Poker’s exact origin is unclear. However, its origins can be traced back to a 16th-century Persian card game known as As Nas, and the European card game Primero, which was popular in Elizabethan England. Because Nas was played with 20 cards, bluffing was a big part of the game. Primero, or Primera as it was known in Spain, included betting and prized hands such as pairs, three of a kind, and a “flux,” or three of the same suit. The word “flush” is now used to describe a suited poker hand.
By the 18th century, many five-card games had adopted the betting and bluffing elements of poker, including the English game of Brag, the German game of Pochen (the term “pochen” means “to bluff”), and the French game of Poque.
When French immigrants came to the Louisiana Territory in the 1700s, they took poque with them, and the game’s name was ultimately changed to “poker” in the United States. The game grew in popularity around New Orleans, and in the early 1800s, when steamboats cruised the Mississippi River, carrying goods and people to interior ports, it began to spread north.
Poker had been modified to a 52-card deck by the mid-1800s and was detailed in the literature about card games. As the West was established, poker’s popularity grew, and it peaked during the Civil War when Union troops were introduced to the game as they marched southward. In fact, the term “stud” in seven-card stud may have originated from the Union Army under General U.S. Grant adding more horses to pull the boats down the Mississippi.
By the turn of the century, poker had become established in America and was played practically everywhere in the country and many other nations. Draw poker, a kind of closed poker in which all of the cards are dealt face down, and stud poker, in which part of the cards are dealt face-up, were the games played.
A new kind of open poker emerged in the early 1900s. It was known as Texas hold ’em, which is short for Texas hold them poker, and it grew popular in the South, particularly in Texas. Although stud poker was brought to Las Vegas when gambling was allowed in the 1930s, hold ’em was not widely played in Nevada until the early 1970s.
Two factors drove the fast rise in popularity of this game. The first was the renowned World Series of Poker, which began using Texas hold ’em to decide the world champion in 1970. The second catalyst was David Sklansky’s book Hold ’em Poker, which was published by a well-known gambling authority and poker specialist. Originally published in 1976, this book was the first to quantify Texas hold ’em, making the game more accessible to the ordinary poker player.
Except in California, where it was the only type of poker allowed until 1987, draw poker faded away. High draw is almost extinct in California now that stud and hold ’em are also allowed, and ace-to-five lowball draw is only played on rare occasions.
Seven-card stud and Texas hold ’em are now the most popular variants of poker in the United States, but many more variations can be found in legal cardrooms throughout the country, in other countries, and on the Internet. Poker is considered to be particularly American in its current structure, yet its popularity is worldwide, and it is now one of the most popular card games in the world.
Since we’re on the subject of the Internet, it’s worth noting that the first Internet poker room, Planet Poker, debuted in 1999. It barely lasted a few years before being surpassed by other Internet poker rooms with superior software. Today, however, more poker is played on the Internet than in live cardrooms, and participation is global.