Bluff or Poker

The Early Version

Bluff or Poker, originated on the Mississippi river some time after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It was first mentioned in print in 1836 but the reminiscences of various gamblers printed after 1836 can place it as far back as 1829. This earliest version has the basic structure of modern Poker, but also has some interesting differences.

Number of Players: 4
Equipment: Standard deck with all cards but the Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten removed (20 card pack)

Sequence of Play
Once card is dealt to each player. The lowest card is the Dealer. Cards are collected, shuffled, cut and dealt to the left. Deal then moves to the left with each new hand.

The Eldest Hand (often called the "Age") who is the player to the left of the Dealer, antes in.

Each player is dealt 5 cards, one card at a time.

Each player, starting with the one to the left of the Age, must place twice the initial ante on the table or withdraw from the game. When meeting the ante, the players may also raise the pot, and each following player must meet that bet ("see the bet") or withdraw from the game ("fold"), sacrificing any bets he may have made so far. This "seeing" and "raising" continues until every player remaining in the game has "seen" but not "raised" the pot. If the other three players lacked the nerve to "see" all the "raises", the remaining player wins without showing his cards. If two or more players remain, the remaining players show their hands and the player with the strongest hand wins.

The strength of hands is judged as follows, with the weakest first and the strongest last.
Nothing: No cards in any of the above combinations.
One Pair: Two cards of the same numeration. Three unmatched.
Two Pair: Two sets of matched cards, one unmatched.
Three of a kind: Three matched cards, two unmatched.
Full: Three matched cards, and two matched cards.
Four of a kind: Four matched cards.
Royal: Four Aces and a King.

If both players have the same ranking of hand, the one whose strongest set is of the highest denomination wins (i.e. Player One has three Tens and two Queens, and Player Two has Three Kings and Two Jacks--Player Two wins). Aces are high.

Later Version

In the 1850s, the twenty-card version of Bluff/Poker fell into disuse, until it received but a passing mention in an 1858 version of Hoyle's. This version, which is essentially the modern form of Five Card Draw, had replaced it. The only significant difference between this version, and modern Poker (other than a slightly different ante system) is the lack of the "Straight". The "Straight" was mentioned as early as 1864, but it was unpopular with most players and was not generally accepted until the 1890s.

Poker was brought to England in 1872 by the American Ambassador, where it became popular among the upper classes. In the United States however, snobbery towards Poker was rather pronounced, and it was not considered appropriate for genteel families or gentlemen's clubs, though it was often played by the well healed in less formal settings.

Number of Players: Two to seven (four to six is optimum).
Equipment: Standard 52 Card Deck.

Sequence of Play

One card is dealt to each player. The player with the lowest card is the dealer. Cards are collected, shuffled, cut and dealt to the left. Deal then moves to the left with each new hand.

The Eldest Hand (often called the "Age") who is the player to the left of the dealer, antes in.

Each player is dealt 5 cards, one at a time.

Each player, starting with the one to the left of the Age, must place twice the initial ante on the table or withdraw from the game. When meeting the ante, the players may also raise the pot, and each following player must meet that bet ("see the bet" or "call") or withdraw from the game ("fold"), sacrificing any bets he may have made so far. All remaining players, starting with the Age, may then discard up to five cards and take the same number of cards from the dealer to improve their hands.

Once every player has discarded or passed, the final round of betting begins, starting with the Age and moving to the left. It continues until every player has either folded or matched the bet without raising it. The remaining players then display their hands and the strongest hand takes the pot. The final showing of the hand, by the way, is known as the "show down".

The strength of hands is judged as follows, with the weakest first and the strongest last.

Nothing: No cards in any of the above combinations.
One Pair: Two cards of the same numeration. Three unmatched.
Two Pair: Two sets of matched cards, one unmatched.
Three of a kind: Three matched cards, two unmatched.
Straight: Five cards in sequence but not in suit (Ace can be low or high)*
Flush: Five cards in suit but not in sequence.
Full House: Three matched cards, and two matched cards.
Four of a kind: Four matched cards.
Straight Flush: Five cards in suit and sequence (Ace can be low or high)*
*Not in general use until the 1890s.

If both players have the same ranking of hand, the one whose strongest set (or in the case of Straights or Flushes, the highest card) is of the highest denomination wins (i.e. Player One has three Tens and two Queens, and Player Two has Three Kings and Two Jacks--Player Two wins). Aces are high.

This concludes a "Hand". The deck is passed to the left, the new dealer reshuffles, the player opposite cuts the deck and deals out all the cards.

Variations:
Flat Poker: The same as above, but with no discard phase. The players receive their cards and start betting.

Stud Poker (First mention 1864): The players ante in. The first card is dealt face down, then the next card is placed face up. The players then have a round of betting. The remaining cards are then dealt with a betting interval between each card. When five cards are down, there is a final round of betting followed by a "show down" (the players display their cards).

Jack Pot (First mention 1870): This variation is played with any form of Poker. This Jack Pot rule states that only a player who has two Jacks or better may open the betting. If he lacks such a hand, and he is called upon to open the betting, he must fold. If a player has a sufficient hand and is called upon to do so, he must open the betting. The Jack Pot variation was popular in the West, but unpopular in the South of the United States.

Joker's Wild (1880): Around 1880, standard decks started including a Joker, ostensibly for use in playing Euchre. Poker players occasionally used it to spice up their game. In a wild card game, five of a kind was the strongest hand.