Many people want to know how poker got its start. Poker history is not crystal clear, but it appears that it has evolved from a Persian game called nus. Others attribute pokers roots to a French game brelan or the English game bragg, which means 'brag'.
Poker historians believe the game was originally played in New Orleans, and originally used a 20-card playing deck, and four players wagering on who had the best hand. Later the game shifted to the English 52-card deck, and variations using wild cards and drawing were added. These additions were revised by the professional gamblers to increase the betting, and keep suckers in the game.
The gamblers and the Mississippi riverboats helped spread poker through the middle of the country, and then it moved to the coasts from there. During the 1800's the use of chips instead of money or tangible assets like gold and silver were bought into use. This allowed players to become detached from the value of their bets, and helped standardize the exchange of profits.
Poker history has been filled with seedy characters and questionable ethics, but the game has become a worldwide phenomenon. The huge tournament payouts have made poker players celebrities, and millionaires too.
Online poker history is of course a recent sensation, especially for young players already cyber-savvy. Its popularity really skyrocketed when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, and $ 8 million dollars. It was his first live tournament and he had qualified by playing in an online tournament. Since that point nearly every player has begun by playing online.
In 1998 the first online site opened up called Planet Poker. Shortly after that the most successful site, Paradise Poker opened its 'doors'. Now if you watch the World Series of Poker on TV you see the players sporting hats and shirts from PokerStars.Net, Full Tilt Poker, Party Poker, to name a few. The online environment allows a player to play for free or for small amounts of money, while they practice their poker strategies and improve their skills.
Of course Online play is different from live play, in that you can not see your opponent, but besides that that simulates all other aspects of the game. There are two types of games, multi-table and sit and go. The first is more like the initial part of a tournament, with lots of tables and as players go bust the tables are consolidated, while the sit and go is more like a final table environment. One downside to online poker is the possibility of players colluding, by sitting together in a room and teaming up on you. The casinos try to police that, by looking at IP addresses and play history, and the popularity of online poker implicates that this issue is not rampant.
Today, poker is an international game, which I suspect the riverboat gamblers never envisioned. Once these gamblers were considered semi-crooks, and now they are stipulated respect for their skills and concentration. It's the gold rush of the new millennium.