Poker is one of the most popular card games of all time. Invented in the 19th-century New Orleans, USA, it has quickly spread all over the world. It is played in land-based and online casinos, for money, bitcoins, or fun, at huge public tournaments as well as in small private companies. This article lists six fun facts about poker that you probably did not know before.
1. “Dead Man’s Hand”, a combination of a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights, owes its name to Wild Bill Hickock. Wild Bill was a gunfighter and a folk hero of the Old West.
James Butler Hickock (1837-1876), otherwise known as "Wild Bill" Hickock, was, in fact, a jack of all trades: gunfighter, gambler, spy, drover, and actor. He made himself a legend, and the incredible tales of his exploits were already in circulation during his lifetime. He started his ruffian career as a stagecoach, at the age of eighteen, after he was forced to flee west to escape from justice. In the course of his tempestuous life, Bill had been mauled by a bear, served under General James Henry Lane during the Civil War, served as a scout in the Indian Wars, and killed numerous men in gunfights.
Wild Bill was shot in the back by Jack McCall on the 2nd of August, 1976, while playing five-card-stud poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon. The hand that he was holding at the moment of his death, a pair of aces, a pair of eights, and an unknown fifth card, became henceforth known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”.
2. A man once staked his wife in a poker game. Andrei Karpov, an avid gambler from Murmansk, was so desperate to continue the poker game after he had lost all his money, that he actually offered to stake his wife, Tatjana, instead of cash. Karpov’s opponent, Sergei Brodov, agreed to this unconventional wager and won the game. In fact, he later visited Karpov’s home to claim his winnings. Tatjana says, “It was humiliating and I was utterly ashamed." However, she was so angry with her gambling husband that she divorced him and married the winner. She later said that she had not regretted her decision: “Sergey was a very handsome, charming man and I am very happy with him, even if he did 'win' me in a poker game.”
3. Angola Prison Rodeo has a special event: The Convict Poker. For inmates sit down for this extremely risky poker game, and then a bull is released. The winner is the last man that remains seated at the table.
Angola Prison Rodeo, which began in 1964, is the USA’s longest-running prison rodeo. It was established at the initiative of Jack Favor (nicknamed “Cadillac Jack Favor”), a rodeo performer who was framed for a double murder but was later acquitted of them and even sued the State of Louisiana for wrongful imprisonment. Angola Rodeo remains a popular event that takes place in April and October when thousands of people visit Louisiana State Penitentiary (nicknamed "Angola" and "The Farm"). The Rodeo weekends include the Arts and Crafts Festival where the items hand-made by the prisoners are sold, the Bareback Riding competition, Barrel Racing, and the Wild Horse Race, among other exciting and dangerous events. The money raised at the Rodeo is used for the religious education programs for the inmates.
4. The longest-running game in the history of poker was held in the basement of the Bird Cage Theatre, Tombstone, Arizona. This game lasted non-stop 24 hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days. During that epic match, approximately $10,000,000 changed hands, of which 10% went to the house.
The Bird Cage Theatre combined a theatre and a gambling parlor, a saloon, and a brothel. It was in operation in 1881-1889. The place offered its clients varied entertainment, including the “Female Hercules” act performed by Alma Hayes under the stage name of Mademoiselle De Granville, who would pick up different heavy items with her teeth. There were also masquerade balls, performances by comic singers, acrobats, and even an actual opera singer, Carrie Delmar.
5. An underwater game of poker took place in 1951 in Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida. The players involved in this unconventional game session were Bud and Patsie Boyett, Dick and Shirley Woolery, and Thelma Halabuck. The group stayed underwater without any special equipment, only taking with them a table, chairs, and cards.
The idea of playing poker on the bottom of the sea was revived in 2017 when the Annual Lady Luck Underwater Poker Tournament was established. For this event, though, the players wear the scuba gear. The tournament takes place near the Pompano Beach, Florida, on board of the "Lady Luck", a sunken ship that is now part of the Shipwreck Park, 80 feet below the waves. The cards used in the game are waterproof, the chips are made of clay.
6. Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, used his poker winnings to fund his first election campaign when he ran for the House of Representatives. Despite having been raised in a Quaker family in which gambling was considered a vice, Nixon mastered the art of five-card stud poker game during his service in the navy. He watched the others play for weeks before asking James Stewart, a fellow officer, to teach him the rules. Nixon later said that he “found playing poker instructive as well as entertaining and profitable”. He quickly became a good player and made much more money from poker than he got as a monthly salary. According to the lieutenant James Udall, “he played a quiet game, but was not afraid of taking chances”.
Words: Jelena Schmidt