How did poker originate?

Currently, poker is one of the most popular card games globally. While this game may seem recent (especially with the growth of online poker rooms), it began several centuries ago. In this article, we will learn more about its origin and influence from other cultures.

Influence of different cultures

Various cultures and countries influence poker since it takes elements from other previous games. Among the most notable countries or places are Persia, India, China, and Spain.

Persia

As Nas is a card game that originated in Persia and was played during the 17th and 18th centuries. The deck had 20 to 25 cards, with five different suits. Each suit had between four and five cards. The suits included the As (Shah), the Serbaz (soldier), the Lakat (lady), the Kul (hair), and the Barah (beast). It is important to note that As Nas was played similarly to some current poker games. Players placed bets and tried to obtain the best combination of cards possible. The goal was to win by creating strong hands and betting tactics; because of this, he is considered one of the main historical precursors of modern poker.

India

Ganjifa is a card game from India that was played during the Mongol Empire. Ganjifa cards are mentioned in ancient Indian and Persian texts. Ganjifa decks differed in the number of cards, as they had decks ranging from 48 to 120. The designs were often hand-painted with traditional motifs and religious or mythological figures. The rules of the Ganjifa game were very diverse, as there were multiple variants. Games generally involve collecting sets of cards and earning scores based on specific combinations.

China

Chinese playing cards have a history dating back to the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. Many traditional Chinese playing cards were small and narrow; some were shaped like “strips” or square and rectangular. The designs were often colorful and detailed, including a combination of numbers, illustrations of human figures, animals, objects, and traditional symbols. Among the most popular types of playing cards were the following:

Mahjong: Although better known as a tile game, Mahjong was also originally played with cards. Mahjong playing cards had Chinese characters and symbols representing different suits.

Pai Gow: This game was played with cards that resemble dominoes, with combinations of dots instead of numbers.

Ming and Qing Dynasty Playing Cards: These cards often included images of Chinese opera characters, famous warriors, or scenes from classical literature.

Tang Dynasty Playing Cards: These playing cards are the oldest known, they were small and thin, it is believed that they were used in gambling games.

Song Dynasty Playing Cards: These cards often represented literary and poetic themes, reflecting the high cultural value of art and literature of that time.

It is important to note that there are records of the Chinese authorities’ opposition to playing cards. For example, in 969, Emperor Mu-Tsung (the third emperor of the Liao dynasty) publicly denounced Chinese playing cards, reflecting a critical attitude towards gambling and its impact on society. This complaint may have been motivated by his concerns about morality, social order, and the problems associated with excessive gambling.

How did poker originate?

Spain

The “first” card game originated in Spain in the 16th century and quickly spread throughout Europe. Its name reflects its status as one of the most popular card games of its time. It was played with a 40-card Spanish deck, eliminating the eights and nines from a standard 52-card deck. The game’s goal was to obtain the best possible hand through a betting and card replacement system.

Hands were ranked in different combinations, with the best hand being a “flux” (four cards of the same suit), “first” (four cards of different suits totaling 15 points), “supremus” (three cards of the same rank), and “chorus” (three cards of the same suit). Because of this, this game is also considered one of the direct precursors of modern poker.

The expansion of poker in America

As we saw in our previous article, poker began to gain popularity in the United States in the 19th century, being played mainly on riverboats and gambling halls. The game lacked rules in its beginnings, but later, different rules were established, contributing to its standardization, popularity, and expansion to new territories. This journey led to the game’s transformation, adapting and evolving towards what we know today as modern poker.

What do you think about this topic? Do you know other theories about the origin of poker?

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