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The History of Poker

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A game once notorious with cheats, outlaws, and knife-makers, poker has developed into a popular sport competed worldwide. Since its humble beginning on the banks of the Mississippi, the popularity of this widely played game has grown in leaps and bounds, in the process evolving numerous variations and sub-variations.

Poker is thought to have evolved over more than 10 centuries from various games; all involved the basic principles of ranked card or domino combinations and the use of bluffing to deceive opponents.

One popular belief is that a game similar to poker was first invented by the Chinese sometime before 969 A.D, when The Emperor Mu-tsung is reported to have played "domino cards" with his wife on new years eve.

Egyptians in the 12th & 13th centuries are known to have used a form of playing cards, and in 16th century Persia Ganjifa or Treasure Cards were used for a variety of betting games. A Ganjifa deck consisted of 96 elaborate cards, often made of paper thin slices of ivory or precious wood. The Persians played As Nas which utilized 25 cards, rounds of betting and hierarchical hand rankings.

A French game named Poque and a German game named Pochen become very popular in the 17 & 18th centuries, both developed from the 16th century Spanish game called Primero which involved three cards being dealt to each player. Bluffing, or betting high stakes whilst holding poor cards to deceive opponents, was an integral part of the game. Primero dates back to 1526 and is often referred to as poker's mother as it is the first confirmed version of a game directly related to modern day poker.

However, poker as we know it truly developed in the United States. It was first widely played in New Orleans in the early 1800's.

Poker River BoatIn 1834, Jonathan H. Green made one of the earliest written references to poker when in his writing he mentions rules to the "cheating game," being played on Mississippi riverboats. The Cheating Game" quickly began to supplant the popular cardsharp game of 3-card monte on the gambling circuit. Gamers embraced the new game as it was perceived as a more challenging and 'honest' gamble than the notoriously rigged 3-card game. Green took more than a passing interest in the new game and took it upon himself to formally name and document the 'Cheating Game' in his book 'An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling': Poker was born.

Poker's growth was also the result of the increase in gambling along the American frontier. The California gold rush introduced a new venue for poker playing. The gold rush saw a large influx of men traveling to a new area, seeking to strike it rich. This comprised largely of speculators and travelers; both groups that enjoyed gambling. Unburdened by family and social stigma, travelers indulged in this vice for entertainment.

Unsurprisingly, gambling houses sprouted in Northern California, offering an array of gambling and entertainment opportunities for young men. A saloon with a poker table could be found in about every town across the coast.

Initially it was played with one round of betting with five cards face down. There was no draw of cards. Trying to expand the craft, professional gamblers modified the rules in order to enhance the profitability of the game for them. These gamblers considered themselves businessmen who took advantage of America's growing obsession of gambling.

After 1850, wild cards and bluffing became common practices in the game. Addition of the draw helped professional gamblers by introducing another round of betting (meaning another opportunity to cheat) and more skill to the game.

Poker eventually became a California pastime. As people settled in California and the gold rush ended, their desire for fast action games like faro diminished, and there was a renewed interest in poker.

During the American Civil War, many additions were made, including draw poker, stud poker and the straight.

Modern tournament play became popular in American casinos after the World Series of Poker began in 1970. It was only then that the first serious strategy began to appear in the game. Texas Hold'em rose to prominence and overtook popularity of the seven-card stud poker when it was featured as the title game in the World Series of Poker. Today, Texas Hold'em is indisputably the most frequently played and most popular poker game in the world.

Other variations such as Omaha, Stud Poker, Manila, Draw Poker and Razz are also popular, but nothing can compete with the excitement of No Limit Texas Hold'em.

Johnny Chan at the World Series of PokerNo Limit Texas Hold'em played at The World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour have been captivating American television audiences to the point that there are now made for TV events such as the Celebrity Poker and the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions being filmed especially for TV and shown in prime time.

Poker looks like it is here to stay and its popularity has never been as widespread nor growing as quickly as it is right now. With the wealth of poker information available online, and the relative ease of logging on and playing with other poker players from around the world, there is no time like the present to join the poker craze.

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