The history of poker is a matter of some debate. The name of the game likely descended from the French poque, which descended from the German pochen (‘to knock’), but it is not clear whether the origins of poker itself lie with the games bearing those names. It closely resembles the Persian game of as nas, and may have been taught to French settlers in New Orleans by Persian sailors. It is commonly regarded as sharing ancestry with the Renaissance game of primero and the French brelan. The English game brag (earlier bragg) clearly descended from brelan and incorporated bluffing (though the concept was known in other games by that time). It is quite possible that all of these earlier games influenced the development of poker as it exists now.

Later on, the full 52-card English deck was used, and the flush was introduced. During the American Civil War, many additions were made, including draw poker, stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. Further American developments followed, such as the wild card (around 1875), lowball and split-pot poker (around 1900), and community card poker games (around 1925). Spread of the game to other countries, particularly in Asia, is often attributed to the U.S. military.

Three games successively dominated poker, particularly as limit-betting games in the USA, during the first century and a half of poker history: draw, seven-card stud, and holdem, with each game cornering over 2/3 of the market during their ascendancy. Draw was far ahead in popularity until sometime in the early 20th century, when seven-card stud took the lead, which it kept until about 1980, thriving in the armed forces during WWII, and then during the rise of the Nevada casino industry in the fifties and sixties.

Five-card stud played a role as a major big-bet game from it’s invention in the 1850’s right up until holdem really took off in the 1970’s, but it was never as popular as either draw or seven-card stud, which are both excellent limit-betting games and as such appealed to a mass market which five-card stud does not suit.

In the late-seventies or early eighties sometime, holdem overtook seven-card stud in popularity, helped on it’s way to the top by the huge leap in status it gained through being used as the world championship game from the early seventies, and also by a surge in player numbers as US gambling laws were liberalised. Unlike seven-card stud and five-card stud, holdem plays equally well with any form of betting from limit to no-limit. It quickly made five-card stud more or less obsolete, and steadily reduced seven-card stud’s share of the market from about 70% in 1971, to less than 20% today.

Poker has been dominated by games based on seven live cards for most of a century now, and there is no reason to suspect that that will change. How much of the poker market holdem and it’s variations will surrender to mississippi and it’s variations remains to be seen. It seems reasonable to suggest that the natural division of the market between stud and communal-card games will become more equal, now that stud is available in a form which can compete on equal terms as both a limit and a big-bet game.

Poker’s popularity has experienced an unprecedented spike in recent years, largely due to the introduction of online poker and the invention of the hole-card camera which finally turned the game into a spectator sport. Viewers can now follow the action and drama of the game, and broadcasts of poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour have brought in huge audiences for cable and satellite TV distributors.