A Photo History of Poker (Part 1)
What follows is the history of poker in photographs.
This is Part 1, which covers the period 10,000 BC up through 1975 AD.
POKER IN ANCIENT TIMES
10,000 BC — The first poker game takes place when cavemen start wagering pieces of flint while sitting around a campfire. The tribe agrees on a common set of rules. One grunt meant “I call.” Two grunts meant “I raise.” Three grunts meant the player was relieving himself. The direct descendants of these ancient poker players can be found today inside the cardrooms scattered throughout the Los Angeles area.
8,500 BC — Poker suffers its first black eye in the form of a major cheating scandal when Russ Hamilstone (pictured below) is caught peeking at his opponents’ tablets in an elaborate scheme that bankrupts several players and gives the game a seedy image, which lasts for the next several thousand years.
1765 AD — After centuries in utter obscurity, poker suddenly reappears as a popular game played by the masses in the slums of Paris, which is called Poque. Despite getting a 300-year head start on the entire rest of the world, nobody in France has been a winning player since, except Fabrice Soulier (pictured below).
1835-1850 — Following its re-birth, French settlers around New Orleans bring the game to America. Poker’s popularity begins to spread throughout the south and midwest, spurred by high-stakes games played on riverboats that steamed up and down the Mississippi River. Two phrases commonly heard in poker rooms today originated during this period — “the river” and “ship it!” When the river card was dealt, “fuck!” was also a popular expression, followed by a blaze of gunfire.
1878 — In Deadwood, South Dakota a legendary poker game takes place when an argument breaks out, insults are hurled between players, and violence suddenly erupts leaving the town’s Sheriff “Wild Bill” Hickcock lying flat on his back holding two pair, aces, and eights — which became known as the “dead man’s hand.” Bystanders re-tell what happened that day many times over, and poker’s first “bad beat story” is born.
Circa 1900 — Howard “Tahoe” Andrew, later to become a two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner, is believed to have been born, although no official records of this monumentally historic event can be found.
The 1920s — Texas Hold’em is invented somewhere in south-central Texas by ranch hands. Since there weren’t enough cards in a standard 52-card deck to deal in more than 7 or 8 players at a time, a new game was created where each player received only two down cards, and then shared the common cards dealt face up in the middle of the table. One witness reportedly said, “this is the stupidest poker game even invented…..it has no future.”
1947 — Future poker ambassador, WPT commentator, and Poker Hall of Fame inductee Mike Sexton is born in Indiana. At the age of just 11 months, baby Sexton utters his very first words, which are — “May all your cards be live and all your pots be monsters.”
1972 — Amarillo “Slim” Preston wins poker’s world championship by defeating 11 players and cutting a deal with the final two. He spends the next four decades crowing about the “achievement of a lifetime.”
1975 — Several poker notables who would later become world-class players — including Scotty Nguyen, Men “the Master” Nguyen, An Tran, Chau Giang, and others — who were then children living with their families in Saigon, depart their native country. Once they leave, South Vietnam falls and the history of poker is changed forever.
Coming Later: A Photo History of Poker — Part 2
Photo Credits: Card Player (magazine), Made In Poker (website), Poker Listings (website), The Guardian (newspaper), Poker Player (UK), USA Today (website)