The History Of Poker


Poker has been around for ages. Almost 500 years to be precise and just like most other modern past times, poker’s routes lie in the games that came before it.

A game called Primero or La Prime was being played around Western Europe in the early 1500’s (1) and it is this game that is said to be the bedrock of the game of poker as we know it today.

The game worked with every player holding three cards and trying to make up a flush, two of a kind or a pair. The whole idea of bluffing and the realisation that the other player’s didn’t know what you held lead to the game’s huge popularity in England.

There the game was changed to allow players to bet and it’s name was changed to Brag (meaning ‘to show off’). The Germans then created their own version, followed swiftly by the French.

The French renamed the game Poque and then took it with them to America in 1803. The name became known amongst non-French speaks as Poker, and it stuck!

Poker History Quick Facts

  • An actor called Joe Cowell made the first recorded mention of poker in America, in his 1829 book, saying “ ‘One night, while I was getting instructed in the mysteries of uker [a popular card game of the time] and Sam was amusing himself by building houses with the surplus cards at the corner of the table, close by us was a party playing poker…for either to win or lose, you are much sooner relieved of all anxiety than by the older operation.”(2)
  • Poker came to Europe after Queen Victoria heard a US politician talking about it. She then proceeded to ask him to explain the rules. (3)
  • The TV show Deadwood portrays the way things really were at a Wild West poker table back in the years of the frontiers. Players would sit with their backs against the walls to ensure no one snuck up behind and saw their cards or killed them! (4)
  • When the first casino in America opened in 1822, an area full of untrustworthy characters, liars and cheats sprung up outside the building. It was known as ‘the swap’ and at one point it got so bad that even the police were scared and refused to intercept the trouble. If you won big at the casino, you’d be lucky to make it through the swamp with all your winnings. (5)

Let’s end on a more modern note and fast-forward to what was one of the biggest poker mysteries in the world(6).

In 2009 an unknown player called Isildur1 hit the online poker tables and played some of the highest-stakes games against the planets biggest players.

Isildur1 managed to build up more than $6 million in winnings but after a while he caught then attention of another famous poker player called Brian Hastings. Hastings challenged him to a head to head and Isildur1 lost all the winnings he’d had in his account.

It was later revealed that Isildur1 was actually just a 20-year-old Swedish geek playing for his bedroom!

With such a rich history full of eccentric characters and odd stories, it’s no surprise that poker has managed to remain one of the most popular real money gambling games in the world.

If you haven’t experience poker for yourself yet, do yourself a favour and try out a few hands at South Africa’s best online poker rooms!


  1. Thompson, William. "History of Poker." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. November 13, 2014.
  2. Joe Cowell, Thirty Years Passed Among the Players in England and America (New York, 1844)
  3. "Where Did Poker Originate?" April 24, 2013.
  4. "The History of Poker in the Old West." The History of Poker in the Old West.
  5. "The History of Poker in the Old West." The History of Poker in the Old West.
  6. Jarvis, Ross. "The History of Poker." Titanbet Poker. October 28, 2014.