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The game of poker is one of the most enduringly popular gambling games in the world today. It first came to prominence on the Mississippi riverboats of the early 1900’s. Originally played with as few as 20 cards, the 52 card deck we know and love today quickly became the standard for nearly all forms of poker. Many variations have developed over the course of time. The version of the game on which Video Poker is based is commonly known as Five Card Draw.

The draw innovation of the game first became popular around 1850. It was also around this period that a standardised ranking of hands started to develop, including the additions of the straight and the flush. One of the primary attractions of poker is the combination of skill and luck it provides, together with the pitting of ones wits against fellow players. Nevertheless the mechanics of the game are so entertaining enough in their own right that attempts were made to create a version of the game that can be played against the house. With the popularity of slot machines it seemed a logical step to combine the gamblers’ love of poker and machine gaming.

Poker and Machines

The first poker gambling machine on record came way back in 1891. A mechanical machine rather the screen-based games we have today, the game featured five spinning drums each with 10 cards represented on them. The drums would spin much like an old style fruit machine and lock with five cards on display. These five cards would represent the player’s poker hand and he would be paid out accordingly.

Seven years after this a new machine was brought to market. This improved on the original by introducing a draw feature. The reels would spin as before, however if a player was unhappy with initial result he could choose to hold one or more of the reels and re-spin the remainder. It was pretty similar to today’s video poker machines but was still somewhat limited due to the complications of attempting to replicate a poker deal on a reels-based machine.

These early machines were popular in some clubs and bars but never really took off in a big way. The playing of poker on machines would not truly break out until the development of computer processors and video screens in the 1970’s.

Innovation: The Computer Age

The first personal computers began to appear in the mid 1970’s. Although almost laughably basic by today’s standards, they nevertheless possessed more than enough processing power to cope with the permutations possible in a deck of cards. The fact that these machines were now both cheap and reliable enough to be produced in large numbers, combined with the fact they could be linked up to a video style monitor, was key to determining that this was the time that video poker would emerge. It wouldn’t take long for someone to spot the potential gambling applications of the new technology.

The gentleman responsible for the birth of video poker is Mr Si Redd. He was working as a casino game distributor and had previously experienced success introducing many new slot style games to the casinos. However he was finding his new video poker project to be a tough sell. His employer Bally Casino were reluctant to sacrifice floor space allocated to the more standard slot games which were proving to be very successful. Undeterred, Mr Redd took on the patent for the game himself. He contacted Fortune Coin Company, who believed in the game, and agreed to mass produce a machine capable of providing it. The firm were in an advantageous position as they had already produced a video-based slot style game in 1975. They were able to successfully adapt their existing machine technology to concoct a basic but effective video poker terminal.

Video Draw Poker was introduced in 1979. Although not an immediate smash hit, by 1981 it was the most successful new game in town. A few tweaks here and there served to increase the popularity of the game. Perhaps the main one was the changing of the minimum hand requirement. In its early incarnations two pairs was the least a player needed in order to generate a payout. It didn’t take long for the game’s owners to change this to one pair of jacks or better being the lowest qualifying hand. To many this version of the game is simply known as “Jacks or Better” to this day. The impact of this increased regularity of payout was dramatic. The game has grown to such a degree that there are very few casinos around the world that don’t have some form of video poker as part of their offering.

Advancing technology has also played a part in the evolution of the game. The screens of the original game where much like that of a 1970’s computer with blocky graphics and giving out only basic sound. Contrast this with the full colour high definition screens of today and we can see how much the aesthetics of the machines have improved. As the appearance of the machines has become more attractive and inviting the game has continued to grow and grow in popularity.

With the evolution of gaming software, features such as the multi-hand option became possible. This enables gamblers to play up to 100 variations of the same hand in an instant, massively increasing the action and excitement of the game.

Fans of casino poker also found the video poker machines offered them something they couldn’t find at a real poker table. At a video poker terminal a player does not have the worry of having his decisions and play scrutinised by fellow gamblers. The privacy offered by machine play goes a large way towards explaining the popularity of slot gaming in general. For those looking for the excitement of a card-based game combined with the more solitary gaming experience of slots, the new video poker machines provided the perfect solution.

Going Online

Already being a screen-based game, video poker was transferred to an online setting more easily than some of the other casino games. Roulette, for example, required new software to be developed for the provision of the game in the virtual world. Since the mid 1990’s the software for video poker has become increasingly sophisticated. Gamblers around the world can now play almost any new or existing variation of the game from the comfort of their own homes and even on their mobile devices. Visit any online casino today and you will find video poker prominently featured.

Future Developments

The future for video poker will probably follow a similar pattern as the past with the staple versions enduring and regularly spiced up and enhanced by new interpretations. Possible variations of the game are only really restricted by the imaginations of the games’ designers. Some recent examples are the inclusion of a progressive jackpot feature similar to that used in Caribbean Stud.

One of the newer variants takes us back to the original slot poker game of the late 1800’s. Spin poker is a reels-based game, but, with modern technology, is much better equipped to replicate the poker experience than the five drum machine of 1891. The widespread popularity of the multi-hand feature has motivated the games’ developers to create a new twist on this aspect of the game. Multi Strike poker is a new version that enables players to play multiple different hands with escalating pay tables. Overall the future is bright for video poker due to its simplicity, player involvement and easy adaptability. It also offers one of the best deals to the gambler with upwards of 99% being the norm in terms of return to the player.