Poker is a popular card game, or group of card games, in which players compete against one another by gambling on the values of each player’s hand and betting into a central pot.
The objective is to win the pot either by holding the superior hand at the end of the round or by forcing the other players to “fold,” or discard their hand.
While the earliest known form of the game was played with just 20 cards, today it is usually played with a standard deck, although in countries where short packs are common, it may be played with 32, 40 or 48 cards. Thus poker games vary in deck configuration, the number of cards in play, the number dealt face up or face down, and the number shared by all players, but all have rules that involve one or more rounds of betting.
The game we know as poker is believed to have ancient roots that go back nearly 1,000 years, crossing several continents and cultures.
Some historians say poker’s origins can be traced to a domino-card game played by a 10th-century Chinese emperor – others claim it is a descendant of the Persian card game “As Nas,” which dates back to the 16th century.
Poker’s closest European predecessor was Poque, which caught on in France in the 17th century. Poque and its German equivalent, pochen, were both based on the 16th-century Spanish game primero, which featured three cards dealt to each player and bluffing (or betting high on poor cards) as a key part of the game. French colonists brought Poque to their settlements in North America, including New Orleans and the surrounding area, which became part of the United States thanks to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. English-speaking settlers in the region Anglicized Poque to poker and adopted features of the modern game, including five cards for each player and (by 1834) a 52-card deck.
Poker began as a regional game in saloons in New Orleans and the Louisiana territory before it became a part of the United States of America. The city was originally a French colony, but it came under Spanish rule in the late 1700s before returning to French control under Napoleon in 1801. In 1803, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson purchased the port of New Orleans and a swath of land from France because Napoleon needed cash to finance his various wars in Europe.
At first poker was seen as a lawless game because of the violence it brought. The gambling often attracted criminals and hustlers of the wild west.
English actor Joseph Cowell reported that the game was played in New Orleans in 1829, with a deck of 20 cards, and four players betting on which player’s hand was the most valuable. Jonathan H. Green’s book, An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (G. B. Zieber, Philadelphia, 1843), described the spread of the game from there to the rest of the country by Mississippi riverboats, on which gambling was a common pastime. As it spread north along the Mississippi River and to the West during the gold rush, it is thought to have become a part of the frontier pioneer ethos.
Soon after this spread, the full 52-card French deck was used and the flush was introduced. The draw was added prior to 1850 (when it was first mentioned in print in a handbook of games). During the American Civil War, many additions were made including stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. Further American developments followed, such as the wild card (around 1875), lowball and split-pot poker (aroundn 1900), and community card poker games (around 1925).
Developments in the 1970s led to poker becoming far more popular than it was before. Modern tournament play became popular in American casinos after the World Series of Poker began, in 1970. Notable champions from these early WSOP tournaments include Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Bobby Baldwin, Doyle Brunson, and Puggy Pearson.
By the 1980s, poker was being depicted in popular culture as a commonplace recreational activity. For example, it was featured in at least 10 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as a weekly event of the senior staff of the fictional ship’s crew.
In the 1990s, poker and casino gambling spread across the United States, most notably to Atlantic City, New Jersey. In 1998, Planet Poker dealt the first real money online poker game. In 1999, Late Night Poker debuted on British television.
Poker’s popularity experienced an unprecedented spike at the beginning of the 21st century, largely because of the introduction of online poker and hole-card cameras, which turned the game into a spectator sport.
The largest pot accrued in a poker tournament is $4.5 million (£3.1 million) for the final hand of the 31st World Series of Poker tournament between eventual winner, Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson (USA) and T. J. Cloutier (Canada) held at the Binion’s Horseshoe casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA on May 15, 2000.
The longest continuous poker tournament lasted 48 hr 55 min 58.5 sec and was organized by the Asian Poker Tour and Resorts World Manila Iron Man Poker Challenge (Philippines) in Pasay, Philippines, from 13 to 15 December 2013. The total prize pool was US$ 71,400. The main event was won by Damon Shulenberger of USA taking home a share of US$ 18,240 as the first prize.