Of all the card games out there, none are more popular than poker. In fact it’s estimated that around one in five Americans play regularly and every year more and players, from professionals to gifted amateurs are drawn to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas with dreams of winning a life changing prize.
In fact it’s a game that seems quintessentially American, despite its global popularity and many people imagine that it will have originated in the saloons and whisky bars of the wild west with gambling disputes being settled with a good old Colt 45 or played on the glamorous steamboats plying their trade up and down the Mississippi.
But, in fact, poker goes far further back than that, possibly as long ago as ancient China when a very similar game was thought to have been played using not cards but tiles. The first evidence of it becoming a card game was the introduction of “poque” in the 18th century which, itself, was related to a similar one called “asnas” played in Persia (Iran) a century before. It was when early settlers from France crossed the Atlantic that the earliest versions of the game we know today arrived in the US and one of the first references to it came from the writer Jonathan H. Green who mentioned in his chronicles published in the 1840s the popularity of the so-called “cheating game” which was played using a deck of just 20 cards by a maximum of 4 players.
Today there are an almost endless number of variations on the game with many more being frequently devised by players looking for ever more novel ways to experience the thrill that playing can bring.
This is undoubtedly the most popular form of the game and the version that is played for the biggest prize of all, the WSOP Main Event. Its origins are, not surprisingly, in Texas where it is recognised as being introduced in Robstown in the early 1900s. It’s a so-called “community card” game in which players are each dealt two cards of their own and then need to use the five “community cards” that are revealed one by one to create a winning hand. As each of the cards is revealed and the players get a better idea about the potential strength of their hand they can raise the stakes or even fold.
Just like Texas Hold’em, Omaha is a “community card” game but in this case players are dealt four different hole cards which they keep hidden from the other players. There are also five community cards displayed but the winning hand must only be made up from two of the former and three of the latter. The game was first introduced in the legendary Las Vegas Golden Nugget Casino as recently as the 1980s. Although similar in many ways to Texas Hold’em the nature of the game means that the betting can be more frenetic with bigger swings and wins for players making it a truly exciting game to play.
In stud games of poker, players are dealt a certain number of cards and then have to make the best possible five-card hand that they can from them. As the name tells you, in this version a total of seven cards are dealt, four face up and three face down with rounds of betting as they’re dealt. Before the rise and rise of Texas Hold’em, this was by far the most popular version of poker in America right up until the early 2000s when it was overtaken, but it still has a wide number of fans, including many of the world’s top poker professionals like the two big Phils, Ivey and Hellmuth Jr.
Razz, also sometimes known as London Lowball when played in the UK, is another kind of stud poker. But in this case the idea is to get the lowest possible five card hand that you can from the seven cards that you are dealt. This means that the best possible hand that you can get is 5,4,3,2,A and this is known as “the wheel” or, sometimes “the bicycle”, There is a story that the famous poker player Archie Karas first started making his fortune playing games of Razz in and around Los Angeles and supplementing it by pool hustling. However his winning streak didn’t last and he reportedly lost a $40 million fortune and also ended up on the wrong side of the law.
For players who crave a little variety and keep all of their poker playing skills up to the mark, there’s always HORSE. This is a game named from the initial letters of the variants it includes: Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Seven-Card Stud and Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better. Usually each round changes the game that’s being played so it pays to keep you wits about you. And, far from being a sort of novelty game, it’s one that’s taken very seriously indeed with its own event at the World Series of Poker ever since it was introduced back in 2002.
Our final variant is a game that is rapidly gaining popularity so anyone who likes more traditional forms would do well to get to know a little more about Chinese Poker. It’s unlike other types of poker as there is no up-front betting involved making it far more a game of chance. Up to four players are each dealt 13 cards which they have to split into two five-card hands and one three card hand. After this has been done players can choose to play all or any of their hands and when everyone has announced their intentions the cards are revealed. For each of the hands being played the player with the strongest receives payment from the other player, or players, of an agreed amount. This can be boosted by anyone who has already announced that they have a Royalty, or a particularly strong hand, that goes on to win.
The great advantage of Chinese Poker is that, as there is more luck than skill involved, even novices can do well right from the start.
So if you want to learn a little more about the fun, not to mention the money-making potential of poker, this could be the perfect place to start. Then, as you get to discover more types of poker, who knows where it could take you? Maybe you’ll end up in Las Vegas yourself!