being dealt to each player. Just like the vibrant Spanish culture, “primero was as exciting as the Spanish world of exploration into the unknown waters of the new world. Bluffing and betting high stakes while holding poor cards to deceive opponents was a vital part of the game. Primero dates back to 1526 and is known as the mother of poker.

During the exploration of the new world, French explorers brought the game with them to parts of French Canada during the 18th century when “poque” was the national card game of France. Soon the French were settling what is now modern day New Orleans and Louisiana, and “poque” began to spread up the mouth of the Mississippi river and into the interior of America. Poker began to be played on river boats and was becoming known as the cheating game because of the chance to “bluff” an opponent out of their money.
Soon America went to war and was divided by the north and the south. Between the brutal battles, soldiers were able to temporarily forget about the hardships of war and play an enjoyable game of poker, sometimes betting parcels of food, money, whiskey, and other sought after goods. When America’s civil war finally came to an end, the soldiers returned home, and with them they brought their new favorite game, Poker.

Before long, many courageous and adventurous Americans headed west; either in search of riches in the form of gold and silver, or just the chance of a fresh start and the promise to create a new life. The game of poker headed west with these travelers and soon became the most popular game in the west. During the Wild West period of United States history, a saloon with a Poker table could be found in just about every town from coas- to-coast.

Since then, the game of poker has completely taken off and has never looked back. It has become legendary and synonymous with Mississippi river boats, and bloody shootouts in Wild West saloons. Some of these tales have also become a vital part of both America’s history as well of the history of poker.

For example, one day in the mid 1800’s, on a Mississippi riverboat, a lonely traveler joined what he thought looked like a friendly game of poker. Little to the lone travelers knowledge, the game was rigged, and the three men already playing were professional cheats. Soon after the traveler joined the game, he found himself penniless and depressed. He excused himself from the game and made his way to the top deck of the boat. Just before the traveler jumped off the boat to kill himself, he was stopped by a stranger. The stranger convinced him to try the game again. This time things were different. The stranger soon caught one of the men cheating and threatened to kill him if he did not turn over all the money. The young traveler was given all him money back, and the stranger kept a good portion for him troubles. When the young traveler asked “who are you” the man replied “I am James Bowie”.

In many wild west towns such as Deadwood, Virginia City, and Tombstone, more poker legend was created every night by men such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and “Wild Bill” Hickock playing in the dark, smoke filled saloons. On one very famous such night, a legendary story was made when a man filled with hate and revenge on his mind snuck his way through the saloon and up to “Wild Bill” Hickock, yelled “take that” and shot Bill in the head, killing immediately. “Wild Bill” had been holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, ever since then Aces and eights has forever been known as “dead mans hand” in the world of poker.

Since the days of Wild West poker games and shootouts, the world of poker has gone through many transitions. Through most of America’s past, playing poker for real money has been illegal due to much legislation against gambling in America. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, many of today’s legendary superstars of poker like Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, and TJ Cloutier got their start during the age of the Texas road game, where professionals made their living playing poker games in back rooms of bars and restaurants. Since it was still illegal back then, players had to face the prospect of getting arrested for their play, in addition to many of the road side hijackings that they had to endure.

Today the days of the Texas road game are long gone, and with the rising popularity of the World Series of Poker, and the broadcast of the World Poker Tour on the travel channel, pokers popularity has risen exponentially. More and more casinos are replacing slot machines and black jack tables with large poker rooms to suit the needs of every type of player from the first time novice, to the seasoned professional. No matter what type of player you are one thing is certain. Poker has a deep routed history in American culture and with today’s rise in popularity; we can count on seeing much more of the game to come.

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