It's not necessary to have the intellect of a nuclear physicist, the athleticism of an Olympic decathlete, nor the debonairness of James Bond to leave your mark in the world of poker.
There is however a need to become a student of the game. To be able to wrap your head around difficult concepts, talk the talk, and become at one with 'everything' poker. Why you ask? The more information that you're able to internalize the easier it will for the game to become part of you and you part of the game.
Sound like new age mysticism, an out dated tenet left over from the peace, love, and granola culture, or some mantra used by Buddhist Monks? It may, but take it as gospel, the more comfortable you become with the esoteric aspects of the game the more you'll be prepared to take a run at being the best player at the table.
What do aces and eights have to do with the history of poker? As some of you may know, it was the hand that James Butler "Wild Bill Hickock" was holding when he was shot in the back of the head in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, on August 2, 1876. It's now become known as the "dead man's hand". Every time I have it dealt to me during a game, I can't resist the temptation to turn my head to see if there is anybody behind me with a loaded revolver. To my relief, the only thing I've ever found that was loaded in a casino was some drunken greengrocer from Trenton.
History is contentious at best. Ask any Poker buff about the origin of poker and you're likely to receive as varied an array of answers as you would from a politician vying for re-election.
From the memoirs of Joseph Cromwell (not to be confused with James Cromwell, farmer Hogget from the movie Babe) we learn that he played a game in New Orleans in 1829 in which a player would receive five cards, place bets, and then the player with the highest hand would win all the bets.
The French Connection - Some contend the game originated from the popular French game of Poque (1803). Understandable, given the name. There are a few who back the theory that poker was derived from the German game of Pochen. Very interesting. Then there are even others who believe it came from the English game of Bragg. I'm sure they all exerted their influence in one way or another on the modern game of poker, but to get to the truth we must go back even further in history.
The Persian Principle - We don't know a lot about the ancient Persian game of As Nas, other than it's believed Persian sailors taught it to the French settlers in New Orleans. Scholars are in general agreement that it was the earliest form of the game that we've all grown to know and love over the ages.
Poker spread to the river towns along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers via the riverboats. The light rapid transit system of the day. From the river towns the railroad spread the game to the east while the wagon trains introduced the game to the west.
To help put everything into perspective I've created the following chronological timeline.
1833 to 1837 - the modern 52-card deck replaced the twenty-card deck.
1861 to 1865 - The Civil War saw the introduction of open cards, which led to stud poker. The straight and the draw also became popular.
1875 - The wild card was introduced. Also in the same year the requirement of an ante and a pair of jacks to open was beginning to gather a loyal following.
1900 to 1903 - At the turn of the century in America low ball and split pot poker was started.
1909 - Bills were introduced to control and license poker players.
1911 - It was ruled in California that draw poker was a skill and therefore was beyond the current antigambling laws. Stud poker didn't fare as well however and was therefore deemed to be illegal.
1914 to 1919 and 1939 to 1945 - During the war years’ poker was very popular, and during that time went through many changes.
1950's and 1960's - Innovations such as extra draws and minimum hands required to win were developed.
1972 - The book "The Advanced Concepts of Poker" had become the best-selling poker book in the world.
2000 and Beyond - Online poker has just begun to take hold in the hearts and minds of the intrepid souls who enjoy wagering a few dollars on a friendly game of poker.
What does the future hold in store? I'm not sure. But I do know one thing… I'm willing to bet that the history of poker will continue to be written long after we fold our final hand.
Editor’s Note: What's the origin of the word poker? Some say that it came from the French game, Poque. Others contend its origins stem from the German game of pochspiel. There are those that say it derived from the Hindu word, pukka (not the Hawaiian necklace). How about the explanation that it’s an underworld term for pickpockets, poke? My favorite explanation but probably the least likely is that it came from "hocus-pocus", the phrase uttered by magicians. Regardless of the explanation you subscribe to, poker remains one of the most popular card games on this planet.
"Ignorance gives one a large range of probabilities"
George Eliot (1819 - 1880) English novelist
This is your mission if you decide to accept it: Study the following chart and commit it to memory. Then destroy - it will probably self-destruct on its own any way - all evidence of its existence. After all, you wouldn't want this valuable information to fall into the wrong poker hands.
The Odds Of Being Dealt These Hands Using 5 Cards are Pretty Scary, But Here They are Anyway• Royal Flush 1 Chance In 650,000 Hands Dealt
What Are the Odds Of Being Dealt These Hands in a 7 Card Game?• Royal Flush 0.0002%
The above chart at best can only serve as a rough guideline. Many factors must be taken into consideration when establishing the "true odds", including the number of players at a table and the game being played.
In this chapter you've learned a little bit about the history of poker, how to patter with the best of them, and learned why it's important to know the odds.
By now, you must be fairly excited about your chances of playing a good game. I can't blame you. After all, you now possess more knowledge than 50% of the players who consider themselves proficient. But it's not enough. There is much more to learn grasshopper. That's why in the next chapter we'll take a look at such things as:• Game Variations
So put on your best poker face and get set to take your game to infinity and beyond.