History of Poker Games

Poker has become arguably the most successful game in the world in the past two centuries. Today millions of people around the world play poker in friendly neighborhood games, swanky casinos and online.

Even non-players have become familiar with the concept of “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” as a metaphor for meeting life’s challenges. As with many achievements, various traditions lay claim to having aided poker’s success.

Origins of Modern Poker Games

Poker has many colorful ancestors stretching back more than ten centuries. The 21st century versions of the game can trace their identities to several variations, but all involve basic principles of card combinations in ranks, sequences or multiples, along with the intentional use of deception or “bluffing” to scare off competitors.

In fact, until the advent of online games where one’s opponents typically aren’t visible, it was often said that a player’s “poker face” was as valuable as his or her ability to calculate bets.

One popular legend says that emperor Mu-tsung played “domino cards” with his empress on the eve of Chinese New Year in 969 CE (Common Era). The game spread west from China, with similar card games reported in 12th and 13th century Egypt and 16th century Persia (today’s Iran).

The Persian form of the game known as As Nas often has been cited as a direct ancestor of poker. It used 25 cards, and players bet based on the ranking of their cards in each hand. However, there’s no record of As Nas before 1890, even though R.F. Foster insisted it was poker’s precursor in the 1937 edition of Foster’s Complete Hoyle.

A stronger case can be made for European ancestry of poker as it’s played in the United States. In chronological order, during the Renaissance era around 1525 or so, gamesters played Primero, a three-card Spanish game in which bluffing was integral.

Later the Irish enjoyed a game caller Poca, pronounced “po-kah” meaning “pocket” in Gaelic. The British had a version called Brag that was believed to have crossed the Channel from France, where gamblers played a game called Poque.

When French immigrants came to the New World, they brought their beloved Poque with them. Exiled French Canadians kept playing Poque as they founded the city of New Orleans at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River.

From New Orleans, Poque spread north and west via Mississippi riverboats, evolving into American poker games we know today.