10 Fascinating Facts About Poker and Its History


Poker has been one of the most widely played card games in history. The game is enjoyed worldwide, from friendly games held between families to professional tournaments where millions are at stake.

In the US, approximately 60 million people play the game, with many opting to start playing online poker as it is legalized in different states. Most casinos offer Texas Hold’em, the most popular poker variant in the country, though Omaha, seven-card stud, and Caribbean stud are also popular versions. 

With the game originating around 1829, it has been around for long enough to have changed and evolved as more people play it. This evolution has led to interesting facts that any poker lover should know. Intrigued? Then read on to learn more!

1. Some games seem to last forever

While poker games have been known to last hours on end, especially if no one pulls ahead of the pack, others are ridiculous. The longest-recorded game wasn’t finished in hours, days, or even months. 

Starting in 1881, it took eight years, five months, and three days before a winner was declared! If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. This record is unverified but is widely accepted to be true. 

Occurring at the Bird Cage Theatre in Arizona, the game was part of a competition called the Bird Cage Tournament. To play, you needed a $1,000 (almost $30,000 today) buy-in, and the game attracted names like Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Diamond Jim Brady—a well-known businessman and philanthropist. 

2. Online poker began only five years after the internet became public

The internet was initially unavailable for public access or use, but all that changed in April 1993. It took just another five years for the game to be available online—and for real money. 

While earlier versions of online poker were available before 1998, they were purely for enjoyment and didn’t offer any prizes or money. This changed when Planet Poker launched and offered poker with real winnings that could be cashed out. It is credited as being the first online poker site ever. 

3. Poker is a classified (mind) sport

Mind sports is any sport that uses extensive thought, logic, or reasoning. Games such as chess, bridge, and even Scrabble are all mind sports classified by the International Mind Sports Association—the governing body that decides what is or isn’t a mind sport. 

In 2010, this association ruled that poker was officially a mind sport in which players had to exert significant mental processing to play effectively. While it doesn’t ‘technically’ mean that poker players are athletes, it is fun to say you’re playing a sport each time you are dealt a hand. 

4. Poker hasn’t always been played just for money

Russians are known for playing hard at poker—which may be due to the free-flowing vodka at each game. However, in 2007, one Russian player may have played a little too hard, costing him dearly. 

Running out of cash while playing, Andrei Karpov decided to bet his wife, Tatiana. Unfortunately for him, his opponent Sergey Brodov held the winning hand, and Andrei lost. 

Probably thinking it was just a friendly bet, Andrei was shocked when Sergey arrived at his home to claim his prize. Tatiana, however, was not impressed. She filed for divorce and subsequently married Sergey—making his win official. 

5. There are numerous poker variants, including one with a bull

Any professional poker player could probably tell you a good deal about the different variants of the game available. Officially, there are 13 variants, which are mostly the same but with slight rule and play variations.

There are, however, many other variants that aren’t officially recognized. One of these is a version of the game played at the Angola Prison in Louisiana. Here, players are seated at a poker table moments before a bull is released into the pen. The winner isn’t the one with the best hand but the last man sitting at the table. 

6. Your poker hand could be called dead

Wild Bill Hickok is a famous soldier, cattle farmer, and poker player born in Illinois in 1837. However, what made his name well known was the fact that he was shot dead while playing poker in a popular saloon. 

Bill was holding two ace cards and two eights when he was shot. This hand quickly became known as the Dead Man’s Hand and is a familiar emblem that is even used by law enforcement. These include the Las Vegas Police Homicide Division and the Los Angeles Police CRASH Squad. 

7. The largest tournament event in the world had thousands of players

The World Series of Poker is the largest and most prestigious poker tournament ever. However, it also holds the record for hosting a live event with a staggering number of players. 

In 2019, the WSOP Big 50 was held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. What shocked everybody, however, was that 28,371 people registered to play in the tournament. 

8. When it began, poker wasn’t played with 52 cards

Up until the 1830s, poker could easily be played with just 20 cards. This was done so the game could accommodate four players, each being dealt five cards. There was no need for extras in the deck. 

Betting was done on the hands dealt, and there was no way to better your hand by drawing another card. You were dealt what you had to play (and win) with. The 52-card deck was only introduced later as a way for the game to accommodate more players. 

9. Poker has its own Black Friday

April 15, 2011, is known in the poker community as Black Friday. However, this isn’t because there were deals on buy-ins that day or because anybody saved lots of money while playing. Instead, it was a day filled with dread and fear.

On this day, the Department of Justice in the US seized the domains of some of the largest online poker providers on Earth. This was done because, at the time, playing online in the country was illegal. However, the blow was devastating for the global poker market due to the amount of funds in players’ accounts at the time, changing the course of online poker history.

10. Poker birthed a famous phrase used in everyday life

You may have heard the phrase passing the buck. You may have even used it yourself. Essentially, the saying describes passing responsibility onto somebody else and shirking your responsibility. 

However, it comes directly from the poker table. At the time of the American Frontier, players needed a way to keep track of whose turn it was to deal. Therefore, they used to pass around a knife made with a buckhorn handle. If someone didn’t want to deal, they would ‘pass the buck.’ This saying stuck and is still used today.

Author: Dennis Williams