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Where did three card poker originate? How did it come to be the most popular casino poker variant played around the world and online today? The growth of this game, little known as recently as 1990, has been fairly rapid by gaming standards. However the origins of the game run much deeper and further back in time than this.

Our clues to its development are given when looking at what the game, or the game most similar to it, has been called over the course of time. In chronological order its moniker has been Primero, Bragg, Casino Brag and then Three Card Poker/Tri Card Poker. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn and follow the journey from renaissance era Italy to the lights of modern day Las Vegas and into cyberspace.

Primero

The translation of Primero is “first”. Indeed this game of Italian origin is the first card game referenced in literature. Some argue that the game actually originated in Spain where it was known as Primera, indeed the word Primero is in fact of Spanish origin. Regardless, the game quickly spread throughout Europe, becoming Prime in France and finally Primero upon its arrival in the UK. Over time it has come to be referred to as the mother of all the versions of modern poker.

Primero was the first card game to contain the combination of gambling and bluff that is the hallmark of poker. Played, not with today’s standard 52 card deck, but one containing only 40 cards, the hand rankings were also notably different. Four of a kind and flushes have remained but gone are partial flushes i.e. flushes which don’t use all of a player’s cards and also the strange recognition that was given to a reverse flush i.e. four cards all of different suits. (Interestingly this hand recently returned in the poker variant Badugi.) Neither was there any place for straights or pairs in this old game. They would come later.

Bragg

Bragg or Brag as it later came to be known is the British adaptation of the game of Primero. It is much more recognisable to the poker played around the world today. The same 52 card deck is used and the hand rankings are a lot more familiar. Indeed they are almost identical to those used in the casino version of three card poker. The one exception is that in Brag three of a kind is the best possible hand, whereas in poker a straight flush conquers all. The five card versions of the game would later adjust these rankings due to the changing probabilities and additional hand combinations made possible by the extra cards.

An exciting betting game, brag is still played around the world and remained very popular in England well into the 20th century. The essence of the thrill of the game is in the battle between the players in terms of betting and bluff. It progresses in a similar way to today’s poker with the exception that in order to “see” an opponent’s hand a player must pay double the value of the previous bet. In the early 1990s an Englishman saw a gap in the market and endeavoured to convert this historical game into one suitable for the casino tables.

Casino Brag

The man who can take the credit for the invention and subsequent growth of casino three card poker is one Derek.J.Webb. Clearly a man with gambling, and poker in particular, close to his heart, Webb was a professional player prior to developing and marketing this game. Mr Webb realised that some elements of the game would be lost in its translation from one played between players to one against the house. Bluffing, checking and the double bet to “see” were all now redundant. To compensate for this Webb introduced the ante bonus and the pair plus side bet to boost the game’s appeal. He now had a product combining an already popular game with the casino player’s desire to stake small and potentially win big. Not forgetting the casinos of course, who would be attracted by the in-built house edge Webb had included. The former card shark now took his game to the market.

Three Card Poker/Tri Card Poker

Webb set up a company called Prime Table Games (PTG) to promote and sell the game. Initially targeting the UK market, Webb was forced to look further afield after running into regulatory issues. Las Vegas was the obvious destination. Again PTG struggled, this time due to an inability to persuade the casinos of Las Vegas, Reno or Atlantic City to get behind the new game. Not one to give up easily, Webb eventually managed to gain the support of a Mississippi-based casino. Grand Casino Gulfport was the first to take a chance on Webb’s creation. PGT continued to promote the game up until 1999, when an American company by the name of Shuffle Master bought the overseas rights to the game.

Recognising the potential of the product, Shuffle Master sought to make the game more appealing to the American market. The first step was to make the game more relatable by changing its name from Casino Brag to Three Card Poker. Whilst popular in Europe, brag was relatively unknown in the U.S. Changing the name, in combination with Shuffle Master’s better connections in the U.S. was to have a dramatic effect. The game exploded in America and is now played in casinos all around the world. It is the most successful new table game of recent times, achieving a popularity that has resulted in it also becoming a staple offering of most online casinos.

For Webb’s part he did at least achieve his initial goal of seeing his creation played in casinos in the UK. The relaxation of regulations in 2002 allowed the game to be played in his home country, where it also achieved great success. In addition it is now also included in the menu of many fixed odds gaming machines in betting shops throughout the British Isles, often going under its original name of brag.

The Future

With the increasing popularity of casino style gaming around the world, evidenced by the recent gambling explosion in Macau and the ever increasing numbers playing online, it is likely that Webb’s brainchild will continue to be experienced by millions for some time to come. The game itself may continue to evolve, a recent new feature offered by some providers is that of a progressive jackpot. This is an additional side bet where all bets go into a pot until a participating player is dealt a Royal Flush. Due to the rarity of the hand these pots can get to be very large, with million dollar jackpots having been recorded in Vegas. Who knows what advances the future will hold for this game which began its journey back in the 16th century?