When someone pictures the origins of poker, images of dusty saloons and shady gamblers with 6-shooters likely comes to mind. I have been playing Texas Hold’em professionally now for over 10 years and have often wondered who invented this crazy game. Since I have a degree in history, I only thought it proper to do some research and find out all that I can about where poker originated.

Who invented Texas Hold’em? While there is some dispute as to who invented Texas Hold’em, a Texas road gambler named T. “Blondie” Forbes is now widely credited as having created the game its current form sometime in the 1920s. The state of Texas officially recognizes Robstown, TX as the place Hold’em was first played.

While Hold’em is not the most popular poker game in the world, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it has only recently gained widespread popularity. Let’s explore the history of poker and how it became what it is today.

A brief history of poker

The path to modern day poker is long and winding, and ultimtely, not completely clear. Even so, there is still enough empiricle evidence to make logical assumptions about how we go to where we are now.

However, before we can discuss the origins of poker, first we need to talk about the instruments of poker; playing cards.

The Origin of Playing Cards

Playing cards have remained mostly unchanged over the past 300 years. However, it took hundreds of years of experimentation to get to this point. The road is long and winding and definitely not linear.

Who Invented Playing Cards?

By the 9th century AD, it is clear that the Chinese were playing cards. Now, their decks of playing cards were nothing like we have now. In fact, they more closely resembled dominos.

Early Chinese Playing Cards

The biggest contribution the Chinese made toward the evolution of poker is in their advent of having four “suits” which were called coins, myriads, strings of coins, and tens of myriads. Each card had a number from either 2-9 or 1-9.

While we don’t know exactly how the games were played back then, it is clear that some of these ideas influenced later generations of card decks.

500 Years Later, Decks of Cards Appear in Europe

Sometime in the 1300s, a 52-card deck appears in Europe that is called the “Mamluk” deck. It had four suits and typically had the names of famous military officers of the time.

The importance of the Mamluk playing cards is not so much their design but the fact that they had 52 cards. It appears that influence was not lost on early card makers of the time.

Mamluk Playing Cards

The Usage of Playing Cards Spreads like Wildfire

By 1500, the use of playing cards was widespread. Every European region had put their own spin on the 52 card design.

Four Suits to Rule Them All

It was during this widespread expansion of card games that the modern suits came to pass. It seems each region had its own take on the design but it was the French who settled in on the now ubiquitous Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, and Spades.

The first appearance of the modern suits was in 1480. The exactly person who first coined this design is lost to history.

A Divergence of Designs

By the 16th century, “court” cards were in vogue and still persist to this day. The presence of royalty in the design became standard with there being slightly different designs present depending on where the cards were made.

In England, they had a particular look made by the manufacturing center of Rouen. France became known for adopting a Parisian design. Historical and mythological heroes were used as models for both versions.

In the end, it’s the Parisian design that won out and became most often used in modern times.

Rouen Playing Cards: The Evolution of the Suicide King

Why Are There 52 Cards in a Deck?

As with just about anything in the world, humans appear to have based the decks of cards to be symbolic of their experience in the world. It is assumed that the 52 cards represent the 52 weeks of the year and the 13 cards of each suit represent the lunar calendar.

When Was Poker Invented?

It is not possible to give an exact date as to when poker was invented. I guess it depends on how you define the word.

If poker means betting on a hand of cards and sometimes bluffing, then poker existed long before it was called poker. There were bluffing games, called “Poque”, being played by at least the mid 15th century with early forms of playing cards.

Where Poker Originated

It is likely that the birthplace of poker in its current form was New Orleans, Louisiana during the 16th century. Poque, the French bluffing game, had been imported by then and was being played in the area. The majority of games being played during the period included 5 cards and a 52-card deck..

Why Is It Called Poker?

Eventually, the games evolved and the name somehow got changed to “Poker”. It is probably just a regional variation on the pronunciation of “Poque.”

Poker in America

Apparently, riverboats played a part in the spread of the game. By 1850, the Flush had been added by this time and there was a new class of folks called Riverboat Gamblers, who traveled around making a living off the game.

There were numerous saloons, gambling houses, and even “casino” riverboats, although they weren’t called that at the time, up and down the Mississippi river.

Floating Saloon on the Pearl River in Mississippi Circa 1907

The Rise of the Hustler

During the mid 19th century the gold rush was on. People were moving west and, invariably, new classes of rich folk were being created almost on a monthly basis. For recreation, these people had but a few choices at the time.

Due to the proliferation of saloons, it is only natural that the nouveau riche would come in contact with card games. This literally created a golden opportunity for a new class of card sharks to evolve in order to feed off this new found wealth.

The Role of the American Civil War

During the war between the North and South, soldiers nationwide were playing poker for recreation. It was likely during this time that the “Straight” was added and the game of “Stud” was invented. 5 card stud was the typical game of choice during the time.

Through the comradery of the soldiers and the rapid movement of people all over the country, it is easy to see how poker could coalesce into a common form during this time.

Soldiers might be stationed in South Carolina one day and Pennsylvania the next. Wherever they went, it only makes sense that they would want to stick to a common form of the game for simplicity sake.

Civil War Soldiers Playing Cards

The Modern Game Arrives

Just after the Civil War, it is clear that all modern elements of the game were present. The hand rankings were established, virtually everyone used a 52-card deck, and the modern form of 5 card draw and stud were being played all over the United States.

While poker was popular, no one could anticipate the growth in popularity of the game during and after the 1880’s. The explosion in popularity among all classes of people coincided with one interesting new invention: the humble poker chip.

The Role of Poker Chips

Perhaps nothing more influenced the evolution of poker than the invention of poker chips. Before chips were produced, players used any number of small objects to bet with. Anything from small pieces of gold and silver to paper money were used in the games.

The standardization of poker currency that chips brought into the mix was a huge game-changer. It didn’t really change the way the game was played, it just made things so much easier to manage.

“Casinos” Flourish

While they were not yet called casinos, gambling establishments were cropping up seemingly everywhere in the form of the saloon. Due to the advent of poker chips, players could “buy in” for a certain amount and be given chips to gamble with.

By 1906 the first official “casino” had opened in Las Vegas on Fremont Street. Even so, this was a dark period for the business. There had been a backlash against common vices, including drinking and gambling, at this time. The same forces that eventually led to prohibition also caused a ban in poker around this time.

Legalization

In 1931, Nevada fully legalized gambling. However, this did not happen in other places around the country. Most other poker establishments around the country remained underground. Even so, poker began the slow growth toward where it is today.

The Boom

It was not until 1977 when legalization happened in Atlantic City that the true poker boom began. It began a chain of events where poker became legal around the country and the emergence of Tribal Casinos happened.

Today, the American gaming industry brings in well over 100 billion dollars a year.

When Was Texas Hold’Em Invented?

The concept of “community cards” did not emerge in poker until the 1920s. It is believed that a road gambler called T. “Blondie” Forbes invented the game of Texas Hold’em during this time. In fact, he was credited with its invention when he was inducted into the poker hall of fame in 1980.

How Did Hold’Em Become so Popular?

A group of Texas Gamblers, including Amarillo Slim, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, and Crandall Addington introduced Texas hold’em to Vegas in the 1960s.

Ultimately, an entire casino was practically founded around the game of Hold’em. The Golden Nugget hosted the first World Series of Poker in 1970, where Texas Hold’em was first played in a tournament. The next year, it became the only game played since it was seen as the perfect blend between skill and luck and known as the “thinking man’s game.”

Doyle Brunson, the Most Famous Texas Road Gambler

The game slowly grew in popularity over the years until the online poker was invented. Then, the floodgates were opened.

History of Online Poker

While the first “online casino” called Planet Poker was established in 1998, it wasn’t until PartyPoker came on the scene in 2001 that things really exploded. This was the wild west of online poker with really soft games that were lucrative for any reasonably skilled poker player at the time.

The Moneymaker Effect

Then, the unthinkable happened. A “normal” guy won an $86 satellite to the World Series of Poker and went on to win the whole thing. Turning a small sum of money into 2.5 million dollars made Chris Moneymaker an overnight sensation.

Seemingly everyone in the world wanted to be the next Moneymaker. Players from all walks of life were getting into poker and signing up to play online poker. This all culminated in 2006 when Jamie Gold won the main even prize of $12,000,000.

UIGEA

Unfortunately, 2006 also saw the passage of a US law called the “unlawful internet gambling enforcement act of 2006.” What it does is outlaw banks from doing business with online casinos.

The ultimate effect of the law is immediate. The general public misinterprets the law and many think online poker is illegal. This slows down the poker boom considerably. In fact, the very next the main even top prize drops $4,000,000 as many players exodus from the game.

Even so, Pokerstars and other online poker sites continue to flourish for the next several years.

Black Friday

Just when it looked like online poker was making a comeback, with online professionals continuing to make 6 figures or better a year, the US Government once again put a damper on things.

On April 15th, 2011 a criminal case was filed against the three largest online poker companies including Pokerstars, Full Tilt Poker, and Cereus. They were accused of money laundering and trying to get around the UIGEA. This eventually led to Pokerstars pulling out of the US market and Full Tilt and Cereus going out of business.

Black Friday was a huge blow to online poker as a profession. Literally hundreds of thousands of people lost their bankrolls on Full Tilt and even more people rapidly left the game of poker for good.

This is what I saw when I logged into Pokerstars on Black Friday

Online Poker Today

While I paint a dark picture on the history of online poker, it still a wildly popular hobby that millions of people enjoy. It is estimated that around 40 million people still regularly play poker worldwide. It looks like online poker is here to stay, and just like prohibition, governments simply cannot shut down people from having fun.

Final Thoughts

The journey to modern day poker has been slow and winding. Ultimately, the games are all about recreation and adding enjoyment to peoples lives. If you are interested in playing poker or learning strategy, be sure to check out my comprehensive poker tutorial. Thanks for reading!

Related Questions

Where did the name Texas Holdem come from? Hold’em basically refers to having to keep your initial cards throughout the hand. You cannot “draw” any more cards. It is called “Texas” Hold’em because it was invented in Texas during the 1920s.

Why is Texas Hold’em called the Cadillac of poker? Texas Hold’em is called the Cadillac of poker because it is the one game that finds the perfect balance between luck and skill. It is also known as the thinking man’s game since you can never see your opponents’ actual cards until the showdown. You must use logic to deduce what they hold.

Where was Texas Hold’em Invented? While we can never know for sure Robstown Texas is credited for being the birthplace of Texas Hold’em.

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