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The History of Poker

Poker’s journey and development into the world’s king of card games has left many people pondering the question, “Where did it all begin?” Tracking the history of poker has proven to be a daunting task. There are several different theories on how and where poker began. The most widely accepted theory is that poker was not born or created, but rather that it evolved.


One popular theory in the evolution of poker dates back to 900 B.C china when Mu-Tsung is believed to have played a form of “domino cards” with his wife. Others will argue the game is of Persian origins, stemming from a game called “as nas” which required a 5 suited deck of playing cards.

Not fond of Persia? How about the belief that poker developed from the French game “Poque”. This game only dates back to the late 1400’s, but it is said to be the origins of the diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts used in today’s modern card games.

There is also mention that poker may stem from the German game pochspiel, or the Indian game ganjifa, which had produced card fragments dating back to the 12 th or 13 th century. As you can see, tracing the family tree of poker has proven to be harder than pulling a royal flush.

The American history of poker tends to be a little more consistent. The game started on Mississippi river boats and was a compliment to 3 Card Monty. Refereed to as the “cheating game”, this early version of poker was played with a 20-card deck that only contained aces, kings, queens, jacks and tens. This game is played with 2 to 4 people. Each player was dealt 5 cards and the best hand won. Early poker could have been developed by card sharks. The name poker is an extension of the word poke, a slang word used by pick pockets.

From the riverboats, the game migrated via wagon and train routes. As it traveled, new games such as stud, draw and the straight poker became popular. Europeans added the joker sometime around 1875 and wild cards were born.

The next major chapter in the evolution of poker came in 1910 when the state of Nevada made it illegal to run a betting game. The attorney general of California declared poker a game of skill. Anti-gambling laws couldn’t stop the masses from playing this widely popular new game. The one exception was stud poker. Stud poker was still illegal because it was viewed as a game of total chance. The growing popularity of poker and the California decision prompted Nevada to reverse its decision in 1931. Casino gambling was legalized and the rest is history.

Poker, just like America, can be referred to as a great melting pot. The truth is no one really knows exactly where poker originated. Like most great things, the whole is much bigger then the sum of its parts. As long as there are decks of cards, there is no doubt poker will continue to grow and change. That’s the beauty of “dealer’s choice”. Any player with a deck and an imagination could create the next chapter in the history of poker.

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