For various reasons I have been thinking more and more about poker’s history and particularly its connection to the United States. One reason, of course, is my class. Another has to do with some reading I’ve been doing of late, including perusing a number of poker-related texts from the 1800s. A third is a big project for which I’m currently gathering various ingredients and hope to start cooking up soon.
Poker was introduced here during the first couple of decades of the 19th century, having evolved from various other gambling games involving playing cards, most of which originated in Europe.
Most who have investigated the matter with any real scrutiny have concluded the French game poque (itself linked to a few games played in other European countries) is the most likely candidate as poker’s immediate precursor. In any event, it is safe to characterize poker as an “American game” in much the same way other aspects of the culture -- and the people, too -- have roots that come from elsewhere, then grew and developed here.
Indeed poker grew up right along with the country itself, and even before the 19th century was over had begun to be carried back out into the world as a kind of American “export.” Such became even more the case later on, especially during the latter part of the 20th century and of course during the recent “boom” years and after when all of the various tours were introduced and began picking up steam.
I’ve had a lot of nice opportunities to visit those tours, including lately. Already this year I’ve had the chance to travel abroad on three different occasions -- to France for EPT Deauville, to Chile for the LAPT in Viña del Mar, and to Montreal for the WPT National event there.
On each of these trips I was reminded of what an “online poker culture” was like, with players constantly engaged with the various tournaments and cash games available to them -- talking about online events, playing at the tables, and so on.
Live poker continues to thrive here in the U.S., and is in fact as popular as it has ever been, especially on the various “mid-level” tours that continue to draw ever-increasing fields for their tourney series. And the game is obviously still played frequently in homes and among private groups, with interest in poker, generally speaking, remaining high even if the game isn’t necessarily attracting new players at such a high clip.
But three years on, it’s hard sometimes not to think of poker as not just an “export” but another “ex-pat” like those who’ve moved out of the U.S. in order to play. As though the game -- “our” game -- is out there, traveling the world, growing on its own.
And perhaps to return some day. Hope we’ll recognize it when it does.