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The History of Poker

The history of poker is subject to plenty of speculation and debate, writes Roy ‘The Boy’ Brindley. 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 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, a growing craze 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 earlier 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.

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 on the 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 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.

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 a considerable time but it was not until Channel 4’s groundbreaking Late Night Poker, with its under-table cameras appeared in the late 90’s, that a revolution was spawned.

These days a flick through the television channels will invariably unveil a plethora of televised poker events and some, such as The Poker Million, boast viewing figures rivalling premiership football matches.

To contest the Poker Million, where fame and fortune beckons, players will have to win their seats at their on-line poker site. It’s one of the reasons, Internet Poker is booming and card playing is more popular than ever.

This really is the stuff of dreams as 2005 Poker Million winner Tony Jones will testify. From a free-to-enter on-line tournament this warehouseman from Romford took home a cool $1 million first prize.

Throw in some stunning documentaries and films, such as the Matt Damon and Ed Norton classic ‘Rounders’ — not forgetting the fun and glamorous poker offers — and you have all the ingredients for a game which is more infectious than bacteria and growing just as quickly.

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