Today, poker is one of the most popular card games played in casinos and online. It’s a sport enjoyed by people from many different backgrounds, and one of just a few competitions where people of all professions, physical athleticism, gender and nationality can come together to play on a completely level playing field.
It wasn’t always this popular though. Interest in poker has grown dramatically over the last few decades, helped in part by technology.
The Invention of Poker
Card games have been played for most of the last 1,000 years. Cards that bear some resemblance to the 52 cards we play with today can be traced back to China. Some argue that a “leaf game” played by Emperor Yizong of the Tang Dynasty around 868 AD is the earliest recorded card game, while others say that it was under the Southern Song Dynasty, which began in 1127 AD, that the first card game was created.
When the cards made their way to Europe, sometime before the 14th century, they began to evolve into the picture and number cards we are familiar with today.
Around the 16th century, a game called Primero began to be played in Spain. This contained many of the mechanics we use in poker, including betting on your hand and bluffing. This then morphed into a French game called Poque, then a German game called Pochen, each with similar characteristics.
As French colonists travelled to North America, they took their favourite card game with them and over time “Poque” became “poker”, the game we know and love today.
Through the mid-20th century, poker and, in particular, Texas Hold’em, made its way to Las Vegas. It was there, in 1970, that the first and longest-running poker tournament, the World Series of Poker. While the competition has grown substantially, changed owners, and moved to a different hotel, it is still played in Las Vegas to this day.
The Birth of Online Poker
Although it grew in popularity, poker remained a relatively niche sport through most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the concept of placing bets over the internet became a reality, that poker could reach a wider audience.
In November 1994, just as consumers were getting their first home computers and access to the internet, Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade and Processing Zone Act. This paved the way for online casinos and poker rooms to begin operating on its shores. It would still be another four years before the first online poker site would launch though.
By 1998, players from all over the world had access to the game, including many who previously didn’t live near a casino or poker room. In just one year, almost $1 billion of revenue had been generated from online poker.
Over time, new online poker sites have appeared, some older ones have closed, and others have been merged together. The sites have used the technological advancements of faster internet connections and more powerful computers to improve the quality of their software. This has, in turn, helped to attract even more new players.
To help these new players feel more comfortable and get to grips with the game, most major online poker platforms offer tutorials and guides to help people understand the rules and learn about different strategies.
An example of this can be seen from 888 Poker, which has published a video and detailed guide that explains the different poker hands variations. This video not only gives the names for each hand but explains which versions of a hand are strongest. For example, Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10 would be the strongest form of a Straight, while the lowest could be 5, 4, 3, 2, and Ace.
The Poker Boom, a period of time between 2003 and 2006, is when the game exploded in popularity online. Several factors helped to contribute to this, one of them being an ordinary seeming accountant becoming the first person to win the World Series of Poker after qualifying for the Main Event through an online tournament.
Another key factor was the fact the game was being broadcast to millions of people around the world on TV. In the United States, the World Series of Poker has been aired on TV since 1978, but ESPN’s coverage increased from the late 1990s onwards, with cards now shown to the audience at home, making for a more exciting watch.
As it became more accessible, shows like Poker After Dark, Celebrity Poker Showdown, Late Night Poker, and Celebrity Poker Club all helped to popularise the sport.
As technological advancements have continued, poker has benefited again. Computers and the internet made it more convenient to play poker when compared to travelling to a physical casino or poker room. But in the 2010s, smartphones and tablets took this further by making it even more convenient.
Instead of being tied to a desk or a laptop, mobile poker apps have made it possible for consumers to play from almost anywhere. No longer are players restricted to their home. They can take part in ring games and tournaments from the park, the bus, or the beach.
Mobile technology hasn’t just changed the way existing internet users get online, it also opens up new markets for online poker sites. Many remote and developing regions don’t have wired internet infrastructure and can only get online through smartphones. Therefore, they wouldn’t have been able to use the computer versions of their services.
While poker is hundreds of years old, the game has become immensely more popular in recent decades thanks to technological developments. Computers and the internet meant that millions more people had easy access to the game, while TV helped to introduce more people to the game.
Technology continues to evolve, creating new, better and easier ways for players to enjoy poker. The biggest development of the last decade has been mobile technology, which has made poker accessible to even more people.
While it isn’t yet clear how future technologies will change poker, it is a safe bet that the industry will continue to use it to make the game more exciting, convenient, and accessible.