Whether it’s a scene in the latest blockbuster or an episode of the Simpsons, Poker seems to have infiltrated itself into every aspect of our everyday culture. We borrow poker’s lingo in daily conversation and artists are inspired by the game in both music and art. But when did poker become such a cult staple?
“The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say, I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is The Ace of Spades”
– Motorhead, The Ace of Spades
According to this history of poker timeline, the game originated way back in the 1800s, when it was dubbed the “Lying Game” but the game as we know it today didn’t actually start to fully develop until around 1875.
For many people, myself included, poker evokes the bright lights of Vegas, but you may be surprised to know that when the first World Series of Poker (WSOP) event took place there in 1970, the city had a mere 50 poker tables with only 30 entrants for the tournament. Yet popular culture would have us believe that poker was played extensively over the last few decades, something that was encouraged in the 80’s when TV and movie producers would actively add characters playing poker into their creations.
During the Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran from 1987 to 1994, characters would play poker frequently during their time in space, where a senior staff poker game would take place every week showing poker to still be as popular in the 24th century as it is now. The show used the games to provide character insight for their audience as well as themes for the show. Plus, Will Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher, actually went on to become a very successful poker player in real life.
Movies such as Maverick, also always portrayed poker as an exciting, sophisticated game, evoking the romance and thrills of the Wild West. Then in 1998, the accidental cult classic Rounders hit our cinemas, starring Matt Damon as the central poker player. Some people even attribute the film combined with the so-called ‘Moneymaker affect’ as reasons behind the poker boom of the mid-2000’s.
And there’s no denying that seeing our favourite characters, and the stars behind them, playing poker certainly helped to give the game more street credit and encouraged amateurs like me to host poker evenings with friends or even visit some of the famous casinos glamourised on TV.
When the millennium hit, there was a new way in which poker was implemented in our lives – poker became an online phenomenon. Today, poker is available to play anywhere at any time – there’s no need for weekly meet ups! And with the likes of Lady Gaga and Aaron Sorkin still inspired by tales from the felt, it seems just like Star Trek, poker will remain a cult classic for quite some time.