It can be tempting to think that the poker boom of the 00s is over and done with, but there are still lingering effects being felt today.
Top players from the boom period, like Chris Moneymaker, are still making waves at tournaments today. Though it isn’t shown on TV as much as it was during its peak, coverage is still provided by CBS Sports after the biggest tournament moved to the new network this year. The tournament that sparked the boom in the first place, the World Series of Poker, is still going strong and returned to Las Vegas this year after a hiatus due to the pandemic. But this is just the largest in a long history of tournaments in the US. From the mid-1800s to today, poker has had a strong place in American history and popular culture.
The earliest card games date back to Europe, the Middle East, and China, but the game that we currently know as poker didn’t take shape until the 1800s in New Orleans. It grew from a French parlor game called Poque and a British game called Brag. As the two cultures mixed, an early form of poker became common in New Orleans gambling dens and quickly spread along the ports of the Mississippi River and across the Caribbean Sea.
In the mid-1800s, the Poque deck was expanded from 20 cards to 52 and the basics of poker came into play. The hand rankings grew to include a flush and straight as well as a pair or three of a kind. The game became increasingly popular among both Confederate and Union soldiers during the American Civil War, with soldiers from different units and areas sharing their version of the game. This helped spread the game throughout the rest of the US, finally reaching the heavily populated Northeast region.
The Wild West Years
At the end of the 19th century, the game had become part of the lore of the Wild West, a period that would eventually spawn an entire genre of film and launch the career of actors like John Wayne. While most legitimate gambling halls featured other games, poker continued to attract players willing to brave the illegal games that were unregulated and frequented by hustlers, criminals, and card sharks. By the time the 1900s came around, the game had largely become standardized into the form we know today. Decks were able to be printed in mass and 5 card stud, popularized in the 1850s California Gold Rush, became the dominant form of the game.
The Rise of Modern Poker
Over the next 100 years, the game didn’t change much, but different variations of the rules have arisen. Texas Hold’em, which rose to fame after the Wild West period faded, continue to be the most popular form of the game, but the biggest change in the game wouldn’t come around until the 20th Century. Online poker sites rose to prominence and resulted in what is called the aforementioned poker boom. Since then, online poker has been a mainstay in the game, while big tournaments command big events on the famed Las Vegas strip.