The history of poker is an environment of many beautiful stories. Although non GamStop casinos are taking over modern poker games, the origin often lies in a distant and unknown past. A past without documentation, consisting only of passed-down stories.
Sometimes an archaeologist or historian finds tangible ‘evidence’. A worked stone, which can pass for one of the first die or a piece of paper in which he recognizes a playing card.
The reality is that the historical games like poker we know today were rarely if ever, invented by one person or in one country. A game evolved while playing. In this way, two games sometimes became a new game, supplemented by local customs. A game, therefore, had several variants, depending on the country, region, or city where it was played.
That was the case a long time ago. But we still recognize it. Even a simple card game like Klaverjassen has an Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht style of play.
History of Non GamStop Poker
In the development of poker, it is no different than as described above. Historians from different countries trace its origins to their own history. Poker is said to have evolved from a French card game and was brought to the United States by French emigrants. For example, the English, Chinese and even the Germans all have their own story of their influence on the history of poker.
Yet it is almost certain that poker originated in the United States. Perhaps based on all kinds of European games and games of Native Americans (Indians) brought by emigrants. From all those games, the unique poker game as we know it today was born.
For a long time, Americans played the game in all kinds of variants. And each region gave the game a name so that the locals knew which game they were going to play. An official name did not yet exist. The period we are describing here in the history of poker takes place around 1800.
Looking back now, you could distinguish five epochs: origins and variants, unambiguous rules, organized crime, legalization, and online poker.
Numerous books have been written about the last three epochs. For a history of poker, the first two epochs are the most interesting here.
Origin & Variants of Non GamStop Poker Games
Early variants of poker developed, probably from the mid-18th century in the United States in multiple regions. As a result, the origin has never been precisely determined.
However, most historians believe that poker today originated in the lower Mississippi River valley. They point to the illegality of card games in the United States. The famous boats that sailed on this long river allowed playing the game somewhat out of sight of authorities.
Mostly, however, they rely on the earliest records. Such an account is, for example, the memoirs of an American soldier. His reminiscences, ‘Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains, appeared anonymously in 1836. But it was later credited to James Hildreth. His book is the first to actually name the card game in the history of poker.
Hildreth tells how he spent his childhood on a farm near New York. In August 1833, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the army. He travels through several states with other recruits.
In the summer of 1834, he arrives at Fort Jefferson Barracks, a few miles south of Saint Louis. There the soldiers, especially at night, appear to have a fierce battle playing poker.
In a short passage about one such meeting, he relates that a person referred to as ‘M’ had recently lost hundreds of dollars playing poker. In a footnote on the same page, he states that poker is a popular card game in the southern and western United States. The description indicates that poker was considered a new game by James Hildreth at the time; at least that it is less known outside the South and West.
The Converted Gambler
John Harrington Green is the same age as James Hildreth, both born in 1813. However, he grows up for gallows and wheels. Green learns cards in Cincinnati Jail, where he was imprisoned at the age of 16 for vagrancy and petty theft. When he gets out he plays cards to earn money. And he doesn’t do that without merit.
In 1842, however, he calls it a day after he came into contact with a few religions. From that moment on he finds gambling an indecent pastime. A year later, Green, who for a long time was one of the best card players in America, publishes a book about gambling.
Various Poker Games
He describes several gambling games in his book ‘An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling’. They are horse racing, roulette and various card games. He also describes some variants of poker.
Green actually calls the game that, which according to historians does not necessarily mean that it was already called that in the period he describes. He notes that the game does not appear in Edmund Hoyle’s rulebooks; books of which regularly updated reprints appeared at that time.
Green recounts playing poker on the Mississippi boats in the 1920s. He says that poker is still usually played with twenty cards: ten, jack, queen, king and ace, and with two, three or four players. According to him, the game has no limits in its time and sometimes thousands of dollars change hands within minutes.
The Early Poker Game
A similar story is described by the English actor Joe Cowell, pseudonym of Joseph Hawkins-Witshed, in his memoirs. He starts in the English army. But after a fight with a senior officer, he flees to America.
There he becomes a successful actor with painting as a great hobby. He does the latter mainly on steamboats that navigate the Mississippi. There he sees the many card players, who mainly play poker.
The game fascinates him. Sitting behind the players with his painting material, he watches the poker game and the poker players. In 1844 he gives an extensive account of it in his book ‘Thirty Years Passed Among the Players in England and America’.
The poker game is played with the twenty cards that Green also mentioned. Each player is dealt four cards, followed by a round of betting. “We bet. We raise or pass. Show the cards. The one with the best combination wins the pot,” he writes.