Nowadays, poker is known to be one of the most widely-played card games in the world. Many people worldwide not only play it for fun, but also consider it to be a real sports discipline; and there are, of course, many good reasons to think so! Poker is a rare card game that requires counting skills, subtle understanding of human psychology, a little nifty wristwork, a good memory and of course, a bit of luck as well! And if you ever watch a professional poker tournament being played by hard-core professionals, it’ll be pretty hard to say that poker isn’t a true sport; because you’re certain to understand how much skill it actually requires!

The other peculiar fact about the game of poker is that we really do consider it to be one of the genuine classic games, just like baccarat, craps, roulette or blackjack; but actually, it’s much younger than the abovementioned games. We don’t know the exact place or time when the game of poker was played for the first time, but most historians believe that the first prototype of poker emerged no earlier than the early 19th century; then for the next 100 years it was going through a number of changes before it has become a regular casino game we all know. So here’s the unknown history of poker: it’s composed of facts, urban legends, gossips and tales of bygone times.

The Early History of Poker

Old Poker MatchThere’s no certain information about the time when poker emerged for the first time. Indeed, it’s actually impossible to identify some legendary person who might have come up with the idea of the game. But we most certainly know the country it first started. Poker was first invented in the United States of America, which seems to be a pretty obvious guess, but it is an actual fact that we can rely on. Regarding the time of its origin, historians mostly believe that the game was invented some time between 1800 and 1850.

Most of the sources claim the game of poker was initially played by passengers of steamboats that were slowly cruising up and down the Mississippi river and its tributaries. Even though steamboats are not really popular nowadays, we all know from the movies and books that those giant riverboats were relatively slow, so the passengers had to find some kind of entertainment for themselves. The early poker had fluid rules that could vary from one place to another – sometimes it was played with 20 cards only, and sometimes the whole French deck of 52 cards was in the game.

For some time the game of poker was rather famous in the Southern regions of the country, but that all changed with the beginning of the American civil war. Life in the trenches wasn’t much fun and a new game became very popular among American soldiers regardless of the side they were fighting for. This was the pivotal moment when the game gained its recognition across America as a whole.

Introduction of a Joker Card

Nowadays the word “poker” is not used for a definite variation of the game, but rather applied to a wide range of poker games that all feature different rules and can be played either with a joker card or without it. However, when we are talking about the 54-card French deck featuring 2 jokers, we always think about the game of poker, which is where those are used most frequently. Actually, it’s a pretty fair association; because the origin of the joker is itself closely related to the evolution of poker.


It’s commonly believed that the first ever joker cards were added to the deck around the 1860s, and were used in the game of Euchre. In those early times, jokers were called best bowers or imperial bowers; and only several years later were they to have acquired their present-day name. “Bower” is a German word for a “Jack,” so actually the Joker card was an enhanced Jack. Nevertheless, in order to avoid confusion, the cards of this value mostly featured clowns and jesters. Quite soon afterwards, the card acquired its present-day name due to its design; and sometimes around 1875 jokers were first used in the game of poker as a pair of wild cards.

Poker in the 20th Century

In the early 20th century, poker was still hardly known outside the United States; and it wasn’t recognized as a typical casino game. The peculiar thing is that the game became widely known, mostly by virtue of American cinema. The interest in the game of poker outside of America was mostly fueled by Western movies, which frequently featured cowboys, rangers and outlaws playing poker in dusty bars. American movies were translated into dozens of languages and reached thousands of theaters all across the globe, making poker a signature game for the American cowboy.

With the gradual legalization of gambling in the United States, poker become recognized as a regular casino game, just like roulette or baccarat. In the 60s and 70s, Las Vegas was going through a real boom time, and new luxurious casinos were opening almost every year along the Vegas Strip. Naturally, the Silver City started attracting more international tourists who wanted to enjoy American culture and the American way of life; and of course, American games!

The first international poker tournaments were held in the biggest Las Vegas casinos in the early 1970s. One of those tournaments was now the world-famous World Series of Poker. In less than a decade, the most skilled poker players turned from niche professionals to real rock stars who were interviewed on national television; and in a matter of months, they gained an army of fans across the whole of the United States.

In 1980s the public image of poker changed, and the game was frequently depicted on national television as a common recreational activity for adults. In 1987 poker was finally legalized in the state of California, and poker rooms started to open all across the state; successfully turning it into a real Mecca of poker players. In the 1990s, due to easing of gambling restrictions, casinos with poker rooms started to open in other regions too.

The Game of Poker Today

Technological advances in the late 20th and early 21st centuries gave lots of new opportunities to the already  well-established poker industry. The first online poker services were introduced in the late 1990s, giving players a unique opportunity to enjoy their favorite games from the comfort of their homes. At the same time, poker tournaments started to be regularly televised on cable TV, while specialized poker-oriented channels became a routine fixture as well. Many of the finest poker players started making millions, purely because of the sponsorships of the big brands who found it profitable to link their brands to recognised stars.

All these led to an unprecedented rise in popularity for the game of poker, making it as popular as soccer, baseball, basketball or American football. Nowadays, prize pools in World Series of Poker final frequently exceed 80 million dollars; while the prize for the first place reaches the mark of 23 million dollars.

 World Series of Poker

Nowadays, local poker traditions flourish in countries all across the globe, adding something new to the good old game that was introduced to the world by classic Hollywood actors whose characters played poker in black-and-white movies. Each of us have our own opinion on which part of the game is the most satisfying, but very few among us can truly afford to stand aside here; because the passion of poker is a universal language that is well understood across the globe, regardless of your race, language or nationality. So it’s no exaggeration to say that every time you are playing poker, you are playing the greatest card game in the history of humankind.