Poker’s Elusive History

Poker is known as the American national sport. Poker is, in fact, as international as any card-game could be. It originated in Persia. It evolved in Europe. The United States was the first to adopt it. But today, poker can be played in any country where playing cards exist. Poker was introduced to these countries by the United States. Every American should, therefore, be proud of their national game.

Poker’s origins, time and place of birth are unknown. Poker’s fundamental principle states that the winning hand is made with the most unusual combination possible of cards. This is an obvious base for a game. They were invented in China.

The Persians developed a game called As Nas over four hundred years ago. There were four players, a twenty-card card deck, five cards per player and betting on the best hand. As there were no extra cards, there could not be any draw. This was why stud poker hadn’t been invented. Pochen was a German word that means “bluff” or to brag. It was used by the Germans in the late 1600s. The French game poque and the English game brag were derived from this game. Although it cannot be proved, it is inexplicable that poker’s name derives from poque, a French name.

Prior to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, New Orleans and its entire valley were French territory. French was spoken by the people, and French card games were played by them if they had any. Following the Louisiana Purchase, thousands upon thousands of English-speaking citizens from the United States arrived in the territory to take control of New Orleans. They adopted the French word poque and changed its name from the English poker. That is, at minimum, the logical assumption. And while it’s not proven, poker historians all accept it.

We all are familiar with the Mississippi River steamboat, a game that originated in the 1830s. It survived at least until the Civil War. The rules were quite simple. Each player was dealt five cards. After the deal was over, everyone bet on the best hand. There was no limit on the number of bets and only two rules governed them (it is hard to discern between legend and fact). A man could stake whatever he wanted. According to some stories his opponent could always call (“have an eye”) for as much as he had with him. Or, other stories have it that his opponent was always allowed twenty-four hours in which to raise the required funds.

Poker has had a long history of players trying to make it more fun. Mathematically, in a two-handed game of straight poker (no tie), a man should wager against his opponent if he holds a pair or fives. It doesn’t make sense psychologically. The hand doesn’t look good. It was the draw that was first introduced to give players hope for improving if they weren’t dealt a winning hand; then there were a few more winning hands like the straight; then there was the ante, which ensured there would always be something for players to shoot for. After wild cards, stud poker and freak games, there are now thousands of different poker games.

While all these variations can be related, they are not identical. It is difficult to make general statements that are applicable to all games. However, it is possible to make statements that only apply to two or three games.

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