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The Game of Draw Poker – A Brief History

In many ways, the game epitomizes the raw bone tenacity of the American spirit that drove the western movement from the Mississippi River in the 1800’s. Life on the frontier was harsh, hazardous and full of risks – the pioneers were literally gambling on their lives each day. To both survive in the untamed west and to win at draw poker a man had to be skillful at what he did and count on lady luck to smile on him. He had to closely watch his adversaries and at times bluff his way out of a situation. The results of his actions could prove very profitable or he could lose it all, sometimes even his life. Draw poker then was a natural choice for the men of the American west who were used to risking it all.

The game was the result of an evolutionary process that started when poker was first took shape in America early in the nineteenth-century. Just when and where it was first played is subject to a continuing debate among historians, as is the game’s origins. Several postulations attribute the game’s lineage to a French game called “poque” or possibly to a German game known as “pochspiel.” British historians state that the game was a direct descendent of the English card game of “brag.” Still other researchers claim that poker evolved from a sixteen-century Persian card game called “as nas” that was played with a twenty-five-card deck containing five suites and has rules similar to five-card stud poker. Since exact documentation of poker’s early history is impossible to determine its inception will probably remain a mystery.

Poker is thought to have started in America sometime in the early 1800’s, possibly in saloons of New Orleans. From there it spread up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers by way of the commercial steam boat traffic. Then as the wagon trains and railroads pushed the frontier west, poker continued to gain popularity with the early adventurers. An English actor, Joseph Crowell, recorded seeing poker being played on the riverboats in his diary of 1829 and later in his 1844 book, Thirty Years Passed Among the Players in England and America. A reformed gambler by the name of Jonathan H. Green wrote about early poker in his book, Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling that was published in 1843.

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