When poker chips are on the line and tempers at the casino tables are high, most poker players don’t have time to consider how exactly poker came to be. The truth is, the roots of poker are highly debatable. There’s no definite record of where it all began, so let’s take a look at some theories.
Some believe that poker’s roots lie in a game invented by the Chinese prior to 969 A.D. That year, the Emperor Mu-tsung and his wife reportedly played “domino cards” on New Year’s Eve.
Poker also bears a close resemblance to the Persian game As Nas, which was developed in the 16th century. The game was played with 25 cards, which comprised five suits. The rules are reminiscent of our five card stud domino.
Some believe this game actually originated in China in the first century, though it’s probable that the game was created using various ideas from other games. R.F. Foster did, however, write that “the game of poker, as first played in the United States, five cards to each player from a twenty-card pack, is undoubtedly the Persian game of as nas.” It wasn’t until the 1990s that historians began to suggest that this was false, as they’d started to favor Poque as the initial inspiration.
An early game that included hand rankings, betting and bluffing is the German game Pochen or Poque, in French, which cropped up in the 17th century. The game was brought to America in the 19th century by the French (most likely directly to the Old West, where it’s remained a staple of the culture ever since) and became what we know as poker. Both the German and French versions were derived from a 16th-century Spanish game called Primero, in which players were dealt only three cards. As such, Primero is often referred to as “Poker’s Mother.
Poque is a game for three to six people, played with a pack of 32 playing cards that rank the same way a 52-card pack does, but starts at 7 instead of 2. Each player starts out with an equal number of chips (the equivalent of our poker chips). Cards are dealt out until there is only one left (some people had more cards than others), the suit of which is the “pay suit.”
In the 18th century, the game was played with 36 cards (sixes were included) if there were more than four players. Each player is dealt five cards; the remaining cards are unused. In the 19th century, players bet prior to the dealing of the cards and then are each dealt five cards. As mentioned before, it’s possible that poker is a conglomeration of a number of games, adopting various features from each one. Each later game probably borrowed aspects of those that came before it, blurring the lines between which game is which, and where they all got their inspirations.