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Geoff Fisk

When & Where Was Poker Invented?

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Everything that happens at the Lodge Card Club revolves around the game of poker.

If poker was never invented, you wouldn’t be reading this blog entry right now. The Lodge’s live-streamed, high-stakes No-Limit Texas Hold’em games wouldn’t exist. Lodge co-owner Doug Polk would be doing something completely different with his life.

Thankfully for all of us, poker is firmly entrenched in American society.

You might wonder though – when and where was poker invented? The answer to that question isn’t completely clear.

Let’s dive into the history of poker and see what historians say about the origin of our favorite card game:

The History Of Poker

Historians disagree on the consensus origin of poker. Both the time and place of the birth of the game remain unclear.

Keep in mind that in the modern era, poker encompasses a number of different variants. Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Seven Card Stud, and many other games fall under the umbrella of poker.

The World Series of Poker runs poker tournaments for just about every form of poker each year. Take a look at the WSOP schedule, and you’ll see that the game expands far beyond the familiar games that modern poker players know so well.

We’ll dive into the history of Texas Hold’em (the world’s most popular poker variant) a little later in this article.

Before we get there, let’s take a look at some possible origins of poker in general.

When & Where Was Poker Invented?
Poker is a social pastime that goes back many centuries.

As-Nas: The Persian Predecessor of Poker?

Poker as we know it might trace its roots back to the Persian game called As-Nas. As-Nas dates back as far as the 16th century.

A game of As-Nas is played with either a 20-card deck or 25-card deck. The cards are divided into five rankings, with either four or five cards of the same rankings.

The modern equivalent of As-Nas would look like this (assuming the 25-card version):

  • Five aces
  • Five kings
  • Five queens
  • Five jacks
  • Five tens (or five jokers)

The cards in As-Nas don’t have different suits, so the most accurate way to recreate the game would involve taking the aces through ten cards out of five different 52-card decks.

You could then use one suit per card and replicate something close to As-Nas.

As-Nas was played with four people, with each player dealt five cards. You then must make the best five-card hand according to poker hand rankings, but without flushes or straights.

Both the playing cards themselves and the hand rankings used in As-Nas include significant similarities to poker. While you could use aces through tens to deal a modern-day version of the game, the five ranks used in traditional As-Nas looked like this:

  • As (Ace, often includes a lion with the sun or moon in the background)
  • Shah (King, usually sitting on a throne or on horseback)
  • Bibi (Queen or Lady)
  • Serbaz (Soldier)
  • Lakat (usually a dancing girl)

When & Where Was Poker Invented

You can certainly see the resemblance between the Ace-King-Queen-Jack rankings in modern playing cards and the As-Shah-Bibi-Serbaz styles used in As-Nas.

Once each player is dealt five cards, the first player to act can either call, raise, or fold. That player can also choose to call or raise without looking at their cards, the equivalent of a straddle in poker.

After that player acts, each subsequent player gets the chance to call, raise or fold. When the round of betting is complete, the player with the best hand wins. Bluffing was a big part of the game in As-Nas, much as it is in the poker games of today.

As-Nas bears a striking resemblance to modern-day poker, and as such many historians point to As-Nas as a direct ancestor of poker.

Poker Comes To American Shores

By the 19th century, a game known as “poker” began to skyrocket in popularity in New Orleans and the Mississippi River region of the United States. Historians don’t all agree that the poker games that arrived in the U.S. at this time were a direct descendant of As-Nas.

The name “poker” almost certainly comes from the French game “Poque”, the name of which derives from the German word “pochen” (which translates to “to brag as a bluff”). The German game Pochen can still be found in Germany, bearing some resemblance to modern poker.

In any case, the family of games we know as “poker” traces back to the late 1700s in the U.S. Mississippi riverboats, as well as saloons and gambling houses in the Mississippi, Louisiana, and surrounding areas, played variants of poker that included both a 20-card deck (quite possibly derived for As-Nas), and the 52-card deck used in most poker variants today.

While the roots of poker could trace back to As-Nas, or other versions of that game that gained popularity in Europe in the 17th century, proper poker history as we know it begins with the card games played in the American South in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Poker’s popularity in New Orleans (an area settled by explorers from France) further points to the game’s connection to Poque and other European card games.

When & Where Was Poker Invented
Poker exploded in popularity in the U.S. in the 1800s (image courtesy of duncan1800).

From its origins in the American South, poker began to expand west into new U.S. territories throughout the 1800s. Flushes and straights became a regular part of the game, as well as drawing rounds and multiple betting rounds.

By the end of the 1800s, many variants of poker existed across America, including Stud Poker, Lowball, community card games, and a variety of draw poker games. Through the Civil War era and going to the end of the 19th century, poker remained a staple of American culture.

The 20th century saw poker arrive in Las Vegas. As Vegas established itself as the poker and gambling capital of the world, a new poker variant rose to the forefront – Texas Hold’em.

When and Where Was Texas Hold’em Invented?

Playing Texas Hold’em at the Lodge (just outside of Austin, TX) puts you right in the heart of the birthplace of the game.

As poker moved westward across the U.S. in the 1800s and early 1900s, a version of the game that included community cards and multiple betting rounds began to gain in popularity in Texas. Texas legislature recognizes the town of Robstown, Texas as the official birthplace of Texas Hold’em.

Legendary Texas poker players like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, and Benny Binion are often credited with bringing Texas Hold’em to the casinos in Las Vegas.

In 1970, Binion invited seven of the best poker players to his Horseshoe Casino in downtown Vegas for a series of cash games to determine the best poker player in the world. The very first World Series of Poker included Texas Hold’em, Five Card Stud, Razz, Seven Card Stud, and Deuce-to-Seven Lowball.

The 1970 WSOP champion was determined by vote, which Moss won. In 1971, the format changed, and the WSOP Main Event played as a No-Limit Texas Hold’em freezeout tournament.

That tradition still stands today. The annual $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship (aka the WSOP Main Event) plays out every summer in Las Vegas as the most famous and prestigious poker tournament in the world.

The WSOP steadily grew in popularity through the remainder of the 20th century. The 2003 WSOP revolutionized the game, with television coverage on ESPN that included hole card information for the first time.

Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker’s legendary run to the 2003 Main Event championship played the catalyst to a massive boom in the profile of poker around the world.

The “Poker Boom” era of the 2000s brought forth an explosion in popularity for all things related to the game. Television viewership, WSOP attendance (both for the Main Event and other tournaments), and live cash game participation skyrocketed around the world.

Online poker emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry as well, as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Ultimate Bet, and other online rooms facilitated unprecedented access to the game for aspiring players.

Fast forward to 2024, and poker is still very much entrenched in American culture.

If you’re a player, observer, or in any way a fan of poker right now, you’re enjoying the game in a way that was very much shaped by the events of the past two decades. Poker is arguably more popular than ever.

When & Where Was Poker Invented
Lodge co-owners Andrew Neeme, Brad Owen, and Doug Polk all play a huge role in the popularity of poker in the modern era.

Today’s televised poker coverage comes largely in the form of poker vlogs and other social media channels. Lodge co-owners Andrew Neeme, Brad Owen, and Doug Polk are all hugely influential in the modern poker world, thanks to their poker content.

The history of poker goes back much, much further than the last 20 years, of course. The riverboat gamblers of the 1800s would be proud of the way that the game has evolved.

When you play poker at the Lodge, you’re playing a game that’s as big a part of American culture as any game in the country’s history. As an added bonus, you get to compete at Texas Hold’em from the actual birthplace of the game.

If you’re outside the U.S., you’ll find poker as a major pastime in many different countries. The popularity of poker doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

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