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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Origination of Poker: Where Did It Start?

When I was little, my father and I would take every Sunday to play a hand of poker or watch a classic movie with singing and dancing. My first recollection of the game of poker was in the movie Showboat, where Howard Keel played the illustrious character of Gaylord Ravenal, a steamboat card player who, from time to time, ran into some pretty bad luck. What does this have to do with archaeology or history? I think it’s important to note where our historical interests actually stem from and some of mine go back to my Sunday poker games with my father and the men in old west movies, who made the game as popular as it is today.

Brief History of Poker

The first picture that comes to mind when I think of poker is a singer like Billy Holiday singing in a juke joint , dressed up in a sequin mini dress, on the banks of the Louisiana. The men would drink liquor from their yellow colored glasses and a guitar player would be playing the blues as broken men turned the tide and became winners in a lucky hand. 

The German game of poker called Poch, originating over 500 years ago and using betting and bluffing, was the first time in history poker had ever been played. This has been speculated, however.

If you’ve never heard of Poch or Pochspiel, the game uses a 32 card pack and typically up to 6 players. The cards are ranked high to low, just like American poker-A, K, Q, J, 10, and so on. Poch is played on wooden player board and designs can range from the simple to the extravagant.

Consequently, poker was speculated to have originated during the 16th century in Persia. The game was called As Nas and it was played with a 25 card deck containing five suits of cards.

On the other hand, between 900 and 1000 AD, poker was said to have started, or rather invented, by the Chinese. Of course, gaming has been around since the beginning of time,  many people believe, so it’s quite hard to say where it did begin. What do you believe?

Poker In The US: Started By French Settlers

In the United States, we first saw poker being played in New Orleans by  French settlers. In fact, poker was and still is quite popular in France where it’s legal to play. The French brought over a game called Poque which is similar to “draw poker” we play in the states.

New Orleans continued to draw sugar plantation owners and riverboat hustlers as it evolved as the first gambling city in America. The first casino was opened by John Davis in 1822 and offered guests 24 hour service, gourmet food, various games, roulette, alcohol, and of course poker. After some time,casinos started popping up and the first idea of the Vegas strip was born.

Like many old time gamblers, a man could lose his shirt to the casinos in town so finding a back swamp joint, like the aforementioned juke joints, was often a way to increase his odds. This wasn’t always the case, however. Many thieves and cheats frequented these saloon like establishments, so in actuality, the odds were almost always against a man who wasn’t familiar with the inner workings of the room.

Around 1911, gambling was outlawed throughout the Louisiana Purchase territory, however this never stopped gambling enthusiasts and professional poker players.



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