Of many ways, the game embodies the tenacity of the American spirit that drove the western movement from the Mississippi River in the 19th century. Life on the frontier was tough, dangerous, and risky: the pioneers literally gambled with their lives every day. To survive in the Wild West as well as to win at poker, a man had to be skilled at what he did and have the luck of the lady to smile at him. He had to keep a close eye on his opponents and sometimes bluff to get out of a situation. The results of your actions could be very profitable or you could lose everything, sometimes even your life. Draw Poker was then a natural choice for the men of the American West who were used to risking it all.
The game was the result of an evolutionary process that began when poker was first formed in the United States in the early 1800s. When and where it was first played is subject to ongoing debate among historians, as is the origins of the game. Various nominations attribute the game’s lineage to a French game called “poque” or possibly a German game known as “pochspiel.” British historians claim that the game was a direct descendant of the English card game of “bragging.” Other researchers claim that poker evolved from a 16th century Persian card game called “ace nas” that was played with a 25-card deck containing five suites and has rules similar to five-card stud poker. Since exact documentation of the early history of poker is impossible, determining its beginnings will likely remain a mystery.
Poker is believed to have started in America in the early 1800s, possibly in the salons of New Orleans. From there it spread up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers through commercial steamship traffic. Then, as wagons and railroads pushed the border westward, poker continued to gain popularity among early adventurers. An English actor, Joseph Crowell, recorded seeing poker played on river boats in his 1829 diary and later in his 1844 book, Thirty years passed between the players of England and America. A reformed player named Jonathan H. Green wrote about poker early in his book, Exhibition of the arts and miseries of the game which was published in 1843. Both men described an early version of poker that was played with a deck of twenty cards (AKQJ-10). Each of the four players was dealt five cards and bets were placed on these original five cards with no discards or ties. When the betting was over, the owner of the best hand won the pot, in the order of one pair, two pairs, triples, full house (one pair and one triple), and four of a kind. Due to the limits of a twenty-card deck, there was only a single betting round before the winning hand was declared and this made bluffing a much more difficult maneuver.
As the game evolved, it moved to a deck of thirty-two cards and then finally to the standard “French deck” of fifty-two cards. Sometime in the mid-1830s, ladders and colors were introduced as winning hands. A few years later draw poker was born and began to circulate in the gambling halls in the west. The first mention of draw poker appeared in the US edition of New Bohn Game Manual in 1850. That same year, wild cards were introduced to poker.
With these improvements, Draw Poker and another version called Stud Poker became the card games of choice for soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Originally called “stud” poker, the game was played around campfires between battles and was a close rival to attracting poker in popularity. Both versions are conducive to bluffing, but you are not allowed to draw or discard cards in stud poker. Rather, some of the cards are dealt face down and others face up so that everyone at the table knows some of the cards each player has. Bets are made after each new card is dealt face up and after the last card is dealt face down. The first mention of stud poker appeared in the American Hoyle of 1864.
In draw poker, all the cards are dealt face down to the players and after all the cards are dealt there is a round of betting. Players can then discard any number of cards and receive the same number of cards from the dealer. When all players have completed their hands, there is another round of betting before the winner is declared. Later, in 1870, jackpot poker was introduced in an attempt to prevent players with bad hands from being drawn into a pot that was impossible to win. In this version, players were required to have jacks or better to open bets. If a player did not have the minimum to play, he had to fold and lose his initial bet.
The first set of rules for playing draw poker emerged when Robert C. Scheneck, a United States ambassador to Great Britain, introduced the game to members of Queen Victoria’s court at a party in 1872. Fascinated by the new game, the royalty asked Scheneck to write down the rules of the game so they could play it after he returned to America. He obeyed and the queen’s staff printed out his handwritten rules of the game for future parties. Later, without his permission or that of the queen’s court, his set of rules was published as a small pamphlet and sold to the masses. Entitled, A Flowery Path to Wealth: The Game of Draw Poker as Taught to the English Aristocracy, the brochure was a great success with the British, who often referred to the game as “Scheneck’s poker”. Scheneck, who had served as a general under President Lincoln, was embarrassed by the public disclosure of his rules that had assured him that they would be used privately by the queen’s court.
John W. Keller, an American, included Scheneck’s rules for drawing poker in his own book, The game of Draw Poker, published in 1887. In addition, he used part of a letter written by Scheneck to a political friend, Thomas L. Young; to describe how the ambassador had unknowingly become part of the publication of the first set of rules of the game.
Keller’s book provided a more detailed description of the rules and variations of the game, as well as a section on progressive poker, which he described as “The latest development of draw poker … and no doubt owes its origin to the popularity of the game. progressive poker “. . Contrary to Keller’s comments, progressive poker never caught the attention of American players and his game quickly faded from the gaming scene.
Throughout the book, Keller refers to a prominent mathematician, “Dr. Pole,” who provided the probability and probabilities of poker hands. At the end of the book, he summarizes Pole’s calculations in a series of probability tables, which have stood the test of time. According to Dr. Poe’s figures, there are a staggering 2,598,960 possible hands in draw poker.
Since Keller’s book was published in 1887, there have been a plethora of books in print on the subject of table poker, but few have been so clear and concise about the rules and strategy of the game. His sage advice of “Study your opponents carefully; watch the game closely; be patient in adversity and calm in prosperity” seems correct according to the old gamer adage of knowing “when to keep them and when to fold them”.
1839 – English comic actor Joseph Crowell wrote about a game of poker being played on the steamboat Helen M, Gregor, bound for New Orleans. He described a game called poker that was played by four players using 20 cards (A, K, Q, J, 10) with a single round of betting – the highest hand won. In his book, Thirty years passed between the players of England and America (1844), Crowell said that the game had been invented by the American politician Henry Clay. The game was based on the British game, bragging.
1834 – Jonathan H. Green, a professional gambler turned reformer, wrote about the “cheating game” called poker that was played on boats on the Mississippi River in his book titled, Exhibition of the arts and miseries of the game.
1836 – J. Hildreth wrote about poker in his book, Rocky Mountain Dragon Campaigns.
1837 – Poker used a deck of 52 cards. Straight lines and redness were added.
1845 – Poker is mentioned for the first time in an American edition of Hoyle Games. (The Gold Standard for the Rules of Card Games) by Henry F. Anners.
1850 – First mention of draw poker in the American edition of New game manual from Bohn.
1850 – Wilds are introduced in poker.
1861-1866 – During the Civil War, soldiers and others made stud and draw poker the most popular form of the game.
1864 – First mention of stallion or “stallion” poker in the American Hoyle of 1864.
1872 – Robert C. Scheneck, United States Minister to Great Britain, introduced the game of poker to members of Queen Victoria’s court at a royal party. He was asked to write the rules of the game, and eventually this was turned into a little booklet. The brochure was published without their permission and was called, A Flowery Path to Wealth: The Game of Draw Poker Taught to the English Aristocracy. Scheneck had been an army general during Lincoln’s presidency.
1870 – Jackpot poker (jacks or better to open) was introduced to prevent players with a poor hand from finding themselves in an unwinnable pot.
1875 – The joker (a European invention) was introduced to the game as a joker.