The History of Poker

Online card room poker, also referred to as internet poker, is playing poker via a computer connection over the internet. Internet poker firms supply computer software via their websites to connect poker players from all over the world so that they compete against one another in a game. The games can be played 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the privacy of the players’ own homes.

All types of poker can be played. Online poker rooms offer a variety of games including Texas hold ’em, five-card draw, seven-card stud and Omaha. You can play in live games for money or in free games for fun. There are games at all stake levels starting from £0.01 to no-limit games where you can bet as much as you like. You can also watch games in progress. A wide choice of tournaments is also offered.

For real money games, a rake of typically 5 per cent is charged for the use of the poker room services. The rake is deducted from the winning pot. The rake charged varies with different poker sites. Some offer reduced rates for regular customers. Others may take no rake if, for example, you fold before the flop on Texas hold ’em. Before we look any further at online poker rooms I think it is a good idea if we examine the origins of poker.


The history of poker

The game of poker first appeared in New Orleans some time during the 18th century. It was particularly popular among the French settlers. The origins of the game are not documented, but it probably evolved from a combination of other card or dice games.

There are several European card games with similarities to poker. These include the French game of pogue, the German game of Pochen, the English game of brag and the Italian game of primero. None of these games is a direct descendant of poker but they have most likely had an influence on it. The term flush, for example, comes from primero, which dates from the 16th century. In primero, four cards of the same suit was called a flux, leading to the term flush, which is used in poker to denote a hand of the same suit. The name for poker was probably derived from the French game pogue.

A game that has the greatest similarity to poker is the Persian game of as nas, which dates from the 16th century. It was played with a deck of 25 cards with five suits. Each player would initially be dealt two cards. A round of betting would follow. A further two cards were dealt, followed by another round of betting. A fifth card would be dealt, followed by a third round of betting. Hands were ranked in a similar way to poker. The highest ranking hand was five of the same suit (equivalent to a flush in poker) followed by five of a kind. A full house of three of a kind with a pair also features in the ranking. As well as betting the game also allowed players to bluff.

It is also possible that poker was adapted from dice games. Poker is based on the ranking of hands. Dice games with the same principle, the ranking of throws, have been played for at least 2000 years. A Roman dice game called tali is based on the ranking of throws where three of a kind beats a pair, much like poker.

The first written account of poker comes from the diary of Joseph Crowell, an English actor, who was touring America in 1829. He described it as a game where players each received five cards and made bets. The highest combination of cards won.

In 1834, in his book An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling, Jonathan H. Green gave an account of what he called ‘the cheating game’. He saw it being played while on the Mississippi River travelling on a steamboat heading for New Orleans. A deck of 20 cards was used with each player receiving a hand of five. The player with the highest ranking hand would win. The hands were ranked as pairs, three of a kind and four of kind. This early form of poker featured no draws. The players simply received five cards face down and would bet on the cards received.

Along the way, the 20-card deck was replaced by a 32-card deck and, by 1833, a 52-card deck had been introduced. Brief mentions of poker were made in Hoyles’ Games in 1850 where it was described as a game for 10 players where each player received five cards face down.

New Orleans had numerous gambling establishments where poker was played including the Crescent City House, a luxury casino, which was opened by John Davis in 1827. As America was settled, poker spread and was played on boats that travelled along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Professional gamblers known as sharps made their living by playing cards with river boat passengers and relieving them of their money. Cheating was rife.

In the USA, poker spread to the west with settlers who travelled on wagon trains. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, gambling flourished in the prospecting camps. San Francisco, which became a huge tented city, had over 1000 gamblmg houses where gold was the currency. Initially, games like roulette were most popular but gradually card games like poker caught on.

The game spread rapidly during the Civil War (1861-65) . Soldiers would play poker to pass the time. Lack of money resulted in their fashioning gaming chips out of flattened bullets and pieces of bone. The soldiers would usually discard their playing cards before battle as playing cards were considered to be ‘instruments of the devil’ and the soldiers did not want to die carrying them. It was during the Civil War that stud poker first emerged.

Many variations of the game started to appear that could be broadly divided into two types: draw poker and stud poker. In draw poker, all the cards are dealt face down and seen only by the player of the hand. Players are then allowed to exchange cards to improve their hand. In stud poker, some of the cards are dealt  face up on the table and players make a hand by combining their cards and those on the table. New rankings of hands and betting methods were also incorporated. In the 1867 edition of Hoyles’ Games, a straight and a straight flush and an ante had been incorporated into the game. By 1875 jackpot poker and the use of a joker as a wildcard had been mentioned.

Poker players made a living travelling from town to town. Virtually every saloon of the Old West had a poker table where a buckhorn knife would be passed around the table to denote the dealer. This led to the phrase ‘passing the buck’. Later, a silver dollar was used, which gave rise to the slang term of a buck for a dollar. Disputes over the game were often settled by gun. One famous poker player from this time was Doc Holliday (1851-87) who on several occasions got into a gunfight over poker.

Poker arrived in England in 1872. It was introduced by Robert C. Schenk, the American ambassador to England. He had been invited to a party at a country house in Somerset where he had taught his fellow guests how to play the game. The hostess persuaded him to write down the rules which were then published. The game was popular among members of the aristocracy and became know as Schenk poker. Queen Victoria is known to have played the game as a diversion after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.

In 1911 legislation was passed in the United States that prohibited stud poker as it was concluded that it was a game of luck. However, a ruling was also passed that draw poker was a game of skill and therefore not illegal. This led to the decline of stud poker and in new draw games being invented.

Prohibition in the 1920s was responsible for poker becoming a home-based game. With the closure of drinking and gaming establishments, private games were organized and became part of American culture. The traditional venue became the kitchen table where family and friends would gather to play. The playing of private games resulted in many variations appearing, with each household inventing its own rules. New rankings of hands, incorporation of one or more wildcards and different ways of organizing the betting appeared.

When gambling was legalized in Nevada in the 1930s, draw poker was introduced to Las Vegas casinos. In 1970 Benny Binion, owner of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, decided to hold a poker tournament so that the best players in the world could compete against one another. The tournament, called the World Series of Poker, has become an annual event with players from around the globe competing. The game chosen for the championship was Texas hold ’em – a form of stud poker. This resulted in Texas hold ’em becoming one of the most widely played games.

With the innovation of the internet, online poker came into being. Computer technology allows players from all over the world to compete against one another from the comfort of their own homes. Gaming sites offer traditional poker, video poker and Caribbean stud poker. The first online poker room was introduced by Planet Poker in 1998. One year later, Paradise Poker arrived and became the industry leader. Its prominent position was overtaken by Party Poker owned by PartyGaming. It is now the world’s largest poker room with over 50 per cent of the online poker market. The site was launched in 2001. It is licensed and regulated by the government of Gibraltar. There are over 70,000 simultaneous players and 8000 tables during peak traffic time each day. The site annually hosts the Million, an offline tournament with over $7 million in prizes.

The popularity of online poker is growing year on year. In 2003 there were an estimated 600,000 people playing online. Now it is estimated that over 1.2 million people play internet poker.