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There are many theories about where the game of poker first began. Generally, though, gaming historians tend to agree that the game has some French origins, perhaps from the game known as La Prime. It has other iterations as well, including being called Primero in Spain and Primiera in Italy. This game comes from somewhere around the early 1500’s, and generally involved looking at card combinations in each player’s hand. It was not until the 1700’s that the bluffing aspects known to players like Adrian Aston evolved, of which an early example is the English game Brag and its corresponding German version known as Pochen. Pochen translates literally into “to bluff.” The French also adopted this game under the name Poque.
Poque came to America in the 1800’s. It started with the Louisiana Purchase and New Orleans, previously a French territory. There, it evolved in saloons and on steamers along the Mississippi River. Poker is referenced in American literature for the first time in 1829, via the memoirs of a touring English actor named Joe Cowell. Cowell’s descriptions involved a 20-card pack distributed amongst 4 players, who then bet on who held the best cards. Coincidentally, a French game by the name of As Nas had many of the same rules, but links between the two games have ultimately been found to be erroneous.
A 52-card version of the game is then referenced in 1834. Further references suggest an evolution of the game into the version that Adrian Aston knows and loves today. Features like the straight, the draw and stud poker all provided ways for players to increase the stakes and bet more freely.
While poker is generally considered an American game, it spread to other countries later in the 1800’s. The first known instance of poker in Great Britain came in 1871 with the ambassador Colonel Jacob Schneck being sent to the British court. A set of rules was even written by hand and provided to Queen Victoria. While it enjoyed some popularity at that time, poker really only became popular in Europe during World War I. Now, it is widely enjoyed throughout the world, even enjoying its own annual World Series of Poker.