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Cowboys poker

Cowboys in the Old West mainly played poker

Cowboys in the Old West seldom played poker

Smokey Saloon

The image most people conjure up of the Old West when thinking of how the cowboys spent their leisure time is a smokey saloon with a table of grim faces, all intent on betting the farm on that one last hand.

This picture is so common it's been depicted since the silent black and white dawn of the Western movies.

However, it turns out not to be accurate. Sure, there were saloons, piano players and colorful dancing girls, as well as the card tables surrounded by gamblers. But were these cowboys playing poker? It turns out probably not, because whilst poker did exist as a card game at the time, the most common one by far was called "Faro"

Faro then poker

Faro was the most popular card game in the 1800's, but was overtaken by poker from the 1900's. Of course, there weren't as many cowboys around then, but the movie industry was just starting up. Fresh in the minds of the early pioneers would have been the excitement, both good and bad, of the way the west was won, and since poker was more popular at the time these movies were being made, it's a natural step for the creators to assume it would have been played in the saloons they were depicting on film.

faro 500x350


The actual origin of poker isn't so clear. The popular notion is that it came from a game in Persia called as-nas, which varied from only having 20 cards to having 5 suits, or extra's to the familiar King, Queen etc such as a Soldier or a Dancer. Other suggestions are Bragg from England, Poque from France and Poca from Ireland.

Texas hold 'em

One thing that is certain is the variant known as Texas Hold 'em officially started in 1925 in Texas. From that date, it's popularity spread throughout Texas - but no further - for 40 years. This was way outside the Old West times. Only after this time, when it hit Vegas just as it exploded as the gambling capital of the world, did it become the world famous pastime we know today.

That journey wasn't trouble-free, however. In the late 1960's not one casino on the main strip would allow poker on their premises. Crandell Adderley eventually persuaded one casino - The Golden Nugget - to run tables in 1967, but at the time it had a poor reputation and wasn't on the main strip. Not until two years later did it make it there, at The Dune, where it was a huge hit and caught the attention of a big name in Vegas - Benny Binion. After he'd bought the Gambling Fraternity Convention,  he moved to use it to further promote the game we know as Texas Hold'em poker. He was well aware of it's lofty sounding name, so gave it a new one which would give it a much wider appeal: The World Series Of Poker. From that date to the 90's it only grew bigger, and found a natural home with the birth of the internet as the millennium turned.

Dogs playing poker

This Mandela Effect has a curious parallel. There's a famous painting of dogs playing poker which many are sure had one wearing a dealer's hat, but no trace of this can be found today.


When poker was played in the Old West, it was different to the one we know today. For a start it was simpler, where you played the cards you were dealt only - similar to stud. There was a variation called "Jackpots" which was similar to Five Card Draw, and was the game "Doc" Holliday played, and was the one "Wild Bill" Hickok was playing when he was killed by Jack MCall.

This Mandela Effect is more along the lines of the "popular misconception" type with traceable origins, i.e. more of an MMDE than a Mandela Effect. Once the movie business popularised it, the notion became ingrained with no-one having a need to question it, so it just ran and ran until the myth became so part of the legend it was taken as read. Also, there can hardly be anyone around today who remembers poker being played out there in those days...