Part 11 – June 16th, 2019 through June 30th, 2019

Originally posted: June 19th, 2019

A Brief History of Poker

Unlike a history of poker in briefs, thoroughly covered in our strip poker dressdown, this will be a compendium as concise as the facts and tugged strands permit. Regular readers will have already noted my penchant for the past. Even in the Omaha strategy articles I like to digress into historical dreamscapes. After all, he who controls the past controls the future.

We’ve done a whole series recounting the sordid misdeeds of frontier characters; maniacs like Lottie Deno, known as Madame Moustache, or Poker Alice who had Henry VIII sweating over his spousal record, but this time we’re diving deep on the origins of the great game.

Before the US civil war, before steamboat pasteboards, mining camps and the jangling pots of golden-eyed prospectors, before the great martial exodus spread poker the length and breadth of the contiguous united states, transforming a parlour room game heretofore confined to the brothel rooms of the deep south to a game which one day defined some mysterious scion of the American character, back to a wilder epoch.

Without a fixed starting point to work from, poker inherits a mythic quality. Like the discovery of fire, we imagine this is some game given us by a higher power, a game to settle Godly disputes fallen into mortal hands, Prometheus’ hand or delivered by mischievous Loki.

Murky Origins

Searching for poker’s origin is akin to bottling lightning, splitting myths to the truthful vein or doing that rock hard lightning avoidance task on the Thunder Plains in Final Fantasy X to get Tidus’ celestial weapon. Without a single Eureka moment to work from, we must instead inspect the various theories put forth by academics and game historians and decide which explanations seem most historic.

The name poker comes from poque, a game played in Louisiana and other port cities in the early 19th century, inherited from Persian sailors, descendents of conquerors, who could never have guessed the importance of the seeds they had sewn.


Kings have manipulated mythology to bolster their legitimacy since the advent of monarchy in the lost dusts of pre-Babylonian antiquity. Archaeologists have uncovered lists of kings preserved on cuneiform clay tablets listing dynastic records stretching back thousands of years, claiming descendancy from heroes and mighty persons of renown, even Gods. Today, we will extend the same courtesy to the game of poker. I will attempt to draw parallels between the games of antiquity, of the medieval period, of the postbellum United States, right through to the game of today we all know and love, through all it’s myriad shifts, changes, iterations, slumps, soars, heroes and villains.

When in Rome

At the height of imperial Rome, games of chance were banned by law, at least in writing. On certain holidays, such as the Saturnalia, Rome’s equivalent of Bikini Bottom’s opposite day when Emperor’s served slaves and in turn their slaves reclined on palanquins draped in finery and were fed the finest vined grapes. King for a day had never been truer or crueller. Social norms were ignored during holiday periods, including gambling bans. If that old time machine in the shed is still humming, that’s the date to shoot for.


Remember As-Nas? The Gungan leader from Star Wars. Brian Blessed was there. Sure, you remember.

Until the early 90s, it was considered gospel that poker had developed or reached it current form by mutating As-Nas, a Persian card game, corroborating reports of Persian sailors teaching American locals to play. That was until new reports surfaced claiming a deeper connection to European games Brelan and Primero which existed around the same time or before the development of As-Nas.

Such claims are considered unhistoric, with any parallels drawn being related exclusively to the use of cards during play. This is useless as a metric in this particular endeavour because any number of games involving cards that existed pre-1800 could be dubbed patient zero. In order to find it’s true origins, we must find the origins of the betting structure. There’s better scholars than me out in the world with access to the keenest resources who have yet to make a connection between games in the past and current betting formats in poker. Given the relative complexity of poker’s betting rounds, it’s an interesting school of thought, implying that rather than building upon a core concept to reach a high-level of intricacy, the betting structures were created much as they are now.

Despite the sketchy historicity of parallels between Primero, Brelan and As-Nas, it can’t hurt to have at least a passing knowledge of how these games work and how, if at all, they factor into the development of and current landscape of card gaming.


Primero means uno, one, single, with little room to mingle. Primero, as the name suggests, is a game of Iberian origin, with existing name variants in Spanish and Italian. Long considered the noblest card game, many of the 16th and early 17th century ruling classes practiced this game in pursuit of a classy outlet for their aristocratic degeneracy. Falstaff himself, the Bard’s greatest creation according to rotund genius and sled expert Orson Welles, claims he has never prospered despite forswearing for Primero.

That’s not the only reference to Primero in Billy Shakelance’s ouvre either. It’s also included in the Merchant of Venice, although as a poker creation theory, ones involving Primero aren’t worth jot of your consternation (or Christian blood). As with poker, you have to make the best hand to win or bluff well enough to dissuade your noble counterparts from betting against you. Again, many similar games of bluff and chance existed across the globe during this time period, with each country having national and regional variants, but an in-depth study of Primero does not help illuminate the enigmatic origin of poker’s betting rounds.


Brelan is another game which shares its roots with the aforementioned Iberian iteration. Brelan was played by the great houses of Europe around the same time as Primero, between the 1600s and 1800s, although records exist from 1458 mentioning it by name. Primero was first to fall from popular favour – always number one.

Pokerrace to the Pokerplace, right through to Gaga’s Pokerface

Really, poker’s grubby mitts started making a grab for the mainstream in the immediate wake of the American Civil War. Soldiers, with time aplenty for dossing between violent melees, would sit and gamble to wile away the long hours camped under the judgemental sky. After the armistice, soldiers returned to docile civilian lives as shopkeepers, barkeeps, horsemen and farm labourers, spreading the great game of poker along the steamer routes from Mississippi to the mainstream.

Since this initial surge in popularity, myriad changes have taken place; hold’em usurping stud as the most-played variant, the invention of video poker and eventually online poker, the boom years and everything after, right the way up to GGPoker’s opening day.

Many strange characters were attracted to the thrill and pomp, machiavellian schemers seeking outlets for their treachery – one assumes Grima Wormtongue would have much enjoyed such a game during his time in the hall of Theodon – but poker soon acquired a reputation as a game for outliers, outlaws and brigands. A dangerous game where lead replaces gold in the flick of a wrist, doubtless proceeding from its reputation as brothel entertainment and a pastime for roughshod soldiers.


Twitter came later, but poker has been trending from the gate. Written records exist of games resembling poker in play and loosely in betting since 1400, with a surge in the popularity of games post-1600, around the time of the great reformation.

Records of poker, called poker and played basically the way it is today, exist in military records, letters home from the frontlines and various frontier folklores. The earliest record of the word poker is contained in J. Hildreth’s Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains. I managed to find a free scan online, it’s most likely a pricey antique if you want a hardcopy, containing a reference to one M, possibly a major or a name redacted for the purpose of writing home, losing hundreds at poker in camp the previous night; I know that feel, M.

Future Sound of Poker

Developments in the 1970s, namely a surge in the popularity of casino tournament poker after the virginal World Series events, meant poker loomed large in the minds of the populace. Despite a popular streak dating back two centuries, its present is more glamorous than its past.

Today there’s tonnes of options for those inclined; casino games, online tournaments, live tournaments, ultra-high stakes with the 1% in the casinos in Macau and Nevada, ultra low-stakes, video poker, branded strip poker variants, novelty cards from porn to pop stars like a deck of unwieldy Top Trumps, mobile apps, side games and of course, the single greatest innovation in the history of poker, moreso even than the tireless work of those trudging troopers teaching tirelessly the trade of their triumphs in returning victorious from the war, minus an inch or two off the side; the advent of online poker.


Welcome to the Internet. What kind of pokers can I get you here today?

Online pokers please, vinegar steaming off the rapidly-staining bag. Crawling from the primordial soup of the early internet, the first online poker sites like IRC Poker and later Planet Poker arrived, like overly baggy jeans and first caustic wails of grunge, in the 90s. Planet Poker differed from its predecessors by offering real money games, unlike IRC poker’s, which despite monopoly money denominations attracted poker’s best known faces, including Chris Moneymaker of later Full Tilt fame.

Online poker is likely responsible for more people becoming interested in the great game than any other development, aside from the initial wildfire spread of the game waybackwhen. The advent and growing popularity of online poker in the mainstream was unassailable and uncontrollable, leading to the glory years of the mid-2000s, when many of poker’s most revered names found themselves replaced, or at least the fields equalised, by relatively unknown players and upstarts from the online world. Looking at you Isildur, heir of Elessar.

PokerStars is currently the world’s largest poker room, boasting enormous social media followings, famous advocates and influencers, including a laundry list of world-famous comedians, sports stars and celebrities. Not if we have anything to say about it 🙂

The future

The future of online poker is hard to predict. The past years have seen various poker rooms arrive with a blast, burn through the cash and then fold at the first hurdle. The industry has more ups and downs than a pro Omaha game! Volatile is not the word. We can never know what’s ahead, even if we like to tell ourselves sweet little lies, but trust me when I say the best place to see the future is right here.

Well, is there more or less than you thought there’d be? Poker has a long and storied history that we’ve barely scratched the surface of, and without even a mention of its more infamous adaptees. If you’re interested in these shady characters, greedy gangsters, inspirational upstarts or soon-rich savants, here’s a list of our previous Poker in the Past articles, which might tickle your historical funny bone:

The Poker Archives                                      How the Poker Stars Aligned

And with that, I bid you adieu. This one came out longer than the title might indicate, but the tale very much grew in the telling.

Until the next one…

Mike at GGPoker

Originally posted: June 26th, 2019

Mindset Hacks: Poker Psychology

Hello again,

From tracking softwares to guidebooks to observation and careful study, improving your graphs in the post-net world is easier than ever before. A hundred years ago if you wanted to improve your EV you had to sneak out the bedroom window, rappel down the house, make your way to the smoky tavern on the fringes of town, the one momma warned you away from, and hope that the roughhousers had their welcoming caps on that particular evening.

In the words of solipsists and to a lesser extent Ayn Rand, it’s all down to the individual. Making efforts to self improve is the first step towards large-scale change. Starting is often the most difficult part, clearing whatever mental hurdles cause you to stumble on the threshold, but your efforts will be in vain if you don’t cater your lessons to the individual, namely you. It’s well and good reading an article about the top ten productivity apps Elon Musk keeps installed on his iphone, but what works for the Space X CEO isn’t necessarily what works for you.

If you’re a ‘feel’ type of player who finds periods of intense concentration taxing, point 2 on this list might assist towards dissuading your budding bad habits. If you’re a regular patient pete, able to sublime without issue, you might find breathing techniques and mindfulness a helpful asset toward your lofty goals. Whichever type of player you are, take a few moments to read through our list and find the technique that brings your game to the next level.


If the Prodigy said it, it must be true. Breathing helps mindfulness. Some will balk at the word, imagining me a hippie new ager clearing encyclopedias off the shelf to make room for another Etsy crystal skull, but the fact is that research shows mindful breathing techniques are excellent tools for silencing white noise in your head.

Breathing isn’t just important for living, although you can’t argue it’s not one of its main selling points, it’s scientifically proven to help with overall calmness and emotional control. Riddle me this, at a table of two with only one staking choice offered, do you toss your lot in with captain calm and his mindful breathing techniques, or with corporal coronary and his pulsing forehead vein?

Poker can be emotional at the best of times. Unfiltered gaiety when you ship a huge pot through your own guile, untapped ire when you’re beaten to the punch and you know it’s your fault. It’s war with cards instead of shotguns, but there’s truth in the old adage that cooler heads prevail, and prevail means winning.

Practice your breathing, listen to your lungs and improve with practice. Don’t be dissuaded when your mind wanders. Recognize you’ve lost concentration and return your focus to the rise and fall of your chest. In time you’ll see results, reaching deep focus with decreasing effort until you’re at the final time breathing cool as a scuba diver. Repetition of the method will alter the very synapses of your brain until you’re veritable felt Buddha.

Rubber Band Technique, or how I learned to stop worrying and break bad habits.

Bruce Lee famously didn’t fear the man who practiced ten thousand kicks, but he who practiced one kick ten thousand times. Whether it be poker, martial arts, gardening or painting, repetition is the first step to becoming a demigod in your own discipline.

Right off the bat, having not tried it myself, I can’t fully advocate for this technique. If you can vouch for its efficacy, please tweet us or let us know in the comments, I’d be very eager to hear from a convert of the Brothers of the Band. GGPoker takes no responsibility for digits lost during conversion therapy.

Using this method, the person seeking to free themselves of unwelcome habits is urged to wind a band around the wrist. Not so tight the hand turns purple and withers like a flower in the fireplace, but enough to know it’s there. Each time your bad habit rears its mug, take the opposite hand, stretch a loop of the band outward and thwack it back into place. Again, not enough that the hand comes clean off Evil Dead II style, just enough to tell your brain something’s going on here. Your brain starts to form new associations, convincing your body the bad habit is the reason for these unseemly bouts of intermittent soreness, until suddenly you wake one day fully cleared of your neuroses.

It’s not graceful, but it is scientific. History and technological advances have proved time and again we’re easily programmed creatures, only this time it’s you hacking your own mainframe, not the evil CEOs at DoomCorps Inc. Although I must admit to some trepidation vouching for a hack that wouldn’t look out of place alongside plague-era flagellants. Looking at you, Agent Van Alden.


Pile on the miracle gro and watch that pink-veined thing shake to life. There’s two major thought schools concerning intelligence. Either the traits you’re born with are permanent, shackling you to the now, or they can be improved upon and reforged to a new purpose. Does life’s opening act resemble the beginnings of an RPG with predestined character statistics or can you respec at any time? Can a fire mage ever cast frost shard? If he believes it and has enough hypdrosophy points, yes.

Scientists and psychologists agree a growth-mindset is more beneficial to an individual. Belief that the very self can be changed through force of will and dogged determination is the cornerstone of wider success. In order to beat the best, you have to believe you are, or are at least able, to become the best yourself, rising to meet and surmount every obstacle. Never forget, we’re all made of the same creamy starmilk as the cosmos. Wittgenstein once said ‘When we understand every single secret of the universe, there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart.’ No matter how ominous the portents are, things can always change for the better.

You’re never too old to learn something new. The flesh frails, but the brain remains malleable as wet concrete and eager as a payday shark at the fishguts factory. Why wait until there’s nothing left of your brain but a mass of electric chewing gum. There’s never been a better time than now to read that book you’re avoiding, sign-up for that night course, buy that toolkit and build the shed you’ve always wanted. Before you know it you’ll be easily absorbing new, increasingly complex information, until with some ease and no shortage of surprise you’ll be master of your chosen field.

Embracing the Grind

You won’t get to Carnegie hall without practice. You think Jimi Hendrix spent his teenage weekends being the coolest man alive? Hell no, he sat there plucking away at his guitar from dawn until dusk, and then and only then became awesome incarnate. The road to glory is awash with tears and toil.

Progression requires the adept to learn to love the grind. Big cashes, tournament wins, bankroll explosions, all that stuff is part and parcel of the poker experience, but the true poker is in the closed-door study sessions, the hours of statuesque concentration, entire evenings spent staring at graphs like some mad pennystock seller. DC said it best, you have to embrace the grind.

Daily play is integral to long-term success. Even if it’s just for an hour, repetition is key to the brain hack. Once poker is part of your regular rotation, you’ll start to feel the very essence of the game coursing through your veins like newborn fire each time you take a seat. I find it’s easiest to find that languid, fast-twitch concentration in deep silence. Perhaps you prefer some calming music, a nice pulsing background rhythm to lead the charge, but music without lyrics, possibly some light classical, is best for your concentration. Set your ‘you’ time aside each day, switch the phone to airplane mode and really get to grips with those graphs.

It’s not like flipping a switch, but it assuredly gets easier. In time you’ll be able to switch from airy normalcy to calculated cashing in a blink. As a fidgety man who alternates between deep concentration and childish restlessness, I know from experience how difficult it is to adopt a foreign entity into your sacred daily routine, but with measured practice the brain will adopt and recognize this new force as second nature, giving you that cool, practiced edge that every shark dreams of.

Create your own poker space

Feeding nicely into our previous point, you can’t find your inner card killer without a special lair, built for purpose. You want it cosy but not so cosy you’re dozing off and trancing yourself into a half-slumped state, with a chair hard enough to keep you rigid and a steaming cup of coffee to clear that headhaze. With your amber room decorated, it’s time to christen a poker machine. If you own a mobile phone, a laptop and an underutilized tablet, perhaps consider christening the least-loved device your exclusive-poker machine. Remove everything that pings, buzzes, rings or connects to the distractornado that is the internet, escape to your fortress of solitude and set time aside for study after each session.


Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. If you haven’t been putting in your hours performing daily ayahuasca ceremonies, the hardline new agers might scoff, ‘your pineal gland isn’t up to the task’ but damn the naysayers, maybe there’s something to this quackery after all.

If seeing the word visualisation printed doesn’t get your inner alarm bells violently tintinnabulating, you might consider seeing a shrink; I’ve heard Shutter Island offers a fine service. Visualisation, as Oprah defines it, is codswallop. There’s a million ways to make a million dollars. Sitting at home greedily imagining which of your enemies is first to fall once the cheque clears is not one of them. Laws of attraction, declaring your will, doing as thou wilt with the cosmos in full support, jettisoning your burdens to the infinite hum of the big bang echoing endlessly through the aeons can feel greatly liberating, but do they correlate to a million dollar bankroll down the line? Let’s take a look.

Let’s take visualisation to mean the method by which the mind can be convinced of things that are not yet true, but might be true in the future. You have to start small. Perhaps convince yourself you’re the best hold’em player at a certain limit and with even limited success, your brain will accept these success triggers and the lie slowly becomes the truth. Boom! All of a sudden you ask yourself ‘where’s this newfound confidence and winning smile coming from?’

Perception is reality. If the outward world is a projection of your inner state, the logic rings true for visualisation; what you’re telling your brain is true becomes true. When you’re feeling down in the dumps, often the world shifts to suit your mood, but of course we know the world didn’t change, you did. Vis a vis, when you’re telling the brain things are good, we give ourselves confidence to be great.

The Fortress of the Mind

So there you have it. Six keens tips to up your mental game. Anyone successful in their chosen field will attest to the importance of the mental game, even in the most physical of undertakings. Take fighting for example, the game of inches and micromovements. Although it’s vastly physical, the greatest, fighters who sublime past their own sport into the minds of the mindstream, swear an iron mind beats an iron chin. If you’re content in yourself, in your abilities and decision making, nobody else can throw you off-kilter.

You wouldn’t dare attending a melee without your best breastplate. You wouldn’t ski without your helmet on. Why attend the poker battlegrounds with anything less than your best foot forward? Armour the mind, be the best you can be and the money will roll right in, more generous with every clink.

There you have it. Anything we missed? Perhaps you’re a Roganite and swear by sensory deprivation tanks, let us know how they’ve helped your poker game.

Until the next time,

Mike at GGPoker