The Game of Draw Poker – A Short History

The game embodies in many ways the raw bone tenacity and American spirit that drove western expansion from the Mississippi River, 1800’s. The frontier was difficult, dangerous and filled with dangers. Each day, pioneers gambled on their lives. For both survival in the wild west and winning at draw poker, a man needed to be skilled and have lady luck. He had to pay attention to his opponents and sometimes, he would bluff his own way out of a situation. He could be very successful or lose everything, sometimes even his entire life. For the men of the American West who were used at taking huge risks, draw poker was an obvious choice.

Poker was a result of an evolutionary process that started in America during the 19th century. The origin of the game is still being debated by historians. There are a number of theories that the game’s origins could be attributed to either a French “poque” game or a German “pochspiel” game. British historians believe that the game was a direct descendant from the English card game, “brag.” Others claim that poker evolved out of a Persian card game called ‘as nas’ that was played with a twenty five-card deck that contained five suits. Because it is difficult to find the exact beginning of poker’s history, this will likely remain a mystery.

Poker may have been invented in America around 1800, perhaps in New Orleans’ saloons. The commercial steam boat traffic helped spread poker up the Mississippi River and Ohio rivers. Poker gained popularity as early adventurers discovered the railroads and wagon trains. Joseph Crowell (an actor from England) recorded poker being played on riverboats. This was later documented in his 1829 diary and in his 1844 book Thirty Year Passed Among Players in England and America. Jonathan H. Green, who was a reform gambler, wrote about early Poker in his book Exposure of Arts and Miseries of Gambling published in 1843. Both men spoke of an early form of poker using a twenty card deck (A-KQ-J-10). Each of the four players was dealt five cards. Bets were placed on these original five cards without any discards or draws. After the betting ended, the winner of the pot was determined. The order of the cards included one pair, two pairs and triplets. Full house (one pair and three triplets) and four of a type. Due to the limit of twenty-card decks, only one round of betting was allowed before the winner was declared. This made bluffing much more difficult.

As the game developed, it evolved into a thirty-two-card deck and finally to the standard French deck of fifty two cards. Straights and flushes were first introduced in 1830 as winning hands. In the west, draw poker became popular a few years later. The American edition of Bohn’s New Handbook of Gamesin 1850 first mentioned draw poker. Wild cards were also introduced into garenaqq play that year.

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