The game we know as poker is believed to have ancient roots that go back nearly 1,000 years, crossing several continents and cultures. Some historians say poker’s origins can be traced to a domino-card game played by a 10th-century Chinese emperor; others claim it is a descendant of the Persian card game “As Nas,” which dates back to the 16th century.
Poker’s closest European predecessor was Poque, which caught on in France in the 17th century. Poque and its German equivalent, pochen, were both based on the 16th-century Spanish game primero, which featured three cards dealt to each player and bluffing (or betting high on poor cards) as a key part of the game. French colonists brought Poque to their settlements in North America, including New Orleans and the surrounding area, which became part of the United States thanks to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. English-speaking settlers in the region Anglicized Poque to poker and adopted features of the modern game, including five cards for each player and (by 1834) a 52-card deck.
From there, poker spread up the Mississippi River and throughout the country, thanks in part to its popularity among crews of riverboats transporting goods via that great waterway. Soldiers in both the North and South played poker during the Civil War, and it became a staple of Wild West saloons in frontier settlements in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1871 the game was introduced to Europe after Queen Victoria heard the U.S. minister to Great Britain explaining the game to members of her court and asked him for the rules.
More general acceptance of poker in Europe occurred several decades later, largely thanks to the influence of American soldiers during World War I. Over time, different games have dominated among poker players, including five-card draw, seven-card stud and—most recently—Texas Hold’em, which began its rise to dominance in the 1970s when it became the featured game in the World Series of Poker, the game’s leading annual competition.