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Did Poker Actually Originate from Ancient China?

Poker is a game that is known worldwide.

From Paris to New York and from Las Vegas to Beijing, you are bound to have heard about it. From what is known about its origin, though, poker’s popularity dates at least hundreds of years back. Back in the day, as well as in present, poker has many different variations. Some of the most famous ones are also fairly modern inventions: Texas Hold’em, Shot Deck, Omaha Hi, 5-Card Draw, Chinese poker.

There are similarities in the rules of each variation, there are also differences. Most poker games are fairly easy to learn, but the real challenge comes when you want to master it. Today, we take a look at when and where poker originated and if its true beginnings can be traced back to China. Or, conversely – poker was invented just recently? Here are several theories to get you thinking!

The Chinese Origin of the Game of Poker – Myth or Truth?

Although it’s not historically confirmed, it is believed that poker originated in Ancient China. It all began with a Chinese 10th century emperor, historians believe. The emperor fancied a, domino-styled card game. The game is believed to be predecessor to Pai Gow, one of the oldest variants of the game. And, according to historians, with many changes applied along the way, Pai Gow eventually evolved into its modern-day poker version we all know today. Pai Gow is quite famous around the globe today and people often refer to it as Chinese Poker.

With the rise of popularity of poker, it is widely accepted that the game crossed the borders of its motherland, assuming that was China, and reached Persia at some point in the 16th century. It is believed that Chinese version transformed into another game, known as “As Nas”. As Nas rules resembled the modern version of poker, with the main difference that fewer cards were used – only 25 cards in fact, and the game had 5 suits instead of the modern version which uses 4 suits.

The 16th Century Revolution in Poker Card Design

The 16th century version also had 4 picture cards and 1 face card, while the modern card decks offer 3 face cards and 10 picture cards. Many of the Persian cards are still kept in museums because of their historic value, but also for their unique art. Each of those cards was hand painted and it even included a decorative border.

Furthermore, the cards remained popular and used over the following couple of centuries, but when the card games gained popularity in Europe, the drawings began to gradually change. This led to the modern look of the cards – a deck of 4 suits: spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts and 3 face cards.

The next evolutionary change in poker is considered to have happened in the 17th century. As the game reached Germany and France, a new blueprint was already applied, but name changes were done as well. Ancient poker was now known as Poque. The game of Poque wasn’t entirely the same as poker today, but it featured many of the same elements, allowing players to hone their skills for another game that was yet to come.

Sailing Across the Atlantic and the Birthplace of Modern Poker

Poque then made its way to North America, with the help of French colonists that took the game to their new settlements. Historically, this is considered to be the highlight of changes in the game.

It is believed that at this time, the name was changed from Poque to poker, as the players were mainly English speakers. From then onwards, the poker game started spreading through North America, attracting thousands of players.

Yet, the real birthplace of all modern variants of poker is one specific state. The Mississippi River spawned dozens of settlements that attracted settlers, and this seemed a good place to come up with new variants of the game?

In fact, according to Adam Mason from, the birthplace of modern poker variants was Mississippi. Mason cited the same argument, pointing to the vibrancy of the Mississippi ecosystem, both for the purposes of trade and commerce, but also as centers of entertainment and the basis of further expansion across what would be the United States not too long after.

When Modern Poker Formed, Then?

People started playing poker with a 52-card deck, dealing 5 cards for each player by 1834. During the Civil War between the North and the South, poker was still highly popular among both sides.

The game also made its way into the famous saloons of the Wild West, where shady players in dark bars would show off their skills and bet at high stakes. In modern times, movies represent the outcome of some of those poker games resulting as a common bar fight or even a gun duel.

One cannot comment on the historical accuracy of how Wild West poker games turned out, but they surely became a symbol of the age. The poker game made another leap forward, when in 1871 the game was brought to Queen Victoria. From then onward, poker became more popular in Europe around the years of World War I, when American soldiers helped spread the interesting game even more.

A Final Thought on the Chinese Origin of the Game

In the last 100 years, many different variations of poker were popular at some point. But even with minor differences many of them had one unchanged rule. The higher hand or last player in the game wins all wagers from the pot.

One of the most popular variants of poker nowadays is Texas Hold’em. Although Pai Gow or, as it’s better known as Chinese Poker, is still quite popular, it cannot reach the Texas Hold’em players that are in millions.

Currently, both versions are available in online casinos, as well as many other poker variants. With the modern-day technologies, anyone can play the game from a personal computer or even a mobile device, so you won’t need to bring your ‘poker face’.

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