Zyra's website //// The Game of Poker //// The word POKER //// Site Index

Poker Etymology

The Etymology of the word "POKER" (as in a game of cards)

The derivation of the word "poker", the name of a game of cards, has nothing to do with fire-irons. Online word definition sites were sometimes disappointing on the subject, so I decided to try to find a proper trace of where the word comes from. I have an advantage in this, as I have a multi-volume old library-edition of The Oxford English Dictionary. It's a weighty piece of work, and has erudite definitions, etymologies, and amazing citations.

On the word "poker", it has this...

Oxford English Dictionary 1961: "Poker: Chiefly U.S. [Origin uncertain. Cf. German poch, also pocha, pochen, pochspiel, a similar bluffing card-game of considerable age, from pochen to boast, brag, literally to knock, rap]. A card game, popular in America, a variety of BRAG, played by two or more persons, each of whom, if not bluffed into declaring his hand, bets on the value of it, the player who holds the highest combination of cards as recognized in the game winning the pool".

Citations are included, for example "1855 Geo. Eliott in Cross Life 'One night we attempted Brag or Pocher', 1856 Mas. S.T.I. Robinson Kansas 'Jones and others came in at night and played poker at twenty-five cents ante'", and various other 19th Century references.

Although this says "origin uncertain", I think that 1855 citation is a pretty good clue.

Now let's look at a modern definition of the German bluffing card-game poch / pocher and see how likely it is to be the source of "poker".

Bear in mind, the "ch" in German is pronounced like ch in the Scottish work "Loch", so it's plausible that folks in the Wild West could hear a German say "pocher" and retranslate it as "poker".

Pochen / Pocher / Poch, modern definition according to Wikipedia.de ...

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poch : "Poch, Pochen oder Pochspiel, fr. Poque ist ein sehr altes Kartenspiel, das bereits im Jahre 1441 in Straßburg erwähnt wurde. Französische Auswanderer brachten das Poque nach Amerika, wo sich im 19. Jahrhundert daraus das Pokerspiel entwickelte – im Namen Poker, von englisch to poke ist das französische Poque unschwer herauszuhören. Ein dem Poch verwandtes englisches Spiel ist Pope Joan." ... "Wer ein "Kunststück", d.h. zwei oder mehr Karten vom gleichen Rang besitzt, darf sagen: "Ich poche!" und dabei eine beliebige Anzahl von Marken in die Pochrubrik des Brettes setzen. Wer den Pocher mit einem besseren Kunststück – es zählen nur Gevierte, Gedritte und Paare – glaubt überbieten zu können, sagt: "Ich halte!" und setzt die gleiche Anzahl Marken, er kann aber auch nachpochen und den Einsatz erhöhen. Hält er jedoch ein ihm wenig aussichtsreich erscheinendes Blatt, so wird er es vorziehen zu passen und aus dieser Spielphase aussteigen. Danach kommt nach demselben Muster der dritte, vierte etc. Spieler an die Reihe zu setzen – genau so wie bei den Wettrunden im Poker-Spiel".

Although German isn't my strong point, I'm going to have a go at translating that, with the help of both Google Translate and Yahoo Babel Fish...

"Pound, Knock, or Pochspiel, fr Poque is a very old card game that was already mentioned in 1441 in Strasbourg. French emigrants brought the game of Poque to America in the 19th century. From it developed the game of poker. For English speakers, the name "Poker" from the French "Poque" is not difficult to hear. A game of Poch related to the English game is 'Pope Joan'"

"If a player possesses "a trick" (Kunststück), ie two or more cards of the same rank, they may say: "I insist!" (or "I knock!"), and set it to any number of marks in the Pochrubrik (column) of the board set. Whoever is the Pocher (poker) with a better hand-of-cards (Gevierte, Gedritte, and Pairs), believes pairs over-bid to be able to say "I hold!" and uses the same number of marks, but may also opt to raise the stake. However, if it's "hold", to him it is appearing a little more promising, and he will prefer to fit and get out of this phase of the game. Then comes along the same lines, the third, fourth, etc. players to put on the series - just like the rounds of betting in the poker game".

(If you have a better translation, please write in).

Whoever wrote that Wikipedia article, in a somewhat poetical style in German, was reasonably sure the ancient game of Poch lead on to modern Poker. It seems quite convincing in the description of the game, and in consideration of the similar sound of the words, and the way in which words from other languages are typically flattened into Americanesque English, for example cucaracha = cockroach. I have heard of brag being a game of cards, and I have heard of other games of cards in which a player has to "knock". The descriptions of the challenge statements such as "I insist!" with the response of "I hold!" have similarities with the game of poker.

If you would like to play poker, I recommend being sensible and only gambling what you can afford to lose. The game is supposed to be fun. See poker resources at this site. Good Luck!


Oxford English Dictionary 1961, 13 volume full-size library reference edition, bought from a public library that was having a sale.

Wikipedia.de http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poch

Yahoo Babel Fish

Google Translate

Also well done to Google for starting to be sensible about good pages like this.