There are many people that claim Poker is over a thousand years old. These claims are based on historical drawings, fuzzy writings and murals and can be found from China all the way to Egypt. The problem is that we don’t know very much about these old games. At least not enough to accurately see how the game of poker has evolved from them. This of course throws away all credibility of these claims.
Of the Egyptian games, we know absolutely nothing and we really only have an image here or there to go by. All we know about the Chinese game, is that there was a domino like game that used some form of betting on your tiles. This could possibly, more than anything, have been more of an origin story for betting in general, instead of for poker.
Spain In The 16th Century
It is in Spain where we start to find a decent origin story for this well-loved game. In Europe at the time of the 16th century there was a game that is believed to find its origin in Spain and was called Poque. The game had a betting strategy where each player could bet that the three cards that they were dealt with, was the highest of all the players in the game. Of course, just as in poker, the players were also allowed to bluff.
In the next century the game travelled to France and to Germany – where it was called Pochen. It naturally travelled across Europe, but it isn’t in Europe that it evolved that much. From France, French settlers took the game with them, all across the Atlantic Ocean to North America where they had settlements in New Orleans.
Poque To Poker
By 1834, the world already had a 52 card, deck of cards. Colonists in North America had by then anglicized the game and changed it to suite their needs. Instead of being dealt three cards to each player, the players now got five cards each. Many of the other poker rules – as we know them – were by this time also created and the game name was officially poker.
From New Orleans it spread up the Mississippi. Poker became incredibly popular amongst the workers on the ships that were used to transport goods all along the river and with them playing it almost daily, it spread across North America quite rapidly. It became so popular that it was apparently played by all soldiers through the Civil War.
Poker and Royalty
In 1871, the British minister to North America took the game with him, back across the Atlantic. In the court of Queen Victoria, he found himself explaining the rules of the game to the Queen and her courtiers. It wasn’t long until even in the royal courts, the game became popular. From here it spread back into Europe and grew in popularity. After all, if it was the Queens game, how could you not be playing it?