The Origins of Modern Poker

WHO INVENTED POKER?

Poker is believed to date back nearly 1000 years, to a time when ships were propelled by wind, and emperors and kings ruled the known world. Some historians believe the game all modern poker is based on originated in China, while others argue a game from the Middle East is the true source. Unfortunately, nobody knows for sure which game holds the honor of being the source of all modern poker, but there is only a short list of likely possibilities.

ANCESTORS OF POKER

The exact origins of poker are still a mystery; the first evidence of games similar to poker appeared in Asia, during the late 900s with one in particular frequently put forward as a possibility for the first form of poker.

CHINESE DOMINO GAME

Similar to Mahjong, this game used tiles, dominoes and leaves as playing cards, inspiring its nickname, the 'Leaf Game'. Made famous by an emperor and his concubines, the game spread throughout China and beyond, travelling across multiple continents. Eventually, it is believed cultures outside of China modified the game with their own rules and playing styles, which resulted in the creation of poker as we know it today.

GANJIFA AND AS NAS

Loosely translated as 'Treasure Cards', Ganjifa, a predecessor to As Nas, was the gambling game of choice in Persia during the 16th century. A similar game was played in India at the same time called Ganjapha, with round decks of cards made from leaves, wood, turtle shells or ivory. Despite other countries having similar games, As Nas is thought to be the basis for modern poker.

As Nas was most prevalent toward the end of the 16th century in Persia, and once the Western civilizations started trading with the Middle East, it’s believed the game spread all over the world through sailors and travelers. As Nas is played with a 20-card deck, and five suits, (ace), shah (king), bibi (queen) serbaz (soldier) and couli, (dancer). At the start of play, each person receives five cards, which limits the game to four players or fewer. The hands were similar to the ones used in poker, such as pairs and three-of-a-kind; however, there were no straights or flushes.

Players could bet on the outcome, but with no draw phase, nearly all strategies revolved around deciding whether to bet conventionally if you had high ranked cards, or bluff if you didn't. There are many similarities between As Nas and modern poker, bluffing, betting, and the card ranks are all close enough that some historians list it as the game poker is based on.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES

Around the 16th century, a card game known as Primero in Spain, Primiera in Italy and La Prime in France started to gain significant prominence. Believed to be based on As Nas, players were given three cards each at the start of play with the goal of making high ranking combinations. Many of the hands are similar to modern poker, such as three-of-a-kind, a pair, and a flush.

The card game followed more or less the same ruleset in every country, with the only differences being the suits and deck sizes. Later, betting and elements of bluffing were added when the Germans created their own version that they dubbed Pochen. In Ireland, they adapted Pochen into their own game of chance called Poca. The English also adapted Pochen into their own game of chance but changed the name to Brag.

The French created their own version called Poque, another variation, which also gave rise to Brelan, which used a deck of 20 cards and was one of the first to use community cards. Brelan players receive three cards at the start of the game, and a fourth community card is put in the board to be shared, similar to Texas Hold’em. A game known as ‘As’ was also popular among sailors around the same time, which itself was an adaptation of the Persian game As Nas.

THE INVENTION OF MODERN POKER GAMES

Nearly all modern poker games were created in the United States. When visitors and immigrants first came to America in the 1800s, they brought their native games of a chance with them. Out of this melting pot of different ideas and cultures, the first forms of poker emerged, taking inspiration from many of the games that preceded them.

Five Card Draw and Stud Poker were the most widely played throughout these early periods, but over time, extra rules were added, and new formats were created. Some were only played in certain regions and are mostly forgotten today, but several have stood the test of time and are still widely played today. For at least the last 100 years, the format of poker hasn't changed a great deal, the goal always revolves around making a five-card hand, the method to achieve this is what separates the individual games.

After its creation, poker spread throughout the country via the rivers and waterways, due to its popularity among boat crews transporting goods. By the 1870s, poker made it to Europe, but it didn't truly take hold among the population until World War I when U.S. soldiers serving overseas made the game popular among the ranks of the Allies.

POKER GAME TYPES

Poker has a lot of different variations with many rulesets, but they all fall into one of three categories.

DRAW—In draw games, players can trade in some of their cards to help improve their initial hand. Five Card Draw is the most famous of this game type and was one of the first forms of poker.

STUD—During a stud game, players receive a mix of face down and face-up cards that they use to make the best five card hand possible. Up cards are visible to the entire table, while down cards are kept secret. Stud games first appeared during the American Revolutionary War and later the Civil War. Game types in this category include Razz Poker, Seven Card Stud and Five Card Stud.

COMMUNITY—In community card games, players are dealt two to seven cards as a starting hand. Throughout play, several more cards are placed in the middle that everybody can use in conjunction with their initial cards to make a winning combination. Community card games weren't as prevalent during the early days of poker, but have since become the most popular, with Texas Hold'em eclipsing all other variants.

POPULAR POKER VARIANTS

FIVE CARD DRAW

Five Card Draw is one of the simplest poker games to learn, each player receives five cards at the start of play. During the draw phase, players can exchange one to five of their initial cards to improve their hand.

WHO INVENTED FIVE CARD DRAW—The invention of Five Card Draw can't be attributed to one individual. It was borne out of the many games of chance brought to America by immigrants and visitors. Over time, elements from several different games were used to create early forms of poker. Initially, poker games were played with a deck of 20 cards, which severely limited the hand combinations and number of players. However, the game was eventually modified with a 52-card deck, another betting phase, and a chance to draw more cards.

TEXAS HOLD'EM

Easily the most popular poker game played today, Texas Hold'em is the main game played at the World Series of Poker, and most live casinos will have at least one table running at all times. Players receive two cards at the start of the game, and throughout the four betting rounds, five community cards are revealed which can be used by players in conjunction with their initial cards to try and make a winning combination.

WHO INVENTED TEXAS HOLD'EM—The idea of having community cards in poker was a novelty that saw widespread introduction in the 1920s, but it wasn't until many years later that the first game of Hold'em was played. There are a few people credited with inventing the game, but the most commonly cited is a Texas road gambler named Blondie Forbes. In 1980, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame and listed as the original inventor of Texas Hold'em.

While the exact circumstances aren't entirely clear, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas, as the game's birthplace. Originally called Hold'em, the Texas moniker was added as it spread beyond the borders and throughout the country.

In 1967, Texas Hold'em took its first step into the mainstream when Texan gamblers and card players introduced it to a Las Vegas casino owner. During its early years, Hold'em was only available in one casino, the Golden Nugget.

The new game suffered in obscurity for several years, but everything changed in 1969 when a Texas Hold'em tournament was held at the Dune casino. Due to the prominent location of the venue, and the high-profile gamblers who participated, Hold'em received a massive boost in popularity. A year or two later, the World Series of poker featured Texas Hold’em as the main event which pretty much secured its future and set the stage for it to become the global juggernaut it is today.

OMAHA POKER

Similar to Hold'em in terms of gameplay, Omaha Poker has four betting rounds and several community cards which players can use to make the best five card hand possible. Depending on the version of Omaha Poker, the number of starting cards and community cards can vary.

WHO INVENTED OMAHA POKER—Like many of the poker games that preceded it, the origins of Omaha Poker aren't entirely clear. There are plenty of theories and other myths surrounding the game, from its country of origin to the original creator, which makes it hard to know where the truth lies.

What is certain is that California-based professional player and World Series of Poker winner, Robert Turner, introduced Omaha Poker to a man named Bill Walter Boyd before the 1980s. Boyd was the manager of the Las Vegas Golden Nugget Casino card room and liked the game enough to make it a regular at the tables, giving it the name, 'Nugget Hold'em'.

The game achieved its first mainstream success in Las Vegas and quickly spread to other countries. Today, Omaha Poker is enjoyed in both live and online casinos around the world. Robert Turner claims to be the original creator, and a few sources cite him as the inventor of the game. There are plenty of others who refute this claim, arguing that Turner encountered it elsewhere and was simply the one to bring the game to the United States.

STUD POKER

During a Stud Poker Game, players receive a mix of face down and face-up cards that are used to make the best five card hand possible. Up cards are visible to the entire table, while down cards are kept a secret.

WHO INVENTED STUD POKER—Five Card Stud is believed to be among the first iterations of Stud Poker. There is no exact date for when Stud Poker was invented, or evidence of who the original creator was. Records indicate that soldiers on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and later the Civil War played the game during respites from the vicious fighting, whether it was played before the wars is unknown.

The game became extremely popular on the west coast during the California Gold Rush in 1849, and eventually, players expanded the starting hands from five to seven cards, and a new form of Stud Poker was born. Stud Poker was once the most popular form of poker, but its dominance in the gambling world ended when Texas Hold’em came on the scene, and the game has never truly recovered to achieve its previous heights of popularity.

BADUGI POKER

Badugi Poker is different from most other poker formats because the goal is to create the lowest possible hand rather than the highest. Players receive four cards at the start of play and can get trade out for new cards during one of the draw phases.

WHO INVENTED BADUGI POKER—The origins of Badugi are even murkier than its poker counterparts. Asia is thought to be the country of origin, specifically South Korea; where it's believed the game has been played since the 1960s. Even the name, Badugi, is said to mean 'black and white spotted dog' in Korean, which is a hotly debated topic for those who actually speak the language.

A man named Paul Clark is put forward as a possible inventor of Badugi. It is believed he may have created the game to entertain soldiers during the Vietnam War. Returning service personnel, along with visitors to the country during that period are believed to have helped spread the game all over the world. When the war officially ended in 1975, Badugi had already become a popular game outside Vietnam.

A similar game to Badugi was in Toronto in the 1970s and 80s, and some say this is where the game was invented. However, there is no proof that this was the first instance of it being played. Like many of the other poker formats created before the 2000s, the exact origins of Badugi are a mystery.

ONLINE POKER

Online gaming has only been around for a few decades, but it has already created a billion-dollar industry that is soon set to overtake traditional live casinos in overall profits. Every version of poker is available online, and games run 24 hours a day, regardless of what time zone you live in.

WHO INVENTED ONLINE POKER—When the World Wide Web (Internet) was made available to the public in 1991, the first online casinos weren't far behind. The Internet brought the ability to link computers together regardless of the distance. This innovation opened up the door for new types of media and entertainment that had previously been impossible.

The first online casinos were basic, and there was very little variety in the games, but they still proved to be a hit with punters. It took a few more years, but eventually, on January 1, 1998, the first virtual hand of Texas Hold’em was dealt on a website called Planet Poker. Founded by poker pro, Mike Caro, Planet Poker failed to make an impact on the industry.

The following year, Paradise Poker, based in Costa Rica, launched and established itself as the industry leader for online poker games. In addition to Hold’em, they also offered Omaha Poker, Seven Card Stud and improved on security and software features.

The next few years saw even more online casinos emerge and the field became extremely competitive, forcing companies to think creatively to attract customers and distinguish themselves from other operators. Today, online poker rooms are a standard feature in every online casino in the world.

THE FUTURE OF POKER

The future of poker is strong, and it's clear the game is here to stay; however, nobody can say for sure what kind of game it will be in the years to come. At different stages in the last few centuries, Five Card Draw and Stud Poker both held the top spot as the most popular form of poker, but new game types eventually toppled them. New versions of poker are being created every year, and quite a few are starting to become very popular with audiences. While they are yet really to challenge any of the current popular poker variants, it's only a matter of time before a new game rises to take the crown held by Texas Hold’em for the last few decades.