Family Tree of Card Games info-graphic

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The ‘happy family’ history of cards


Poker was developed in America during the 1820s.

More interesting fact:

Poker’s roots can be traced back to a European card game from the early 15th century.

And upping the ante even further:

Our fascinating look at the family tree of card games reveals that poker is actually a direct descendant of games conceived long before Shakespeare was. It’s a fair bet that you don’t realise that the history of cards has as many twists and turns as a poker game itself.

We are about to reveal our hand and let you find out the answers to:

  • Who played the first ever game of cards?
  • When was the ‘modern’ deck of cards introduced?
  • Who brought cards over to America?
  • What does ‘poker’ mean?
  • And many more historical facts that you can trot out at the table to expertly cover a bluff.

From China to Europe

The first ever playing cards were used in China during the 7th century, but this ‘leaf game’ more closely resembled paper dominoes than a modern card game. By the 10th century Emperor Mu- Tsung was shuffling and dealing a deck of cards we can call the true daddy of those we use today.

As cards spread through India and the Middle East they acquired their modern form: four suits and royal cards.

By the close of the 14th century the presence of Islam in Spain, and trade between Egypt and Italy, was bringing cards into Europe.

From Europe to America

Cards received another form of press in Europe, a bad press, and they were routinely banned thanks to their association with gambling. The suits used were The Mameluk Cards of cups, swords, coins and polo sticks and Queens did not at first exist. In Italy and Spain, where polo was unknown, polo sticks were converted into batons and clubs, while Central European countries were developing their own suit systems. We have the French to thank for the modern suits and royal cards, whilst Germany introduce Kings and Queens in the early 15th Century.

Whether cards were actually carried by the pilgrims on the Mayflower, as they set sail for the New World, is not known. What is undisputed is that within decades of reaching America cards were being manufactured by the settlers.

America introduced rounded edges, the joker (joker is probably a corruption of Euchre, as it first appears in that game. Euchre is a misspelling of Jucker, which is a German word) and lamination to cards. Many new games also followed suit, including poker, pinochle and bridge.

The family history of poker

Poker was ‘developed’ in America during the 1820s. It was based on the game of poque that was brought into New Orleans by the French.

Poque itself derives from the 18th century German game pochen (Poch. The word pochen means to play Poch) , and the names ‘poker’ and ‘poque’ both derive from the German word ‘pochen’, which means to brag or bluff (poker < poque < poch) .

Tracing the family tree back further to the 16th century we find poker was first sired by three fathers in three countries: primero (Spain), primiera (Italy) and la prime (France).

The rest, as they say, is card history, but you can enjoy tracing plenty more fascinating family trees in our infographic guide below.

Any information not taken directly from the sources used our info-graphic can be found at:

also, for rules of most of the games listed,