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The Evolution of Poker

October 12, 2022

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When most people think of poker historically, they think of the American Old West. They imagine cowboys and outlaws alike in a saloon, guns on the tables and their life savings, as well as their actual lives, at risk. But the history of poker goes much further back than that! While poker as we know it today didn’t appear until the 1800s, the history of the card game and the evolution of poker reaches even further back.

Let’s start with the deck of cards. It is generally agreed upon that cards spread from the East to the West. The use of cards for games dates all the way back to ancient China. After the discovery of paper in 100 B.C.E, the Emperor Mu-Tsung celebrated every New Year’s Eve by playing a game of paper dominoes with his wife. These paper dominoes were shuffled and dealt like the modern cards of today. It’s purported that playing cards were used all the way back in 9th century China for the game yezi xi, or ‘game of leaves’. Whether ‘leaves’ refers to paper cards or the pages from a book is up for interpretation. The fad of using paper in games eventually led to the creation of the first four-suited deck of cards. By 1377, the card game craze had swept Europe, and the rest is history!

Opening centuries after the first gambling establishments in China, Il Ridotto was the first European gambling house (and, perhaps, casino), created in the city of Venice in 1638. Card and dice games were so popular among the public that “The Private Room” was established in a wing of the San Moisè Palace. While open to the public, the dress code, including having to wear a three-cornered hat, and high stakes limited the game to the nobility. Il Ridotto offered two games: biribi and basetta. Basetta was the most popular game offered. It was a cross of blackjack, poker, and gin rummy. It was later replaced by the game faro, which was popular in the US.

In America, historians think that the game of poker spread like wildfire from New Orleans in the 1800s. The game was popular on riverboats, where the crews used it to pass the time as they sailed up the Mississippi river. In the 1870s, the game was introduced to England. It’s said that Queen Victoria overheard the rules and learned the game herself! American soldiers in WWI spread the game throughout Europe further.

That brings us to recent times! The first games of online poker were played all the way back in the mid 1990’s. In 1994, the first recorded online poker game was coded. This game was text-based and ran on the chat system IRC. Online casino games were introduced in the early 2000’s. This made the game more available for all who wanted to play. How far we’ve come!