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The History of Poker

Origins of Poker

The history of poker is a matter of debate. Poker is one of the most popular games played all over the globe. In history it is mostly known to have been played in the Old Western era. Historians believe poker came originally from the Chinese in 900-969 A.D. The Emperor Mu-tsung is reported to have played "domino cards" with his wife on New Years Eve. Later the domino pieces made a move to paper.

The Egyptians were known to use a form of playing cards in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 14th century card playing had arrived in Spain and Italy from Egypt. In the 16th century the game also infiltrated Persia.

Poker Name

There were a lot of forms of game play. "Ganjfa" or "Treasure Cards" was played with thin slices of ivory or precious wood. These decks consisted of 96 cards. "As Nas" was played by the Persians, they used 25 cards. The French game "Poque" and German game "Pochen" became very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Both came from the 16th Spanish game called "Primero". "Primero" is the first game where betting and bluffing was an integral part of the game. The game is known as "poker's mother".

One of the earliest known games to incorporate betting, hand rankings, and bluffing was the 15th century German game "Pochspiel". Poker closely resembles the Persian game of "As Nas", though there is no specific description of nas prior to 1890. In the 1937 edition of Foster’s Complete Hoyle, R. F. Foster wrote: "the game of poker, as first played in the United States, five cards to each player from a twenty-card pack, is undoubtedly the Persian game of As Nas." By the 1990s some gaming historians including David Parlett started to challenge the notion that poker is a direct derivative of As Nas. There is evidence that a game called poque, a French game similar to poker, was played around the region where poker is said to have originated. The name of the game likely descended from the Irish Poca (Pron. Pokah) (‘Pocket’) or even the French poque, which descended from the German pochen (‘to brag as a bluff’ lit. ‘to knock’ ). Yet it is not clear whether the origins of poker itself lie with the games bearing those names. It is commonly regarded as sharing ancestry with the Renaissance game of primero and the French brelan. The English game brag (earlier bragg) clearly descended from brelan and incorporated bluffing (though the concept was known in other games by that time). It is quite possible that all of these earlier games influenced the development of poker as it exists now.

Poker Cards

Harry Truman’s poker chips. A modern school of thought rejects these ancestries. They focus on the card play in poker, which is trivial and could have been derived from any number of games, or made up on general cardplay principles. The unique features of poker have to do with the betting, and do not appear in any known older game. In this view poker originated much earlier, in the early or mid-1700's, and spread throughout the Mississippi River region by 1800. It was played in a variety of forms, with 52 cards, and included both straight poker and stud. 20 card poker was a variant for two players (it is a common English practice to reduce the deck in card games when there are fewer players). The development of poker is linked to the historical movement that also saw the invention of commercial gambling.

English actor Joseph Crowell reported that the game was played in New Orleans in 1829, with a deck of 20 cards and four players betting on which player’s hand was the most valuable. Jonathan H. Green's book, An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (G. B. Zieber, Philadelphia, 1843), described the spread of the game from there to the rest of the country by Mississippi riverboats, on which gambling was a common pastime. As it spread north along the Mississippi River and to the West during the gold rush, it is thought to have become a part of the frontier pioneer ethos.

Soon after this spread, the full 52-card English deck was used and the flush was introduced. The draw was added prior to 1850 (when it was first mentioned in print in a handbook of games). About this time the game flourished in Old Western Saloons. Players discovered great wealth could be won, but games often led to shoot-outs. One famous western player was Wild Bill Hickok who played poker for a living and moved after disputes. On 2 Aug 1876 he played a game with his back facing to the saloon door. Jack McCall came in and shot Wild Bill in the back. His hand fell and he was holding two pairs: 2 black aces and 2 black eights. From then on the specific hand is known as the Dead Man´s Hand.

Variations of poker

During the American Civil War, many additions were made including stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. Further American developments followed, such as the wild card (around 1875), lowball and split-pot poker (around 1900), and community card poker games (around 1925). The spread of the game to other countries, particularly in Asia, is often attributed to the U.S. military.

The game and jargon of poker have become important parts of American culture and English culture. Such phrases and clichés as ace in the hole, ace up one's sleeve, beats me, blue chip, call one’s bluff, cash in, high roller, pass the buck, poker face, stack up, up the ante, when the chips are down, wild card, and others are used in everyday conversation, even by those unaware of their origins at the poker table.

Tournament play

Modern tournament play became popular in American casinos after the World Series of Poker began, in 1970. Notable champions from these early WSOP tournaments include Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Bobby Baldwin, Doyle Brunson, and Puggy Pearson.

In 1987, community card poker games were introduced in California, home of the largest poker casinos in the world. These games proved far more exciting to players than the draw poker variants that were played up until that time.

Poker’s popularity experienced an unprecedented spike at the beginning of the 21st century, largely because of the introduction of online poker and the invention of the hole-card camera, which turned the game into a spectator sport. Viewers could now follow the action and drama of the game, and broadcasts of poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour brought in huge audiences for cable and satellite TV distributors. Because of the increasing coverage of poker events, poker pros became celebrities, with poker fans all over the world entering into expensive tournaments for the chance to play with them. This increased camera exposure also brings a new dimension to the poker professional's game - the realization that their actions may be aired later on TV.

History of online poker

In 1998 online poker began when the first online poker room was opened. The first website in the history of online poker was and as the first poker website it had many obstacles to overcome. One of the main problems was trust after all they had to build peoples’ trust in order to get them to play with real money on their site. They also had to make software that would be user friendly and realistic. Once all their problems were sorted everything went as smooth as possible.

After the success of many online poker rooms followed and now, there are hundreds of places available to play the game of poker online.

There are substantial differences between online poker gaming and conventional, in-person gaming.

One obvious difference is that players do not sit right across from each other, removing any ability to observe others' reactions and body language. Instead, online poker players learn to focus more keenly on betting patterns, reaction time, speed of play, use of check boxes/auto plays, opponents' fold/flop percentages, chat box, waiting for the big blind, beginners' tells, and other behaviour tells that are not physical in nature. Since poker is a game that requires adaptability, successful online players learn to master the new frontiers of their surroundings.

Another less obvious difference is the rate of play. In brick and mortar casinos the dealer has to collect the cards, shuffle, and deal them after every hand. Due to this and other delays common in offline casinos, the average rate of play is around thirty hands per hour. However, online casinos do not have these delays. The dealing and shuffling are instant, there are no delays relating to counting chips (for a split pot), and on average the play is faster due to "auto-action" buttons (where the player selects his action before his turn). It is not uncommon for an online poker table to average ninety to one hundred hands per hour.

In the brick and mortar casinos, the only real way to increase your earnings is to increase your limit. In the online world players have another option, play more tables. Unlike a physical casino where it would be impossible to play multiple tables at once, most online poker rooms allow this. Depending on the site, a player might play from four to ten tables at the same time, viewing them each in a separate window on the computer display. For example, a winning player may make around $10 per 100 hands at a low-limit game. In a casino, this would earn them under $4 an hour. After dealer tips, the winning player would probably barely break even. In an online poker room, the same player with the same win rate could play four tables at once, which at 60 hands per hour each would result in an earning of $24/hour. Some online players even play eight or more tables at once, in an effort to increase their winnings.

Another important difference results from the fact that some online poker rooms offer online poker schools that teach the basics and significantly speed up the learning curve for novices. Many online poker rooms also provide free money play so that players may practice these skills in various poker games and limits without the risk of losing real money, and generally offer the hand history of played hands for analysis and discussion using a poker hand converter. People who previously had no way to learn and improve because they had no one to play with now have the ability to learn the game much quicker and gain experience from free-money play.

Finally, the limits associated with online poker are much less than the table limits at a traditional casino. On poker sites, players can find limits as low as $.01/$.02. However, at most brick and mortar establishments the lowest limits are often $1/$2.

Since 2003, major poker tournament fields have grown dramatically, in part because of the growing popularity of online satellite-qualifier tournaments where the prize is an entry into a major tournament. The 2003 and 2004 World Series Of Poker champions, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer, respectively, won their seats to the main event by winning online satellites. After the passage of the UIGEA in October of 2006, attendance at live tournaments as well as participation in live and online cash games has slowed, however they are still far more popular today than they were prior to 2003.

WSOP (World Series of Poker)

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is the largest set of poker tournaments in the world. It is held in Las Vegas and consists of 55 events which ae finished in just over a month. The main event starts after all the other events are over.

The winner of each event wins a World Series of Poker bracelet and a monetary prize base on the number of entrants.

The series culminates with the $10 000  buy-in to a no limit hold'em "Main Event" which since 2004 has attracted entrants numbering in the thousands, with the victor receiving a multi-million dollar prize and gets his picture on the Gallery of Champions.

The number of players in the WSOP has grown almost every year and in recent years the growth has exploded. In 2000 there were 4,780 entrants in the various events, but in 2005 the number rose to over 23,000 players. In the main event alone, the number of players grew from 839 in 2003 to 8,773 in 2006.

Over the years Phil Hellmuth has won the most bracelets (11). The runners up are Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan who each won 10 bracelets.

The idea of a WSOP began in 1969 with an event called the Texas Gambling Reunion, it was an invitational event sponsored by Tom Moore of San Antonio, Texas and held at the Holiday Hotel and Casino in Reno. This event was won by Crandell Addington.

Any player can play in the WSOP, you just have to qualify in a main poker event at the different poker card rooms. Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer, the winners in 2003 and 2004, both qualified for the main event through satellite tournaments at the PokerStars online cardroom. Jerry Yang, the winner in 2007, had only been playing poker for two years prior to his victory. He won his seat at a $255 satellite tournament at Pechanga Resort and Casino.

WSOP Bracelet

Since 1967, a bracelet has been awarded to the winner of every event at the annual WSOP. Even if the victory occurred before 1967, WSOP championships are now counted as "bracelets”. The earliest bracelets were valued at a few hundred dollars, while today’s bracelet is designed by premier jeweller Corum.

In 1976 the bracelet looked "like gold nuggets kind of hammered flat". In the 80’s Las Vegas jeweller Mordechai Yerushalmi became the exclusive manufacturer of WSOP brecelets until Harrah’s Entertaiment bought the rights to the WSOP in 2004.

In 2006 luxury watch maker Corum introduced some commemorative watches as part of the prize package. In 2006, the Champion’s bracelet had 259 stones including 7.2 carats (1.4 g) of diamonds, 120 grams of white and yellow gold. It also used rubies to represent the heart and diamond suits, a sapphire to represent the spade and three black diamonds to represent the clubs.

In 2007 Corum became the official bracelet manufacturer for the WSOP. The standard version of the bracelet that is presented to 53 winners features 53 diamonds. The Ladies World Champion receives a bracelet that is adorned with four black diamonds, two rubies and 87 blue sapphires. The World Series of Poker Main Event Bracelet has 120 diamonds on 136 grams of 18 carat (75 percent) white gold. The value of the 2007 bracelets have not been released, but the typical price of a Corum watch ranges from $1,500 to $30,000+.

In 2008, the Main Event Bracelet had 291 diamonds, totalling 2.81 carats set 168 grams of 18k white gold. The other 54 event bracelets consisted of 55 diamonds, totalling 0.25 carats set in 80 grams of 14 carat yellow gold.

There are five individuals who have won the most WSOP bracelets:

  1. Phil Hellmuth (11)
  2. Doyle Brunson (10)
  3. Johnny Chan (10)
  4. Johnny Moss (9)
  5. Erik Seidel (8)

WPT (World Poker Tour)

The World Poker Tour is a collection of Texas Hold’em poker tournaments held internationally, but mainly in the United States. The tour is aired on the television giving more exclusive coverage to poker especially Texas Hold’em.

The WPT also hosts a tour call the Walk of Fame. The Walk of Fame tour is designed to honour those poker players who have played the game well at the highest levels as well as those who have promoted the spread of it through film, television and literature.

Poker Hall of Fame

The Poker Hall of Fame is a group of poker players who have played poker well against top competition for high stakes over a long period of time. It was originally established by the Horseshoe Casino.

There requirements for the Poker Hall of Fame are as follows:

  1. Player must have played high stakes.
  2. Player must have played against acknowledged top competition.
  3. Player must have played well consistently and gained the respect of other players.
  4. Player must have stood the test of time.

The above are the official criteria, but some members have been inducted for other reasons. Edmund Hoyle, for example, never played a game of poker in his life, but he was the first card player to standardize rules. Wild Bill Hickock was the most famous poker player prior to poker’s recent popularity. He was not known for playing top competition, but rather in the way he died. He is one of the three Hall of Famers to have died while playing poker.

Being admitted to the Poker Hall of Fame is considered one of the biggest honours in poker.

The members of the Poker Hall of Fame include:


Johnny Moss, 1979 David "Chip" Reese, 1991
"Nick the Greek" Dandolos, 1979 Thomas Austin "Amarillo Slim" Preston, 1992
Felton "Corky" McCorquodale, 1979 Jack Keller, 1993
Red Winn, 1979 Julius Oral "Little Man" Popwell, 1996
Sid Wyman, 1979 Roger Moore, 1997
"Wild Bill" Hickok, 1979 Stu Ungar, 2001
Edmond Hoyle, 1979 Lyle Berman, 2002
T. "Blondie" Forbes, 1980 Johnny Chan, 2002
Bill Boyd, 1981 Bobby Baldwin, 2003
Tom Abdo, 1982 Berry Johnston, 2004
Joe Bernstein, 1983 Jack Binion, 2005
Murph Harrold, 1984 Crandell Addington, 2005
Red Hodges, 1985 T. J. Cloutier, 2006
Henry Green, 1986 Billy Baxter, 2006
Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson, 1987 Barbara Enright, 2007
Doyle Brunson, 1988 Phil Hellmuth, 2007
Jack "Treetop" Straus, 1988 Dewey Tomko, 2008
Fred "Sarge" Ferris, 1989 Henry Orenstein, 2008
Benny Binion, 1990  
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