America became faro-wise somewhat later than Europe, though cards were widely played-particularly during the Revolution.  (The first president himself is said to have played the game at one time, but presumably disapproved, for he later wrote out an emphatic edict to his army that stated: “All this time of public distress, men may find enough to do, in the service of their God and their country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.”)The card games most played were look ( a trick-making game of the whist family), and post-and-pair(a bluffing game with similarities to poker), which had been imported from France and Britain by the first colonists.  (Jefferson apparently filled in the intervals in his composition of the declaration of Independence with game of post-and-pair.)

Faro didn’t come into its American own until the beginning of the 19th century, when the Louisiana Purchase brought thousands of exploiters into the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and ramshackle towns harbored them in unaccustomed proximity – a state of affairs that encouraged many activities, including gambling.  After that, faro remained the big gamble until well past the middle of the century, with play poker card running alongside it and only gradually ousting it from the carpet joints and sawdust joints of American towns.

Just as the terms “carpet joint” and “sawdust joint” meant broadly the degree of luxury or squalor to be expected in American gambling saloons, so the names “poker” and “gin” once signaled the degree of skill needed by the players of two distinct branches of the same card game family.  Poker was (and is ) the connoisseur’s game, demanding several skills beside that of keeping a straight face; gin poker, whisky poker, and rum poker were variations that used fewer skills but offered almost the same high degree of excitement.  (The bibulous names were probably applied to the variations on poker because of the salon atmosphere in which they were played.)  Gin, whisky, and rum poker became gin rummy, and “rummy” subsequently became a family name to be applied to any of the numerous games involving the principles of melding and sequence collecting.


Above, a diagram of the layout for trenteet-quarante.  The dealer lays out two rows of cards (le noir and le rouge) until each totals 31 or more (right).  Players bet that one or the other row will be nearer to 31 by placing chips on rouge ® or on noir (N).  They also bet on couleur (that the first card in each row will be the color of the row) or inverse (that the first card will be the opposite color).

But first things first as I say, had appeared under that name in America ( poker ) by the middle of the 19th century.  It is, like all rummy games, a version of the 14th century Persian game  âs-nâs.  The origin of the name “poker” is far more obscure than the game itself.  The popular explanation is that it derives from poque,  French card game of the 18th century; but such information as there is about poque suggests that it was a game of the whist family.  A German adaptation of the English bluffing game brag is a more likely origin, for its name was pochspiel and involved a call by non-bidding players: ‘Ich poche.”  And even more likely is the theory that the name owes something to “poke,” a 19th century American, Australian, and South African slang term for pocket or wallet.  And the cheats and cardsharps that infested the poker tables of those days were great emptiers of pockets and wallets.

There are two main strains of poker –“draw” poker and “stud” poker.  The principal difference is that in stud poker some of each player’s cards are revealed while in draw poker all remain secret.  Within these two strains there are innumerable and quite different parochial, regional, and national variations.  Draw poker is usually considered the most basic form.  Each player is dealt five cards and, if he decides to join the betting and gaming, he may discard up to three of them (four or five in some variation ) and draw other cards from the remainder of the pack.  (In stud poker, however, the player must play the cards he is first dealt.)  Here are the nine poker hands (in descending order of value):



Royal flush: ace, king, queen, jack, and ten of one suit.

Straight flush: five numerically consecutive cards of one suit.  A straight flush led by a king defeats one led by a queen, and so on down the scale.

Four of a kind: any four cards of the same value.  The fifth card in the hand counts for nothing.

Full house:  three cards of any one value plus two of another.  It is the ranking of the trio that determines which of a number of full houses wins.

Flush:  any five cards of the same suit, the competitive value of the flush being decided by the value of the highest card.

Straight: five numerically consecutive cards of any mixture of suits, with the highest card of more than one straight determining the competitive value.

Three of kind:  any three cards of the same value.  The remaining two cards count for nothing.

Two pairs:  two cards of one value (any suits ) and two of another.  In this case the fifth card is not worthless, for it can be the deciding factor in two competing pairs of equal value.

One pair:  two cards of one value and any suit, the highest ranking pair being the winner of winning seven card in any competition. The remaining three cards count for nothing.

Betting begins before the cards are dealt.  A widely-used betting procedure (especially in America) begins with the first player betting one chip or a pre-arranged sum of money (called the “ante”) and the second two chips or twice the sum (the “straddle”).  Then the cards are dealt and the third player decides whether his hand is worth betting on.  If it is, he doubles the straddle; if not, he throws his hand in.  successive players now decide whether they want to bet and, if they do, may bet four or eight chips.  Increasing the stakes even more (called “raising”) is allowable for those players who remain in the game, but a limit is often imposed by the house in a casino game, or by the players’ mutual consent in a private session.