Poker is the most popular gambling game, with hundreds of thousands of searches on Google about Texas Holdem tournament strategy, bluffing, counting cards… you name it! But have you ever thought about how it all started?
Joining a poker game means becoming a part of a game that dates back generations. Poker has a rich history and culture, ranging from Civil War soldiers and Old West saloons to old Vegas and the early days of the online game.
That past is woven with colorful characters, locations, and a game that is constantly evolving. Here’s a look at the background and interesting facts about poker every fan should know.
The History of Poker
The origins of poker are shrouded in mystery. Many people believe several other games inspired the game. Others believe the modern game evolved from a French game called poque.
The original game used a 20-card deck that included only the Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and Ten.
Poque arrived in the late 18th century in the French colony of Louisiana.
As the game evolved in the early 1800s, it acquired an Americanized name.
Many poker rules were inherited from poque. However, between 1830 and 1850, the deck grew to 52 cards. Straights and flushes were also used.
During the nineteenth century, the game also gained a bad reputation. Cardsharps were common on riverboats transporting Americans up and down the Mississippi.
Author Mark Twain worked on these riverboats as a young man and even became a poker player. He issued a warning to those who were tempted to play but didn’t know much about the game.
“There are few things in our country that are so unforgivably neglected as poker,” the author observed. “The upper class knows next to nothing about it.” Of course, some ambassadors have a general understanding of the game now and then, but the general public’s ignorance is terrifying.
“Why, I’ve known clergymen, good men, kind-hearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who had no idea what a “flush” was; it’s enough to make one ashamed of one’s species.”
The Old West and the Civil War Era
As we know it today, Texas Hold ’em was still a long way off. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, many Americans had embraced poker. At the time, draw and stud poker games were popular.
Several Union and Confederate soldiers were known to gamble while encamped between battles during the Civil War (1861-65). According to History.net, Virginia Union soldier Alexander Hunter believed that five of the six soldiers were card players.
During the westward expansion, saloons and gambling dens sprouted up all along the frontier. During the gold rush, cowboys, entrepreneurs, and miners all mixed it up at the card tables.
Law enforcement officers and outlaws alike sat at the tables, including the following gunmen:
- Holliday, Doc
- Garrett, Pat
- Masterson, Bat
- Luke Short
However, these were not modern casinos with fair games.
These gambling establishments were usually smoky and dimly lit. Playing cards were difficult to come by and were used repeatedly. Bent cards were common, and many of them had been intentionally marked by dishonest players.
Wild Bill Hickok, a lawman, gambler, and gunslinger, moved to Deadwood in the Dakota territory’s the Black Hills in 1876. He intended to settle in the mining town and play poker for a living.
Hickok was playing Five Card Stud at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon on August 2, that year. He was shot in the back and killed while playing with two Aces and two Eights. The story is still one of the most well-known in poker.
The Origins of Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em is thought to have originated in the early 1900s as a modified version of Seven Card Stud. The use of community cards was novel in poker. However, it has since become the most popular form of poker in the world.
Robstown, Texas, is regarded as the birthplace of the game. By the 1950s, Texas poker legends like Doyle Brunson were heavily involved in the game. By the 1960s, the game had made its way to Las Vegas.
Throughout the twentieth century, poker’s popularity grew. As soldiers returned home after WWII, poker nights became a regular part of many Americans’ lives.
Several presidents joined in on the fun. Richard Nixon is said to have been an exceptional card player. He used his poker winnings to fund some of his first political campaigns.
With the release of The Cincinnati Kid in 1965, poker received numerous pop culture references, including a major film treatment. It starred Steve McQueen, a Hollywood heavyweight.
Poker remained a popular pastime among many members of the military. Even WPT Mike Sexton picked up the game as an Army paratrooper in the early 1970s.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP)
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) brought poker out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Benny Binion came up with the idea. He was a Texas gangster who eventually traded illegal gambling in Dallas for legal casino ownership in Las Vegas.
Binion purchased the Horseshoe in 1951. The property became well-known for accepting some of the largest bets in Las Vegas.
Binion, ever the showman, was always looking to bring in more gamblers. In the late 1960s, he had the idea that a high-stakes poker game might draw some attention.
He hoped to bring in some of the country’s best players, many of whom he knew from his time in Texas.
The first event was held in 1970 and drew a small crowd, including the following poker legends:
- Brunson, Doyle
- Moss, Johnny
- Slim Preston of Amarillo
There was only cash game action that first year and the players voted on the best player, Moss, who is considered the first WSOP winner.
A year later, Binion added a Texas Hold’em tournament format, and Moss won once more.
Preston won the title in 1972 after paying a $10,000 buy-in. His outgoing personality and television appearances helped the series gain much attention.
The series expanded, adding side events and attracting more players. The championship gold bracelet was added as a trophy in 1976 and has since become the most valuable prize in poker.
With Chris Moneymaker’s unlikely Main Event victory in 2003, bigger fields continued and then exploded in the 2000s. Viewers at home could see hole cards captured by ESPN cameras for the first time.
The World Poker Tour’s popularity grew in tandem with the number of online players. These occurrences contributed to the poker boom, which saw poker explode.
Every summer, the WSOP hosts a number of events with hundreds of thousands of competitors. The winner of the 2019 Main Event, Germany’s Hossein Ensan, received $10 million.
The World Poker Tour and Televised Poker
Many consider the WSOP to be the first televised poker show that allowed viewers to see hole cards. But that honor belongs to the British show Late Night Poker, which aired from 1999 to 2002 and then again from 2008 to 2011.
Before the show’s debut, poker had never been broadcast on British television. The following actors appeared on the show:
- Ulliot, Dave “The Devilfish”
- Sunar, Surinder
- Coren, Victoria
- Alvarez, Alvarez
The show was well-liked by viewers and spawned several spinoffs.
Then, in 2003, an even bigger show premiered on television. This version looked at some of the world’s largest tournaments from prestigious casinos in exotic locations.
The World Poker Tour (WPT) debuted on the Travel Channel in the United States in 2002. Players competed for massive prize pools that most television viewers did not see.
Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten called the action on the felt in the high-quality production. The ungodly sums of money, elegant casinos, and personalities at the tables enthralled viewers.
Most viewers were also unfamiliar with No-Limit Texas Hold’em, which grew in popularity.
Allowing players to see their hole cards changed the game for televised poker. More tournaments continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s, but the WPT and WSOP remained mainstays.
The WPT now holds tournaments worldwide and is broadcast in 150 countries. The tour officially passed the billion-dollar mark in prize money paid out in 2017.
Online Poker Explosion
Online poker is largely responsible for the modern game’s success. The industry was established in the early 1990s. In the early days of the Internet, players began with more basic versions for playing with real money.
When Planet Poker debuted on January 1, 1998, it was the first operator to allow people to play for real money. However, the site was plagued by technical issues, which sometimes lasted for days.
Adding new features was also a difficult process. The Internet was also novel, posing challenges not previously encountered by players in modern games. The majority of the players were using dial-up connections.
Another operator, Paradise Poker, entered the industry in 1999. This website provided players with more features and a better gaming experience.
Both sites grew in popularity but faced competition in the early 2000s.
These new competitors provided a better software experience and were more financially secure. This included 888poker, which debuted in 2002.
These new competitors spent a lot of money on marketing. This strategy included sponsoring major live tournaments to attract players and grow the industry.
The 2000s saw the rise of online poker, as well as televised poker, the WSOP, and the WPT.
Grand View Research estimates that the industry’s market size will reach $53.7 billion by 2019. From 2020 to 2027, the company forecasted 11.5 percent compound annual growth.
Podcasting, Twitch, and Streaming
By the late 2000s, the poker boom had slowed. The federal government of the United States cracked down on online poker. However, by 2013, the game had returned to regulated environments. Online gambling is now permitted in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.
In the mid-2010s, new sites like YouTube and Twitch opened up new opportunities for creative poker players. Players like Jason Somerville began using these sites to deliver unique content to large audiences.
Twitch allowed players to communicate with other players while playing online. Many presented entertaining streams, which could include strategic advice and other forms of entertainment.
Twitch was originally used to stream video games, but poker quickly found a home there as well. As a result, streamed poker channels began to reach new players. People who watched esports on Twitch were also interested in poker.
YouTube has provided an additional opportunity to add exciting poker content. The following content creators have been included:
- Operators of online services
- Poker tournaments
- Players displaying their playing hands
- Advice on Poker Strategy
- Videos about the poker lifestyle
Poker vlogs have risen in popularity in recent years, with players such as Daniel Negreanu documenting their poker lives. PokerGO is yet another fantastic poker media option.
Players can watch WSOP action as well as high roller tournaments on the channel. In addition, documentaries and new episodes of Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker are also available.
Throughout the 2010s, podcasting expanded the poker media offerings and gained listeners.
There was a podcast for every type of player imaginable by 2021, from hardcore poker talk and strategy to interviews and lifestyle.
Poker has a long history dating back hundreds of years. The game has evolved from being played in back rooms with the possibility of always cheating present.
It’s now a game played in front of cameras in casinos all over the world.
Its culture, stories, literature, and characters have all evolved. Those who head to the tables for a game of poker are a part of that rich history, helping to preserve the spirit of the game.
Poker History and Facts Questions and Answers
Where did poker come from, and how did it get its name?
Many people believe poker evolved from the French game poque. In the late 18th century, the game was introduced to the French colony of Louisiana.
In the early 1800s, the game, including the name, became Americanized. Poque used only the Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and Ten from a 20-card deck. This deck was also used in early poker versions.
When did Texas Hold’em first appear?
The game is thought to have originated in Texas in the early 1900s, with Robstown being its birthplace.
When did the first World Series of Poker take place?
Horseshoe Casino owner Benny Binion created the series in 1970 in order to attract more gamblers to the property.
When did online poker first appear?
The origins of free money poker can be traced back to the 1990s, during the early days of the Internet. In 1998, Planet Poker was the first company to offer real money online poker. 888poker made its debut in 2002.
What was the first televised poker show that allowed viewers to see the players’ hole cards?
Late Night Poker debuted in the United Kingdom in 1998, allowing viewers to see the cards of the players.
The World Poker Tour was the first show in the United States to show hole cards. The tour extensively used “hole card cams” and was hugely successful.
ESPN first showed hole cards at the World Series of Poker in 2003, when Chris Moneymaker won. The WPT and 2003 WSOP, as well as the growth of online poker, all contributed to the poker boom of the 2000s.