Gambling is perhaps one of the oldest leisure activities: one of the earliest pieces of evidence of it dates back to 2300BC - in the form of unearthed Ancient Chinese tiles that seem to suggest the remains of games of chance.
One of the world’s most famous forms of gambling, poker, can potentially be traced back all the way to a 10th-century Chinese emperor and a domino-card game, according to some historians. Its history from this point crosses numerous different continents and cultures: the 16th-century Spanish card game called Primero became Poque in France in the 17th century, and French colonists then took it with them to New Orleans and English-speaking settlers. The name was later anglicized to become “poker”. These settlers can be credited with several features of the game we know today, such as a five-card hand and 52-card deck.
[Caption: A game of poker in a Newcastle Poker Club]
From such far-flung beginnings, it may be difficult to imagine how the game could be developed, let alone improved, any further. The truth is, however, that poker has continued to change with new innovations in technology even in recent decades. Perhaps the largest and most significant of these was the invention of internet gambling, generally thought to have been born in 1994, when the island of Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade and Processing Act.
From that point, gambling as a pastime changed radically, becoming the iGaming industry. Without the need to travel and dress up to take part, poker became more inclusive and the streaming and broadcasting of games did away with some secrecy, allowing a community of players to build up worldwide.
Since the early days of the internet, society has seen a new wave of technological advances, as smartphones have afforded us all the computing power of a desktop on a portable scale. In 2019 alone, changes to Android phone technology promise to have radical effects on poker and could revolutionize the game forever. The main three areas to consider are as follows:
The rise of smartphones ushered in a new era of apps, with the explosion of apps specific to poker fans following very shortly behind. The use of poker apps offers people an opportunity to play on the go and more often, which can be a huge boon for the casual player who may not want to engage in long sessions glued to a computer screen. Many of the apps also appeal to these more casual fans by offering games with play-money stakes. For more serious gamblers, there are a wide variety of free apps where real cash changes hands. One of the most prominent of these is 888poker, the mobile variant of the popular web poker room. It allows players to customize by switching between different types of poker variants, such as Texas Hold’Em, 7 Card Stud and Omaha Hi-Lo, easily and quickly, as well as take part in tournaments and speed poker games such as SNAP.
The advantages of playing poker on mobile are numerous and yet surprisingly little known. While portability is a huge factor, it is also worth considering the ease with which you can protect the smaller screen from prying eyes and the quicker start time of a mobile game compared to booting up a computer. Some players also find the experiencing of holding something rather than clicking a mouse makes it more similar to playing poker in real life, rather than being seated before a keyboard.
Furthermore, since the cost of producing a mobile game is far less for the developer, many mobile poker games have a smaller minimum stake. The comparative ease with which new games can be created also means that the world of online poker offers a significantly more creative and diverse selection of games to choose from than those on PC platforms, with tiny firms able to compete in the market. The inherently communicative nature of playing on mobile also means that many of these apps have a large emphasis on creating a community of playing, providing them chat functions, multiplayer and leaderboards.
[Caption: A woman playing on her phone on a subway]
Poker has been televised in the US and the UK since the 1970s, but the advent of live-streaming sites such as Twitch means the internet is now the natural home of big-name games and competitions. In comparison to early televised offerings, where fans were presented with well-edited games with scripted commentary, streamed games are notable for presenting a more authentic experience of poker. Games shown online are unedited, near-live and with hole cards, creating a very different experience for players and viewers alike.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes is the fact that it has now become far easier for potential players to learn from watching these live streams, since watching without any editing means viewers can watch decisions be made in real-time, and some players even choose to talk viewers through their strategy while applying it. Viewers are also able to watch the evolution of chip stacks, an essential component of becoming a better player, in ways that would have been impossible before internet streaming came around. The chance to watch poker masters play every single week in some cases is an invaluable tool for those trying to build on their own skills.
For some older, more local players, however, the idea of viewers on the internet seeing exactly how they played was distinctly troubling, since they worried it would give their opponents far too much information about their tactics. However, what it ended up doing in most cases was allowing players to watch back their own games, identifying and correcting their own patterns and thus improving their game too. After a while, streaming sites also began to attract those who were in it for the limelight alone and who simply relished the opportunity to show off their mastery of the game.
There is one change in mobile technology that is perhaps the most important: the increase in payment security is absolutely vital in allowing players to commit to handing over large stakes through a digital platform. The recent emphasis on creating entirely secure digital cashiers means that in many ways mobile poker is far safer than more traditional alternatives.
Technologies like Bitcoin and the blockchain it is based on mean that payments can be made rapidly and with total confidence. Many poker apps also allow costs to be charged to the player’s phone bill, completely cutting out the need for credit or debit cards and thus reducing the risk of fraud.
[Caption: an artistic rendering of two Bitcoins]
All in all, you could argue that the poker world is still changing as dramatically now as it was in Ancient China and it is really impossible to predict what new technology will revolutionize it next.