The History of Poker in the UK

Poker historyPart of the appeal and popularity of poker comes from its rich history with worldwide influences. Through many countries and many iterations, poker has become a worldwide phenomenon, but it's only made its way to be a British favourite in the last quarter century. It may have originated somewhere besides the United Kingdom, and it may have taken more than a century for it to catch on--let alone become popular--once it was introduced in Britain, but poker has certainly found a popular home here. Learn how poker came to be, and then came to be a popular pastime for Brits in this article.

Ancient Poker History

Ancient pokerWhen you think about the ancient days of poker, you probably picture a scene of rugged men in cowboy boots playing in a saloon in the American Old West. And you wouldn't be alone--most people believe that poker started. And while the American Old West was where poker became popular, the game actually started centuries prior to that. There are reports of poker originating in 10th century China one New Year's Eve when Emperor Mu-tsung played "domino cards" with his wife. Still others say poker originated in the 16th century, a derivative of a Persian game called as nas. Whether it originated in China, Persia or somewhere in between, a version of poker became popular in the 17th century France, and from there its popularity spread to Canada and then the United States, where it became so popular it's as synonymous with the Old West as gun fights at the OK Corral. Poker caught on from there, and it's now played in various forms worldwide and is incredibly popular in the UK.

Poker Comes to Britain

British pokerAs poker's popularity and notoriety grew in the West, it made its way to the UK around the mid-19th century. Some credit poker's introduction to the UK to a letter written in 1872 from the American ambassador to Britain, General Schenck. In this letter, the general describes teaching the game to friends. To help him teach, he wrote up a small guide, which was subsequently printed into a booklet and then helped poker make a splash in English society.

But that splash was small at first. It took more than a century for poker to catch on, let alone become popular, in Britain. Brits chose to stick with playing trusted card games like rummy, cribbage and brag. The similarity of poker to brag's "taking in" or draw factor, as well as its more dynamic card combination, seems to have helped poker catch on over time, but at first, Brits preferred to play simpler games that had held up through time in English society.

Aside from poker being snubbed for more traditional card games in British homes, it was also snubbed partly due to its somewhat dodgy reputation throughout the mid-20th century. Some major UK casinos didn't offer a poker table, while poker was popular in Spielers, or unlicensed gaming halls in the 50s and 60s. Poker was considered a game played by dodgy people, so its poor reputation made Brits avoid it. In fact, by the 1970s poker was hardly played anywhere in the UK.

Poker Popularity in Modern Day Britain

Modern pokerIt wasn't until the latter part of the 20th century, that Brits began to look up from their traditional card games to play poker. Television played a key role in poker's popularity boom in the UK when "Late Night Poker" debuted in 1999. In this series, Brits saw poker played among professional players and celebrities, upping its reputation and appeal. On glowing screens in the comfort of their homes, Brits were introduced to newer versions of poker as well, such as Texas Hold 'Em. The popularity of "Late Night Poker" spun off an amateur version, showing Brits how accessible poker was to them and introducing them to televised poker tournaments. British casinos made room for poker tables, further popularizing the game in gambling establishments.

As poker was becoming more popular in land-based casinos, the Internet was becoming mainstream as well. Online casinos in the beginning of the21st century capitalized on incredible developments in graphics software, and more and more popped up, helping Brits play poker from the comfort of their computers. Between television and the Web, poker came out of oblivion and into the mainstream. Tournaments occur regularly, and you'll see articles and about and ads for poker appear in print in glossy magazines and online.

Within fifteen years, poker went from catching on in the UK to making poker history. In June of 2013, the UK-based company PokerStars hosted the largest game of poker ever played, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Boasting 225,000 players, this massive tournament took place in Onchan, Isle of Man. While the players only had a pay up of $1, the top prize awarded was the impressive sum of $25,000!

In 2024, poker is an abundant part of British culture, with tournaments being regular on television and throughout the country, ads appearing in print and online, magazine articles and more. No bluffing--poker looks like it's here to stay in the UK.


Poker News Boy:


Gaming Floor:


Popular Pages