history of poker
The history of poker can be fascinating, and if you are getting into Texas Hold'em or other poker games knowing the history of poker can deepen your appreciation of the game and make it more enjoyable for you.
Some say that the cards used in poker actually go back to the Tarot deck famous in pagan and "occult" circles as well as mystical Jewish and Christian traditions. Those who follow this line say that most likely card games of chance were invented out of the Tarot to disguise its true, divinatory purposes when all "sorcery" and "witchcraft" was being heavily persecuted in Europe in the High Middle Ages.
But "games" of chance were not always games to the ancients. They were ways of attempting to ascertain the will of the gods. This might be how poker began, too.
Along these lines, some believe that the Chinese might have created the forerunner to poker sometime before the year 969 C.E. From that year appears a record of the Emperor Mu-tsung playing a New Year's eve game of "domino cards" with his wife. The knowledge of this game might have eventually traveled along the Silk Road and into the Middle East where so many precursors of later Western European civilization are to be found.
Indeed, these 10th century Chinese "domino cards" might have been the precursor to yet another centuries-old card game that some poker historians believe was the proto-game of poker, a card game that emerged in Persia (modern day Iran). This was the game of "as nas", which was played by five players using a special 25-card deck consisting of five suits. As nas also made use of hierarchical hands and betting rounds just as modern poker does. But, the Persians also played a card game called "Ganjifa" which made use of a quite elaborate 96-card deck, and also involved rounds of betting.
Eventually, of course, the Islamic Arabs took over the remnants of the Persian Empire, which had become Hellenized by Alexander the Great. The Arabs, especially the Moorish people, were the forerunners of Spanish and Portuguese culture; and around the year 1526 the card game called “Primero” caught fire in Spain. Primero involved there being three cards dealt to each player, and it is known that there was much bluffing in this game. Primero has been called "poker's mother".
By the 17th century, the French had a national game, a card game called "poque". Meanwhile, the German lands were playing the card game "pochspiel", which also made lots of use of the bluff; in this game, the players would indicate whether they wanted to "open" or "pass" by rapping on the table and saying, "Ich Poche!" There are historians who believe this derived from the Hindu word "pukka" which probably means "first class" or "superior". The French eventually brought poque with them into North America.
Poker does not show up in the earliest versions of Hoyle. Its first mention in the modern sense that we would recognize the game comes from 1834, when the American writer Jonathan H. Green wrote of "the cheating game" (which seems to have made use of just 20 cards, then 32 later on) that was being played on Mississippi riverboats. This "cheating game" rapidly replaced the highly popular 3-Card Monte card game that was being played up to that time.
Since Green called poker "the cheating game", some poker historians believe that its name does not actually come from the French "poque" but from the slang word "poke", underworld characters' reference to someone else's wallet or bankroll. The theory here goes that the cardsharps started calling their separation of suckers from their money with "the cheating game" the game of "poker" so that they could communicate with their own kind openly without giving away their often underhanded intentions to the naive suckers!
Yet other poker historians say that "poker" is derived from "hocus pocus", one of the most famous phrases used by masters of sleight-of-hand and illusion called "magicians". These "magicians" usually DID have something up their sleeves, though--such as a fifth Ace!
During the following decades in the American West, nearly every saloon had one or more poker tables. The deck eventually evolved to include 52 cards and four suits. In 1875 the Joker was introduced into the deck, and with that the resemblance to European card game forerunners was greatly diverged from, and modern poker as we know it was first born. Now, with events like the World Series of Poker, the history of poker is still being written today!
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