The actual beginning of the popular game of Poker is not known although there are a number of theories and suppositions that have been suggested. It is possible that the name of the game originated from the eighteenth century French game of “Poque” which has rules that are similar to the game of “Draw Poker” that is popular today.
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Yet another probability suggests its origins in the German game “Pochen” which means “to knock” in that language and “to brag” in Dutch. Or possibly another German game of “Pochspiel” which involved opening, passing and an element of bluffing. When a player opened or passed, he would rap on the table and say “ich poche”.
Still another theory considers that the word “Poker” comes from the slang term “poke” which was a word used by pickpockets in Victorian England. And yet another possibility of the origin of the word is the term “hocus pocus” which is a phrase commonly used by magicians.
Poker also closely resembles the Persian game of “As Nas” which is thought to have been taught by Persian sailors to settlers in New Orleans. This game was played with a 25 card deck that contained five suits with similar rules to today’s “Five Card Stud”. Another game which is considered to have a similar history is “Primero”, a game from the Renaissance Period.
In the United States, the game of Poker originated in New Orleans in 1829. It was played with a deck of twenty cards using only the Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks and Tens. Two to four people would play and each player was dealt five cards. The game then became popular among the riverboat gamblers on the Mississippi River and spread to the Old West as well as to the prospectors in the California Gold Rush.
John Davis was the owner of the first gambling casino in the United States which he opened in New Orleans in 1822. His casino was kept open 24 hours a day and offered liquor, food and various forms of gambling which included faro tables, roulette wheels and Poker among other games. There were also pretty women hired to provide companionship for the male patrons. Consequently, the success of this casino paved the way for many others of its kind.
During the California Gold Rush of 1848, a number of gambling houses appeared in Northern California and San Francisco replaced New Orleans as the gambling center of the United States. In the meantime, saloons were proliferating throughout the Old West in places like Dodge City, Tombstone, Deadwood and similar towns and were frequented by well-known gamblers including Bat Masterson, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.
During this period of time, the 52 card English deck was used. Many additions to the game were introduced during the American Civil War – such as the flush, the straight, Draw Poker and Five Card Stud Poker – and the wild card concept was introduced around 1875. It is believed that this game was spread to other countries courtesy of the United States Military.
In 1970, the World Series of Poker originated tournament play which has become so popular. In addition, the introduction of online Poker has contributed greatly to the dramatic growth of this game.