Poker has been a popular card game in the military for centuries, and American soldiers played a huge part in bringing poker popularity in the USA. Poker has a long and storied history in the military.  From the very beginning of the United States of America, poker has been a main card game of the military members and early North American settlers. You might be asking yourself, how did poker come about, and how did it become so popular? The answer as to how poker as a game was invented, and who it was that created it is not completely clear.

The game of poker is believed to have originated nearly 1,000 years ago, so an exact date and influence is not known. Possible influences include a domino card game played in 10th-century China, as well as a 16th century Persian card game called As Nas. It is amazing that countries that are so far apart, with little way to communicate, were all simultaneously creating similar games to enjoy. While those influences from long, long ago are up for debate, the closest known relative game to poker comes from Europe’s Poque. This game was known as Poque in France, and pochen in Germany in the 17th century. The main rules in Poque? This card game started with three cards dealt to each player and bluffing (or betting high on poor cards) as a key part of the game. Sound familiar? These are not the same rules as the poker we know and love today, so let’s take a closer look at how poker made its way to America, how the US military contributed to the spread of poker and some of the most popular variations of poker as we know them today.

Poker History: How Poker Made It to North America

Poker made its way to the United States military in the early 1800s. The game was unsurprisingly  brought over by French colonists to their settlements in North America. The French who made their way to North America were playing the past version of poker known as Poque.  These French settlers were stationed in New Orleans, which would eventually become (debatably) known as the birthplace of poker in the United States. New Orleans became part of the USA in 1803 due to the Lousiana Purchase. This event is marked as officially bringing the game to the nearly brand new United States. Players who spoke English wound up making some changes, namely going from Poque to poker. They changed 3 cards to 5 and thus the modern game was well on its way to being born. By 1834, players were known to be using 52-card decks. But how did poker spread from New Orleans to the entire United States and beyond? The United States military actually played a huge role in this!

How Poker Spread in the United States Military

Due to being such a fun game, with relatively easy to learn rules and potential to bet and win money, poker began rapidly spreading in the United States. There are many contributing factors but here are the known top two. Immense popularity among riverboat crews on the Mississippi River was a huge factor. These crew members played all up and down the great river with everyone they came into contact with, bringing the joy of poker to countless new players. The Mississippi River is 2,340 miles long. The Mississippi River also winds over ten states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. You can imagine how much ground these riverboats were able to cover. It is unknown how many people and places they were able to bring the game of poker to.

The other factor? The American Military of course. Northern and Southern soldiers contributed to the rise in popularity during the Civil War, which went from 1861 to 1865. After that, the fun game spread further throughout the 1870s and 1880s in frontier settlements. It soon became the main game in Wild West saloons, contributing to the culture of the time lovingly depicted in popular American films. You can watch Wild West movies and see cowboys drinking in the saloons, losing a game of poker and taking it outside for a quick draw.  Who knows if it was really, truly like this or just a dramatization for films. All we know is that poker was a new addiction and pass time and that, from there, poker’s popularity only grew. 

Back to Europe

Poker was reintroduced back to Europe with its newfound rules, dynamics, and most importantly, popularity. It is said that back in 1871, the infamous Queen Victoria had asked for the rules and learned how to play from her U.S minister to Great Britain. Over several decades later, the American Military would spread poker even further. World War 1 raged from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918. During this time, American troops played poker to pass the time and taught many Europeans the rules. This brought more acceptance of poker to Europe, even though the game is thought to have originated there. Thus, the spread of poker has officially been full circle. The next time you are enjoying a game of poker, just remember the wild history that led to it becoming so popular, and the military that carried it along the way!

Popular Variations of Poker

As the game of poker grew, many different variations came about. This really seems to be the natural progression of the game over centuries. It is hard to think of a game that has as many widely played and accepted varieties than poker. Here are some of the top poker variations that have made it through the last 50 years.

Perhaps the most popular variety of poker came about in the 1970s and has stuck around until good old 2022. This would be Texas Hold ’em. Texas Hold ’em in the poker variation that is used in the World Series of Poker. The World Series of Poker is pretty much the largest and most prestigious poker event around, so this should tell you something about how popular and accepted Texas Hold ’em truly is. The difference between Texas Hold ’em and the previous version of five card poker is that players are dealt two cards. Five community cards are placed in the center. Through three betting stages, the center cards are revealed. The player’s objective is to make the best five card poker hand with their two cards and the five community cards. The best hand that has not been folded will win the pot after all betting rounds commence.

Omaha Poker

Another popular poker variation is Omaha poker. This version was introduced to the Las Vegas Golden Nugget Casino in Nevada in the year 1982 by Robert Turner. In Omaha poker, each player is dealt four cards rather than the two in Texas Hold ’em. Something that many players prefer about Omaha is the ability to make big hands. This is possible since they are dealt four cards to work with. They are able to use two of their four cards, and three of five community cards to form a hand. There are many other popular styles of poker as well. You can play Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha games at the National League of Poker, as well as exciting Turbo games! 

Poker History In Conclusion

Poker has been a popular game for centuries, and it has gone through many changes. The military has played a huge role in the spreading of poker. Poker is now a widely known and enjoyed game. Any casino you walk into features poker, and it is often the most fun table to be at with the best prize pools. The game has been featured in countless movies and television shows. There are many different variations of poker, and each one has its own unique twist. It is now considered a pastime for players all over the world. The game has come a long way from its humble beginnings and is now loved by millions. Thanks, in part, to the military’s role in its spread.

Online poker has taken the gaming industry by storm, and is now one of the most fun and convenient ways to enjoy the game. Playing from computers, phones, tablets and any mobile device possible is one of the new norms. Can you imagine if the original poker founders of centuries ago could see what the game has become? Poker may be one of the most influential games in history. No matter which version you prefer, poker is sure to provide hours of fun and excitement. So, the next time you’re playing and enjoying a game of poker, remember its long and storied history.

Poker Events for Military Veterans

The National League of Poker, also known as NLOP, wants to give a special thanks to all of the Veterans out there. This Friday, 11/11/2022 is Veterans Day. To honor our veterans and provide some extra fun, a $500 Veterans Day Freeroll will take place on the free-to-play poker platform.  This will be at 9PM ET, make sure to enjoy some risk free poker fun! NLOP also wants to encourage all of our players to thank your veterans for their service. We want to provide a code for anyone who reads this article to redeem on the site for some extra tokens! Here is the code: BLG76A

We appreciate all of our players, please leave a comment on our Facebook. Let us know if you enjoyed reading this article about poker history in the military.

Here are some of our special shout outs to veterans in the poker world.

Thank you to Chad, who most of you know from the National League of Poker Facebook page for his Spin the Wheel videos. Chad is an active military member and an extremely hard worker, so we would like to thank him for his service!

We would also like to honor Mike Sexton. Mike was a huge figure in the poker world and a military veteran. NLOP had a special relationship with Mike and have collaborated in the past. 



Launched in 2006, NLOP has become recognized as a top destination site for prized-based, free-to-play, legal online poker. NLOP enables players to win real cash and prizes daily with no financial risk. Players at NLOP enjoy a unique social gaming experience. NLOP has over 1.3 million registered users and has awarded over $5.5 Million in Cash & Prizes to date. This article was written by Alexis Dubbs, marketing manager to Cafrino and NLOP.