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The game of poker was developed some time during the early 19th century in the United States. Since those early beginnings, poker has grown to become an extremely popular pastime throughout the world.

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19th century[edit]

Officers of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry playing cards in front of tents. Petersburg, Virginia, August 1864

In the 1837 edition of Foster's Complete Hoyle, R. F. Foster wrote: 'the game of poker, as first played in the United States, five cards to each player from a twenty-card pack, is undoubtedly the Persian game of As-Nas.' By the 1990s some gaming historians including David Parlett started to challenge the notion that poker is a direct derivative of As-Nas.[citation needed] There is evidence that a game called poque, a French game similar to poker, was played around the region where poker is said to have originated. The name of the game likely descended from the Irish Poca (Pron. Pokah) ('Pocket') or even the Frenchpoque, which descended from the Germanpochen ('to brag as a bluff' lit. 'to knock'). Yet it is not clear whether the origins of poker itself lie with the games bearing those names. It is commonly regarded as sharing ancestry with the Renaissance game of primero and the French brelan. The English game brag (earlier bragg) clearly descended from brelan and incorporated bluffing (though the concept was known in other games by that time). It is quite possible that all of these earlier games influenced the development of poker as it exists now.

A modern school of thought rejects these ancestries,[1] as they focus on the card play in poker, which is trivial and could have been derived from any number of games or made up on general cardplay principles.[2] The unique features of poker have to do with the betting, and do not appear in any known older game.[1] In this view poker originated much later, in the early or mid-18th century, and spread throughout the Mississippi River region by 1800. It was played in a variety of forms, with 52 cards, and included both straight poker and stud. 20 card poker was a variant for two players (it is a common English practice to reduce the deck in card games when there are fewer players).[3] The development of poker is linked to the historical movement that also saw the invention of commercial gambling.[4][5]

English actor Joseph Cowell[6] reported that the game was played in New Orleans in 1829, with a deck of 20 cards, and four players betting on which player's hand was the most valuable. Jonathan H. Green's book, An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (G. B. Zieber, Philadelphia, 1843), described the spread of the game from there to the rest of the country by Mississippiriverboats, on which gambling was a common pastime. As it spread north along the Mississippi River and to the West during the gold rush, it is thought to have become a part of the frontier pioneer ethos.

Soon after this spread, the full 52-card French deck was used and the flush was introduced. The draw was added prior to 1850 (when it was first mentioned in print in a handbook of games).[7] During the American Civil War, many additions were made including stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. Further American developments followed, such as the wild card (around 1875), lowball and split-pot poker (around 1900), and community card poker games (around 1925).

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Early books discussing poker[edit]

  • Hildreth, J. (1836) Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains, Wiley & Long, New York: mentions poker
  • Green, Jonathan H. (1843). Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling, Philadelphia: Zieber
  • Cowell, Joe (1844). Thirty Years Passed Among the Players in England and America
  • Anners, Henry F. (1845) Hoyle’s Games: refers to Poker or Bluff, 20-deck Poker, and 20-deck Poke
  • Bohn, Henry George (1850) New Handbook of Games: stated the rules of poker in print for the first time
  • Dick, Willium B. (1866) The American card player
  • Trumps (1868) The Modern Pocket Hoyle New York: Dick & Fitzgerald
  • Steinmetz, Andrew (1870) The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims, London: Tinsley Brothers
  • Schenck, Robert C. (1872)Rules for Playing Poker, private circulation
  • Winterblossom, Henry T (1875) The Game of Draw Poker Mathematically Illustrated
  • Blackbridge (1875) The Complete Card Player

20th century[edit]

Poker Room at the Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Developments in the 1970s led to poker becoming far more popular than it was before. Modern tournament play became popular in American casinos after the World Series of Poker began, in 1970.[8] Notable champions from these early WSOP tournaments include Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Bobby Baldwin, Doyle Brunson, and Puggy Pearson. Later in the 1970s, the first serious poker strategy books appeared, notably Super/System by Doyle Brunson (ISBN1-58042-081-8) and Caro's Book of Poker Tells by Mike Caro (ISBN0-89746-100-2), followed later by The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky (ISBN1-880685-00-0).

By the 1980s, poker was being depicted in popular culture as a commonplace recreational activity. For example, it was featured in at least 10 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as a weekly event of the senior staff of the fictional ship's crew.[9]

Two significant events in the late 1980s led to the first poker 'boom'. In 1987, California legalized the flop games of hold'em and Omaha, as well as stud. Previously only draw games were allowed. While there were more poker games in California than anywhere else before this, the number of games and the action hold'em brought both increased dramatically. Cavernous poker rooms like the Commerce Casino and the Bicycle Club began operating in the LA area.[10] In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA),[11] which legalized casino games on Indian lands. Poker rooms began rapidly opening within a few short years. Limit Texas hold'em was the most widely played game by far in the west, and seven card stud was the most widely played game in the east from the late 1980s until 2003.[12]

In the 1990s, poker and casino gambling spread across the United States, most notably to Atlantic City, New Jersey.[13] In 1998, Planet Poker dealt the first real money online poker game. In 1999, Late Night Poker debuted on British television.[14]

21st century[edit]

Poker's popularity experienced an unprecedented spike at the beginning of the 21st century, largely because of the introduction of online poker and hole-card cameras, which turned the game into a spectator sport. Not only could viewers now follow the action and drama of the game on television, they could also play the game in the comfort of their own home. Broadcasts of poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour brought in huge audiences for cable and satellite TV distributors. Because of the increased coverage of poker events, poker pros became celebrities, with poker fans all over the world entering into tournaments for the chance to compete with them. Television coverage also added an important new dimension to the poker professional's game, as any given hand could now be aired later, revealing information not only to the other players at the table, but to anyone who cared to view the broadcast.

Following the surge in popularity, new poker tours soon emerged, including the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour, both televised, and the latter sponsored by online poker company PokerStars. Subsequent tours have since been created by PokerStars, such as Latin American Poker Tour and Asia Pacific Poker Tour, as well as other national tours. Beginning in 2003, major poker tournament fields grew dramatically, in part because of the growing popularity of online satellite-qualifier tournaments where the prize is an entry into a major tournament. The 2003 and 2004 World Series of Poker champions, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer, respectively, won their seats to the main event by winning online satellites.[15] In 2009 the International Federation of Poker was founded in Lausanne, Switzerland, becoming the official governing body for poker and promoting the game as a mind sport. In 2011 it announced plans for two new events: The Nations Cup, a duplicate poker team event, to be staged on the London Eye on the banks of the River Thames and 'The Table', the invitation-only IFP World Championship, featuring roughly 130 of the world's best poker players, in an event to find the 2011 official 'World Champion'.

After the passage of the UIGEA in October 2006, attendance at live tournaments as well as participation in live and online cash games initially slowed; however, they are still growing and far more popular today than they were before 2003. The growth and popularity of poker can be seen in the WSOP which had a record 7,319 entrants to the 2010 main event.[16] The only nations in Europe that prohibit live poker are Norway, Poland and Albania, according to Dagbladet in 2011.[17]


  1. ^ abReuven and Gabrielle Brenner, and Aaron Brown, A World of Chance: Betting on Religion, Games, Wall Street, Cambridge University Press (2008), ISBN978-0-521-88466-2
  2. ^Stephen Longstreet, Win or Lose: A Social History of Gambling in America, Bobbs-Merrill (1977), ISBN978-0-672-52253-6
  3. ^Aaron Brown, The Poker Face of Wall Street, John Wiley & Sons (2006), ISBN978-0-470-12731-5
  4. ^David G. Schwartz, Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, Gotham (2007), ISBN978-1-59240-316-5
  5. ^Timothy O'Brien, Bad Bet : The Inside Story of the Glamour, Glitz, and Danger of America's Gambling Industry, Crown Business (1998), ISBN978-0-8129-2807-5
  6. ^Williamson, G. R. (15 May 2012). Frontier Gambling. G.R. Williamson. ISBN9780985278014. Retrieved 16 December 2018 – via Google Books.
  7. ^Henry G. Bond (ed.), Bohn's New Handbook of Games, Henry F. Anners (1850)
  8. ^'World Series of Poker: A Retrospective'. 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
  9. ^'Poker & Pop Culture: 'Star Trek: The Next Generation''. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  10. ^Badger, Steve. 'California Hold'em Poker - Texas Holdem Comes to California Poker'.
  11. ^'Industry Overview'. Indian Gaming: The National Information Site of the American Indian Gaming Industry. Liberty Lake, Washington: ArrowPoint Media, Inc. 2017. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  12. ^'WSOP NEWS: A WILDER RIDE'. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  13. ^'United States of Poker: New Jersey'. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
  14. ^'Late Night Poker: About the Show'. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
  15. ^'Chris Moneymaker on'. 1975-11-21. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
  16. ^'WSOP 2010 Results - World Series of Poker Champion Jonathan Duhamel'. 2011-01-22. Retrieved 2011-01-22.
  17. ^LøvikSivilingeniør, DEBATTINNLEGGPål Skønberg (15 September 2011). 'Legaliser poker'. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
Retrieved from ''
Alas Smith and Jones
Also known asSmith and Jones
GenreSketch comedy
StarringMel Smith
Griff Rhys Jones
Chris Langham
Rowan Atkinson (Episode 1, Season 1 and Episode 4, Season 10) (Guest)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series10
No. of episodes62
Running time30 minutes
per normal episode
Production companiesBBC
Original networkBBC2 (1984–88)
BBC1 (1989–1998)
Original release31 January 1984 –
14 October 1998
Preceded byNot the Nine O'Clock News (1979–1982)

Alas Smith and Jones is a British comedysketch television series starring comedy duo and namesake Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones that originally ran for four series and two Christmas specials on BBC2 from 1984 to 1988, and later as Smith and Jones for six series on BBC1 until 1998. A spin-off from Not the Nine O'Clock News, the show also had a brief run in the United States on A&E and PBS in the late 1980s, as well as on CBS in the early 1990s during their late-night block.


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The show's creation followed the ending of Not the Nine O'Clock News in 1982. Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson followed individual career paths, whilst Smith and Jones opted to form a double act instead.[1]

The first post-Not… appearance as a duo was in a short sketch in the BBC1 comedy special The Funny Side of Christmas[2] in 1982, where Jones played a complete stranger who annoyed hospital patient Smith to the extent that Smith's character walked out in a rage, leaving Jones's character to enjoy Smith's Christmas gifts.

Shortly afterwards the BBC offered the pair their own show, with much of the material written by themselves with help from a large team of other writers. The show's title was a pun on that of the American television series Alias Smith and Jones, which was very popular in Britain.


The show continued along lines similar to Not…, using taboo-breaking material and sketches in questionable taste (as well as bad language). It also featured head-to-head 'duologues' between Smith and Jones. It shared several script writers with Not the Nine O'Clock News including Clive Anderson and Colin Bostock-Smith, and used Chris Langham as a cast regular, while also using Andy Hamilton, which helped keep the show to a consistently high standard.[3]

The head-to-head sketches were very much in the Pete and Dud mould, with Smith playing the idiot who knew everything and Jones the idiot who knew nothing. The format of the head-to-head with similar characters was used by Smith and Jones in a series of commercials.


The final full series to be produced solely by the BBC was series 4 in 1987, also the last series to be broadcast on BBC2. Starting from the 1987 Christmas special, The Homemade Xmas Video, the show became one of the first to be produced for the BBC by an independent production company, TalkBack, of which Smith and Jones were founding directors. Series 5 in 1989, the first series to be broadcast on BBC1, was the first full series of the show to be produced by TalkBack for the BBC.

Smith and Jones would later sell TalkBack to Pearson Television, by then owners of Thames Television, in 2000 for £62 million.[4]Pearson PLC sold Pearson Television to CLT-UFA in 2001 to form the RTL Group. Pearson Television was renamed FremantleMedia and its UK division took the Thames Television name.[5] The operational departments of TalkBack and Thames were later merged to form Talkback Thames in 2003; initially each brand continued to be used on screen, but eventually all productions used the Talkback Thames name.[6] However, in 2011 it was announced the individual brand names would return and 'Talkback' is now once again used solely for comedy productions.[7]

Episode guide[edit]

The show ran for ten series across 14 years, each comprising six 30-minute episodes.[1]:

Alas Smith and Jones (BBC2)[edit]

  • Series 1: 31 January 1984 – 6 March 1984
  • Series 2: 31 October 1985 – 5 December 1985
  • Series 3: 18 September 1986 – 23 October 1986
  • Series 4: 15 October 1987 – 26 November 1987
  • The Homemade Xmas Video: Christmas Special 1987 (23 December) [8]
  • Alas Sage and Onion: Christmas Special 1988 (21 December) [9]

Smith and Jones (BBC1)[edit]

The show moved from BBC2 to BBC1 starting from the fifth series in 1989, and at the same time 'Alas' was dropped from the title.

  • Series 5: 16 November 1989 – 28 December 1989
  • Series 6: 22 November 1990 – 3 January 1991
  • Series 7: 22 October 1992 – 3 December 1992
  • Series 8: 6 September 1995 – 18 October 1995
  • Series 9: 19 June 1997 – 24 July 1997
  • Series 10: 9 September 1998 – 14 October 1998

The World According to Smith and Jones (1987–1988)[edit]

In early 1987, between series 3 and 4 of Alas…, the duo produced a six-part series for London Weekend Television called The World According to Smith and Jones. The BBC was not happy about the move to a rival and came close to not renewing their relationship.[citation needed] Reviews for this series were mixed; critics did not know what to make of it.[citation needed] Smith and Jones soon appeared back with the BBC for a fourth series later that year.

Despite the criticism, The World According to Smith and Jones returned for a second six-part series in 1988, but then disappeared from the schedules without a repeat (unlike the first series, which was repeated in battle against the BBC in late 1987).

  • Series 1: 11 January 1987 – 15 February 1987
  • Series 2: 16 January 1988 – 20 February 1988

Smith and Jones in Small Doses (1989)[edit]

Smith and Jones in Small Doses was a series of four comedy playlets[10] shown on BBC2 from 19 October 1989 to 9 November 1989, each written by a different comedian or screenwriter. It was the last show the duo made for BBC2, broadcast shortly before the fifth series of Smith and Jones (the first shown on BBC1).

  1. The Whole Hog by Graeme Garden: 19 October 1989[11]
  2. The Boat People by Griff Rhys Jones: 26 October 1989[12]
  3. Second Thoughts by Anthony Minghella: 2 November 1989[13]
  4. The Waiting Room by John Mortimer: 9 November 1989[14]

The series was repeated a year later on BBC2 from 25 October 1990 to 15 November 1990, albeit in a completely different order (The Boat People, The Whole Hog, The Waiting Room, Second Thoughts).[15]

The Smith and Jones Sketchbook (2006)[edit]

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Following on from the success of The Two Ronnies Sketchbook the previous year, Smith and Jones returned in 2006 with The Smith and Jones Sketchbook.

The six-part series consisted primarily of Smith and Jones introducing highlights from the show's original run from 1984 to 1998. Some of the classic head-to-head sketches were updated with new material written especially for the programme.[16]

The series was broadcast on BBC One on Friday nights at 9:30 p.m., from 21 April 2006 to 26 May 2006.[17] It has not been repeated since its original broadcast or released commercially.

Commercial releases[edit]

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In 1991, a compilation of footage from series 5 and 6 was compiled for a VHS release—simply titled Smith and Jones. The second video released in 1993 featured footage from series 1 to 4, particularly from the second series. A compilation DVD release The Best of Smith and Jones was scheduled for 8 August 2005 by the BBC, but has been delayed many times and is unlikely to be released.

However, in October 2009, FremantleMedia released a two-disc set titled At Last Smith and Jones - Volume 1. This contained compilations of the first four series, as well as the two Christmas specials, 'The Homemade Xmas Video' and 'Alas Sage and Onion'. The first of these has a scene cut, presumably for music clearance reasons, but the latter has an additional scene removed from the initial broadcast. The scene involves a plane crash, and the special was first broadcast mere hours after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The set also includes the complete 1989 series Smith and Jones in Small Doses. Volume 2 was prepared at the same time as the first release, featuring newly-edited highlights episodes from the later Smith and Jones era plus the unbroadcast sitcom pilot Three Flights Up, but has yet to see release.

Tie-in books included The Smith and Jones World Atlas (a humorous gazetteer of the world's countries), Janet Lives With Mel and Griff, and The Lavishly Tooled Smith and Jones Instant Coffee Table Book (co-written with Clive Anderson), which was designed to look as if it could be made into a coffee table.


  1. ^
  2. ^'The Funny Side of Christmas - BBC One London - 27 December 1982'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  3. ^'Mel Smith obituary'. The Telegraph. 21 July 2013.
  4. ^'Pearson TV buys TalkBack'. BBC News Online. BBC. 14 June 2000. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  5. ^Waller, Ed (20 August 2001). 'Pearson TV becomes FremantleMedia'. C21Media. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  6. ^'Talkback and Thames in tie-up'. Broadcast. 17 February 2003. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  7. ^Conlan, Tara (23 November 2011). 'Talkback Thames to be split up'. The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  8. ^'The Home-made Xmas Video - BBC Two England - 23 December 1987'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  9. ^'Alas Sage and Onion - BBC Two England - 21 December 1988'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  10. ^'Rhys Jones, Griff (1953-) Biography'. BFI Screenonline. British Film Institute.
  11. ^'Smith and Jones in Small Doses - BBC Two England - 19 October 1989'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  12. ^'Smith and Jones in Small Doses - BBC Two England - 26 October 1989'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  13. ^'Smith and Jones in Small Doses - BBC Two England - 2 November 1989'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  14. ^'Smith and Jones in Small Doses - BBC Two England - 9 November 1989'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  15. ^'Search results for Smith and Jones in Small Doses'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  16. ^'BBC - Press Office - The Smith & Jones Sketchbook'. BBC. 3 April 2006. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  17. ^'Search results for The Smith & Jones Sketchbook'. BBC Genome. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015.

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External links[edit]

  • Alas Smith and Jones at BBC Online Comedy Guide
  • BBC Two - Alas Smith and Jones at BBC Online Programmes
  • BBC One - Smith and Jones at BBC Online Programmes
  • BBC One - Smith and Jones Sketchbook at BBC Online Programmes
  • Alas Smith and Jones/Smith and Jones on IMDb
  • The World According to Smith and Jones on IMDb
  • Smith and Jones in Small Doses on IMDb
  • The Smith and Jones Sketchbook on IMDb

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