The origin of Poker is widely disputed. There are as many possible birthplaces as there are variations of the game. The most popular belief is that it was invented by the Chinese around 900 A.D., possibly derived from the Chinese dominoes. On New Year’s Eve, 969, the Emperor Mu-tsung is reported to have played “domino cards” with his wife.
Others state that Poker originates from the Persian game “as nas”. This is a 5-player Persian game, which requires a special deck of 25 cards with 5 suits. However, this is only recorded back to the 17th century. Another theory calls on the French “poque”. The French who settled New Orleans around 1480 played Poque, a card game involving bluffing and betting. This was stated to be the first use of a deck consisting of spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts.
Fragments of cards have been tentatively dated to 12th or 13th century in Egypt. Some propose that modern cards originated from the Indian card game of Ganjifa. We can see that narrowing down the exact origin becomes as difficult as pulling a royal straight flush.
The history of poker in the United States has a bit more consistency. Poker traveled from New Orleans by steamboat up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The game then spread via wagon and train. Modifications such as stud poker, the draw, and the straight became popular, during the Civil War. European influence of poker ended when the joker was introduced as a wild card in 1875.
In 1910, Nevada made it a felony to run a betting game. The Attorney General of California declared that draw poker was based upon skill and therefore the antigambling laws could not stop it. But stud poker was illegal, as it was based solely on chance. With this decision, draw poker games developed and grew. This caused Nevada to reverse itself in 1931 and legalize casino gambling.
Through all the varied theories on the origin of Poker, one thing comes shining through. This is a game which has stood the test of time and becomes more rich and full with each generation. That is the joy of “Dealer’s Choice” poker. Each person who makes their own variation adds another piece to the vast and fascinating history of poker.