Home » Darren’s Den » The Origins of Poker: Why Do We Call It Poker?

The Origins of Poker: Why Do We Call It Poker?

Home » Darren’s Den » The Origins of Poker: Why Do We Call It Poker?

The Origins of Poker: Why Do We Call It Poker?

Three people in tweed suits playing poker in a Victorian-style room. There are drinks, cigars, playing cards, and poker chips on the table in front of them.

As I’ve spent so much of my adult life playing, studying, and thinking about poker it’s only natural that I became curious about the origins of the game. The default origin story most poker players seem to accept is that poker was invented by cowboys in America traveling in the Wild West. This is the common theme often seen in cinema and TV, and is discussed at length in James McManus’ 2009 book “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker.” While somewhat true, the origins of poker as we know it came from outside of the Wild West, and actually from outside of America itself. 

The Origins of Poker Games

There is some debate on the subject as we are dealing with history from hundreds of years ago, but it is generally accepted that poker evolved from two card games played in the early 1800s.  The Persian game “As Nas” and French game “Poque” were both played with either 20 or 25-card decks and were an early form of 5 card stud. No draws were allowed, and no straights and flushes were recognized. Any pair would have beat a royal flush! There was just one round of betting after players were dealt their cards, and these games could only be played with up to four to five players due to the limited cards in the deck.  

A Historical Era in Time

These games were quite popular during this era, especially among sailors on long transatlantic trading journeys. It is believed that these sailors brought “Poque” to America in the early 1800s and specifically through the port of New Orleans. Without diving too deep into the annals of American History, there was a lot of action in this area during the early 1800s. Our then-President Thomas Jefferson purchased the territory of Louisiana from the French in 1803, and Louisiana was admitted to the Union around 10 years later and became a state. 

The result of this was a melting pot of French, Persian, and new American card players in the city of New Orleans. The game of “Poque” caught on quickly and began to evolve both in name and form. Just as players today are constantly creating new poker games and variants, these poker pioneers did the same. They wanted more action, more draws, more possibilities, and more players to be able to play. The old version of Poque (essentially 5 card stud) with one round of betting wasn’t enough. These players eventually settled on a 52-card deck to allow more players, a round of draw to allow more action, and the adoption of straights and flushes. 

Poque Becomes Poker

As for the evolution of the name and “Poque” becoming Poker, I encourage you to imagine an early American settler in the South articulating the French word “po-que”.  Poque quickly became “Pokuh” in the south, and then “Poker” when the game eventually spread North across America. New variants, poker game names, and game types continued to be created across the country as poker bloomed in popularity and players sought more action and bigger pots. 

The Game of Poker Is Constantly Evolving

I find this origin story not so unfamiliar to the world today. We as poker players are always looking to add a new wrinkle or complexity to the game we love, especially now that poker has become part of the mainstream both live and online. Different game types are created, tweaked, and played across the world. Even at the highest stakes, to use Short Deck as an example, we’ve seen a new variant be created and played at a championship level in the last 10 years. I respect that we poker players have stayed true to our roots of flexibility and ingenuity, with a tip of the cap to our forefathers who first sought to evolve the game so long ago.

To try your hand, register at BetMGM Poker.