While I grew up in a card-playing family, I've never played much poker, although I'm comfortable with a "friendly" game now and then. So, in order to write the grand tournament poker scene in Gambling with Love with historical accuracy, I needed to refresh my memory with the basic rules and etiquette and also research the history of cards and poker to put it into historical context. I was not disappointed in the plethora of websites, blogs, and books on both topics.**
Here's where I started:
- Playing cards date historically from as early as 10th century Asia;
- 14th century Europe saw a variety of playing card designs develop;
- By the late 15th century, the 52-card deck was popular as the standard preferred deck even though many card games only called for 20-32 cards, which limited the number of players in a game;
- 15th century England and France saw the evolution of the four suits of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs; and
- Court Cards—King, Queen, Jack—were influenced by English and French royalty.
- Another interesting aspect of cards is the Joker, also called the Jack of Trumps, Imperial Trump, and Wild Card. This card may have evolved from an Americanized version of the European card game, Euchre, which required an extra card (called the trump card or Jack of Trumps). Consequently, in keeping with the royal court cards, the Joker came to represent the Court Jester or Fool.
|World Web Playing Card Museum, Imperial Bower, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons|
Taking the trivia-history of poker a bit farther...
Poker’s hazy origins are of some debate among those who study this sort of thing. There are arguments supporting its creation in the ancient Orient to the game evolving as a pirate’s pastime. However, there is some agreement that poker’s historical roots reach back to a French card game of vying, bluffing, and betting called “Poque” in which one said Je poque to open the betting.
In America, Poque dates back to the French settlers of early 1800s New Orleans. As the game of poker spread northwards along the Mississippi River, it followed the expansion of the American frontier with the rush to the California gold fields in 1849 and later with the further opening of the west after the Civil War. “Brag”, a three-card British betting card game with a drawing component, influenced the rules of Poque and the “draw” was incorporated into the game. By the mid-1800s, the game was known by its American name, Poker, and was increasingly played with all 52 cards to allow for more players. The term “Draw Poker” was first recorded c. 1850.
|Kaye Spencer's well-worn copy of Hoyle's Official Rules of Card Games|
According to the Hoyle 1854 edition, these were the accepted hands:
- one pair
- two pairs
- straight sequence or rotation
- full house
Hoyle’s rules stated that when a straight and a flush came together, it outranked a full house, but not fours. Until the 1890s, the highest possible hand was four Aces or four Kings with an Ace kicker (a.k.a. wild card, imperial trump or “cuter”). Not only was this hand unbeatable, it could not be tied.
Obviously, the player holding four kings and an ace couldn’t be beaten, however, a ‘cuter’ was a specific type of wild card in that it often bore a dangerously close resemblance to the ace of spades. More than one old west legend sprang up about gamblers losing high stakes pots to this clever imposter when they erroneously thought they held all four aces.
I incorporated a ‘cuter’, aka imperial trump, into the big poker game as a devious little plot twist in Gambling with Love to keep the players on their toes.
**To read more about the history poker in the American Old West, refer to the Time-Life Books series on The Old West, specifically the volume devoted to “The Gamblers” or visit the Internet sources devoted to the game of poker, which are too numerous to list here.
Gambling with Love
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Until next time,
Writing through history one romance upon a time
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