Poker is played in casinos, kitchen, tents, parks, trains and just about anywhere else that humans can be found. Yet for such a widespread game it’s something of a surprise that we know so little about the origins of poker. Thinking of poker one is inclined to think of American cowboys sitting round drinking whiskey and betting on hands in smoky, dust-covered saloons. That may not be too far from the truth but it’s certainly on a small part of the story.
Poker was for a long time thought to be derived from the Persian game As-Nas, though this belief has in the last twenty or thirty years come into dispute amongst game historians. We know of an Irish game called ‘Poca’, from the Irish word for ‘pocket’, we also know of a German game called ‘Pochen’ (which roughly translated means ‘to bluff’) and of a French game called ‘poque’. All these games most certainly sound quite similar to the name poker but as yet we have not got the proof one way or another as to know if they are indeed related. What is widely believed to be truth however is the fact that the game of poker is related to the games of primer and brelan, from Italy and France respectively, both from about the mid 1400s.
Regardless of what it proved, it is widely believed that both French language and culture have had an undeniable impact on the game. The word ante, the term for the bet placed before the cards are dealt, is itself a French word, and the game mostly likely originated in the Mississippi Delta, a region with strong French influence and a place with French as a lingua franca when the game was first developed in the 1700s. This makes it marginally more likely that the game has French ancestry, though this is still a hotly disputed topics amongst experts.
What is known is that by the 1800s poker had spread up and down the Mississippi River. When one considers how well known it is today and in so many parts of the world and online, it is strange to realise that this spread happened very recently. Although, from another point of view one might consider it interesting that it took nearly a century to spread along the Mississippi and only another two centuries to spread round the entire world.
In 1970 the first ever World Series of Poker was held. This event sparked in increase in the interest of poker and it started spreading through casinos in the United States. However, it wasn’t until 2000 and the advent of online casinos that poker started seeping into mainstream culture where it has found itself what seems to be a permanent home.