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The 80’s poker ‘boom’

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Poker’s origins are disputed, with historians initially believing it to have originated from the 17th Century Persona game As-Nas, a 25 card, five suit game with a similar game play to modern day poker but without the inclusion of flushes or sequences. However, more recently, some gaming historians have disputed this, linking the game more closely to the Spanish Primero, and the French Brelan, as well as Poque, a game eerily similar to poker which was played by the French and exported to the Americas by French colonists in the 18th Century. 

The English game Brag is said to have added an element of bluffing into proceedings. There is some dispute over when gambling was initially introduced to the game; most agree that as Poque was established in French colonies along the river boats of the Mississippi, locals began combining their popular gambling games with the French 52 card deck in the early to mid-1800s, when the flush was introduced, and by the American Civil War additions such as stud poker and the straight were popular. Other developments include the addition of the wild card in 1975, lowball and split-pot poker becoming popular in the early 1900s and community card poker games in 1925.

There are three main modern types of poker game:

  • Draw Poker, where players are dealt a complete hand which is hidden, improve it by replacing cards, and betting
  • Stud Poker, where there is a combination of face up and face down cards and multiple rounds of betting
  • Community card poker, where each players’ incomplete hidden hand is combined with a shared pot of face up cards

Alongside these main game types, there are some common rule variations that can added in to differentiate the game and to add some excitement.

  • Lowball: lowest hand wins
  • High-Low Split: highest and lowest hands split the pot
  • Anaconda (amongst others): players can pass cards to each other
  • Wild card: specified cards are set as wild cards
  • Twist: where players can purchase additional cards from the deck
  • Stripped deck: where certain cards are removed to make a smaller deck

There are also many different variations of poker that have developed over time:

  • 3 card poker was created in 1994 by Derek Webb as a means to create a version of poker that kept pace with other table games. It was also designed to offer large enough pay outs to players, combined with a house edge that would be attractive to venues s well as simple and clear rules so that anyone could play. Though initially struggling, especially due to regulations in the UK, 3 card poker is popular in the UK and the USA, and due to its simplicity is a very popular online variant. 
  • Similar to Seven Card Stud, Follow the Queen has been designed to inject a little extra fun into the game with the addition of wild cards that dramatically alter the course of the game. When cards are dealt face up, the Queen becomes a wild card, and card following a Queen is also a wild card, and any card of the same value is also a wild card, adding elements of unpredictability that can completely change the game at the last minute.
  • Manila is a variant of Texas Hold’Em, and is a popular casino game due to it stripped back deck: all cards below 7 are removed, leaving just 32 cards, and is played by placing bets, bluffing and having the best 5 card hand. Within this variant there are other, sub-variants, such as Billabong and Shanghai

Whichever way you look at it, though, it is clear that poker, in some form or other, has been played as entertainment for hundreds of years. However, it was not until the 1970s that poker really started to become popular. Tournament play became popular in American Casinos with the introduction of the World Series of Poker in 1970, and by the late 1970s serious poker strategy books and guides became increasingly popular. By the 1980s, poker was prevalent in popular culture, appearing as a common past time in popular TV shows such as Star Trek. Players started learning more about the game and it increased massively in popularity throughout the 1980s. 

The main factors leading to the boom in poker that was witnessed in the late 1980s were the legalisation of Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha and Stud poker in California in 1987, leading to the opening of massive venues such as the Commerce Casino and the Bicycle Club, and also the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988 which legalised casinos on Indian lands. The popularity seen on the east coast soon spurred action on the east coast, with Atlantic City becoming the west coast Vegas. This increase in popularity led to developments in poker, with different variants of the game coming into being. Some of the most popular have made the transition into mainstream casinos and online, whereas others are simple variations that add some fun and excitement to the game but that are not necessarily licenced.

Since the poker boom, poker has gone from strength to strength; from its inception hundreds of years ago, that the popularity of poker has endured. As a simple, accessible game, it has been transformed throughout the years by cultural, financial and legislative influences. Its popularity as both a casino game and game night entertainment is reflected in the number of variations, and house rules, and variations on the variations that have popped up over the years. It is clear that it is a fun and adaptable game, that lends itself well to professionals, tournaments, online and in house, and will no doubt endure for years to come.

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