Historians can’t quite agree how the game of poker emerged. They think the name of the game may have originated from the French word “poque”, a variation of the German “pochen” or “to knock” or “to brag”. This may refer to how bluffing is an integral part of the game-you pretend to have great cards, you play with your opponent’s mind. Poker is as much a matter of skill as a strategic air of arrogance; it is psychological warfare.
The game itself may have been related to the ancient Persian game called “nas”. French immigrants who had settled in New Orleans may have learned it from the sailors from the Orient who passed through its ports. It also may have been influenced by the game of “primero”, which was popular during the Renaissance, and the French game “brelan”. Brelan eventually developed into the English game of “bragg”, which could have lent some of its elements of bluffing to the modern game of poker.
Poker was very popular in New Orleans. At the time-approximately the early 19th century-it was played with a deck composed of twenty cards, which was distributed to 20 players. It was mentioned in the memoirs of English actor Joseph Cromwell, as well as Jonathan H. Green’s book, “An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling “, which was published in 1843 in Philadelphia. The book described how poker spread from New Orleans to Philadelphia to the rest of the country, through the Mississippi River. Boats frequently plied its waters to bring goods to the different cities, and sailors would pass the time playing poker.
Poker was also spread by frontiersmen who traveled West during the gold rush, or the pioneers who worked to tame the wildlands into farms and settlements. In this way, poker certainly played a part of American history-and is a deeply rooted in American culture. In fact, some of the country’s most powerful people, including President Harry Truman, were avid poker players.
In time, the poker deck was expanded from the original 20 to include 52 cards, typical of English games. They also started using the flush. When the American Civil War broke out, and soldiers would play the game to pass the time, many poker variants evolved. These included draw poker, stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. In 1875, the game also started incorporating the wild card, lowball and split pot poker. In 1925, community card poker games emerged. Poker jargon also developed, invented by poker players and then incorporated into the English language itself as idiomatic expressions or metaphors. Examples are ace in the hole, ace up one’s sleeve, beats me, blue chip, call one’s bluff, cash in, high roller, pass the buck, poker face, stack up, up the ante, when the chips are down, wild card, and others.