THE HISTORY OF POKER is subject to plenty of speculation and debate. It’s undoubtedly the most popular card game in the world and poker playing is often described as America’s national pastime.
Now we all know that modern America is made up of a ragtag collection of races and cultures blended together during the past two hundred years or so and, remarkably, this simplistic summary of a nation could also apply to poker, it too has been almost two centuries in the making.
If poker has an American passport then it also has a French accent, as most historians believe the game is a descendant of ‘As Nas’, which was probably taught to French settlers in New Orleans by Persian sailors.
Poker is also commonly considered as sharing it’s ancestry with the Renaissance game of ‘Primero’ and the French ‘Brelan’. The popular English game of ‘Brag’ is clearly descended from ‘Brelan’ which incorporated bluffing and it is quite possible that all of these early games influenced the development of poker as we now know it. As for the name, ‘Poker’ is likely to have derived from the French phrase ‘Poque’, which itself descends from the German ‘Pochen’ meaning to knock.
The Showboat Casino in Las Vegas – it was built in 1954 to replicate the Riverboat Casino experience
French New Orleans and Down the River
It was 1829 in the heavily French influenced New Orleans that an English actor, Joseph Crowell, reported a game was played using a deck of 20 cards with four players betting on which player’s hand was the most valuable.
Fourteen years later Jonathan Green’s book an ‘Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling’ described the spread of poker from the Louisiana capital to the rest of the country by Mississippi riverboats and their passengers, on which gambling was a widespread pastime. Could the common poker expression the ‘river card’ have originated from poker playing on these riverboats? There is every chance.
During the next fifty years a full 52-card English/French deck was used, the flush and straight was introduced and variations such as ‘Draw’ and ‘Stud’ poker appeared.
The Poker Name Game
The Americanisation of poker and its integration into the country’s culture means many of the game’s phrases have become commonplace within its language. Few would be aware that everyday terms such as ‘ace in the hole’, ‘beats me’, ‘blue chip’, ‘call the bluff’, ‘cash-in’, ‘pass the buck’, ‘up the ante’, ‘when the chips are down’, ‘wild card’ and others all derive from poker jargon.
In recent years poker has enjoyed a re-birth with modern tournament play becoming hugely popular following the introduction of the World Series of Poker in 1970. The World Series of Poker, or World Championship, has enjoyed television coverage for some considerable time but it was not until Channel 4’s ground-breaking Late Night Poker appeared in the late 1990’s, with its under-table cameras, that a revolution was spawned.