As with many traditions and pastimes, origins of poker are numerous and vary by several different locales. The basic game and initial crude variations is probably over ten centuries old. The Chinese take credit and state that around 969 A.D., the emperor Mu-Tsung played a ranked domino game with his wife similar to the game we know today. There is also evidence that the ancient Egyptians played a form of card games in the 1100’s or 1200’s – the writing is on the walls, so to speak. Sometime in the 16th century, Persians created a deck of cards called Ganjifa, or “treasure cards”. They evidently invented and played several different games with this deck but one game in particular, called As Nas, definitely used cards of different ranks and forms of betting.
The French stake their claim to fame in the 17th century or thereabouts. Their game, which was called Poque, has a name which is hauntingly similar to the name of our modern day favorite. Not to be outdone by the French, the Germans have their entry thrown in around the same place in time. The German game was called Pochen and utilized betting and bluffing. I hate to be a spoilsport and rain on their parades, but it was later determined that both the French and German games came across on a boat from the Spanish. Their game, called Primero, is sometimes called the mother of modern poker and showed up in the 16th century, thus nosing out the French and German offerings. This is the game that mostly resembles today’s game. The players were dealt three cards and the term “bluffing” was invented. In fact, bluffing turned out to be the best strategy, the players that won the most often happened to be the ones that honed the art of bluffing.
Don’t worry. Our story isn’t going to disrespect France in the end. We actually are going to send them a big “high five” for probably being the vehicle that laid this historical, entertaining treasure in our laps. Their game of Poque was brought to Canada by French colonists. It quickly became the national pastime of Canada. In the 18th century, French Canadians who made the trek and set up life in New Orleans, of course brought the card game with them. Spreading like wildfire through Louisiana, the game started making its way up the Mississippi River and the rest is history.
The “father” of modern day poker is considered Jonathan H. Green. In 1834 he penned a book entitled: An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling. He referenced a “cheating game” that he had come across and he is credited for giving poker its name. At that time, the gambling card game of 3-card Monte was the game of choice, but as you know was rigged in favor of dishonest dealers. The new game of poker quickly replaced the 3-card rip-off as the river favorite because it was more challenging, more honest and actually had a strategy involved. The popularity of poker has never stopped growing since those early days in its history.