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We promised you an article on the history of poker but we feel we have to address an issue that a few poker players have brought up.  So a quick paragraph about the rake calculator and then on to the very colorful history of poker. 

Why the Casino Takes a Rake

The rake is the commission Juicy Stakes Poker takes from almost every pot before the winner takes the rest of the pot.  We have a rate calculator that does all the arithmetic for you.  We take about 5%-6% of every pot but we also impose a maximum rake of $3 on any pot.  So, in a hand with $200 in the pot, we would rake $3 not the usual 5%.

In penny games, we take about one penny for every 15 cents in the pot up to a maximum rake of $3.  In pots with such small stakes, we rarely reach the maximum rake so the formula is basically about 6.5 %.  If a hand is finished before the flop, which can happen in games with blinds in which everyone folds to the big blind, there is no rake.

And now, on to the very juicy history of poker!

Poker Goes Way, Way Back

There are a few theories as to the one and only true origin of poker.  It is a lot more likely that poker developed over centuries as traders brought a game from one country or region and adapted it to a game that was already being played in their home country.

As we shall soon see with the spread of poker in the United States, this theory—that poker was spread by trade—may be the best of all the theories as to the roots of poker.

A Domino Game from China

We do know that the Chinese played a game using stone “cards” that had the 21 different combinations that are possible with two dominoes.  This theory assumes the existence of a form of dominoes about 1000 years ago in China.  This theory is a bit murky as to how this domino game evolved into poker.

The next most popular theory regarding the origin of poker takes us to the Persia of the 16th century.  There they played a game called “as nas”.  This game has many similarities to poker with a couple of major exceptions.  The game does not have straights or flushes.

It does have the modern terms of high card, kicker, and full house which it simply called a “full”.

There seems no logical reason to believe that the domino game that we know the Chinese played in the 11th century might not have a Persian cousin in “as nas”.  After all, China and Persia share a border and if Europe was able to trade with China, there seems to be no reason to think that Persia did not trade with China as well.

French Poque and German Pochen

These games date from the 15th century in central Europe.  They have a few of the elements of poker we recognize today and few elements of other card games.  For instance, players have to meld which is the same term as is used in pinochle. 

Card game historians use the term “vying game” to refer to a game in which players bet at regular intervals.  We call these intervals “rounds” these days and in Texas Hold’em they are called streets.

Poker Arrives in North America

The French occupied the Mississippi Valley in what today is the center of the United States.  The Mississippi is a very long navigable river on which riverboats could travel bringing goods to the many small towns and trading posts that were popping up along the river.

It makes a great deal of sense that the game of poque arrived in North America at New Orleans, a very French city at the time—the late 18th century.  It might have fermented for a while in New Orleans but once trade began in earnest along the great length of the Mississippi River, it spread northward aboard the trade riverboats.

Many Variations of a Simple Card Game

The original North American poker game used only twenty cards.  The standard 52-card deck was a later development.  We don’t know for sure how the deck was expanded to 52 cards but we do know that by the 1830’s every card deck was a standard 52-card deck. 

In its original form, poker was almost certainly just five card draw.  This variation uses five cards with a draw of three or four cards and then the showdown if two or more players remained in the hand.

Poker had long before developed as a hard fought vying game or betting game.  There was a round of betting after the deal and a round after the draw.

Poker earned a reputation in North America as the game ruffians played since it was played on riverboats by the sort of men who worked on riverboats.  These were almost always men with no settled roots in any one place.  They were a lot less likely to be married than were farmers, ranchers, or people in small towns.

How Stud Poker Was “Invented”

There is a wonderful story about poker in the old United States Wild West that tells the tale—quite possibly a tall tale—about how stud poker was begotten.  As the story goes, a poker game was in force at a saloon in the western regions and one of the players had a set, poker jargon for three-of-a-kind.

In draw poker, a set is a very powerful hand.  The players were betting and the man with the set hoped to win a large pot.  He was out of cash so he went outside, brought his horse into the saloon, tied it to the back of his chair, and said that the horse represented his next bet.

However, he was sure that while he was outside getting his horse, the others had looked at his cards.  He suggested that all players still in the hand should reveal three of their cards and keep two close to the vest.

And in this way five card stud was born!  Or not.  In any case, playing poker in which players saw the other players’ cards added a very dramatic wrinkle to the game.

In the next installment of the history of poker, we will talk about the westward expansion of the game in the United States, how it arrived back in Europe, how it reached the United States east coast especially New York City, and where the most famous variation of poker in our time got the name of Texas Hold’em.


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