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Poker’s origins in the Old West

June 16, 2021

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Poker is a unique game, full of components and lingo specific to only it. But where did these concepts come from?

Unsurprisingly, many came from the American Old West, in a time where cowboys and outlaws played with their guns out on the tables in a clear show of bravado.

Let’s take a look at some of the origins of modern game elements starting with everyone’s favorite: the poker chip.

Up until the late 1800s, the poker chips that we know of today did not exist! “Chips” were any small, valuable object that could be used as a bet during a game. Eventually, individual saloons began to craft their own unique chips out of ivory, bone, clay, and wood, lending a more official air to the game.

Since many of these materials could be easily obtained, counterfeiters were quick to jump on this opportunity. Needing a way to curb the cheaters, the early 1900s saw the rise of manufactured chips. This led to those we use today.

If you didn’t have chips when you were playing, you could just use “nuts”! “The nuts” now refers to having the best poker hand possible at the table, but back in the 1800s, “the nuts” were something that you used to bet.

Back then, it was common for players to bet all of their belongings in a game. To make sure that the player who made the bet wouldn’t turn tail and run if they lost, making off with what they owed, they had to remove the wheel nuts from their wagons and set them on the table. That way, you could be sure that you’d get your rewards.

With big stakes, players wanted know that there was no funny business at the tables. The easiest way to cheat was to collude with the dealer.

To solve this, they implemented a rotating dealer. This was like the tables today, but instead of a button being passed around, they used a knife! The visible threat made it more difficult for players to collude, and the rotating dealer has stayed with the game ever since.