Over a beer or two, there’s always a healthy discussion brewing when people start talking about poker. Is it gambling or is it a sport? Is it still an underground thing or is it starting to go mainstream?

The answers won’t be found on the flop, turn or river; that we are sure of. Nor in every check, raise or fold; if we want to understand this game we must not only do the math but revisit the history of poker gaming in Asia and the global scene.

Poker Roots

Various sites offer different takes on the history of poker, both as a game and a form of gambling:

* From http://www.poker.com: A French game named “Poque” and a German game named “Pochen” became very popular in the 17 & 18th centuries, both developed from the 16th century Spanish game called “Primero”…

* From http://www.crapsdicecontrol.com: The history of Poker in the United States started in 1810 – 1820s. At that time Poker appeared in its original and simplest form…

* Still from http://www.crapsdicecontrol.com and their take on the European predecessors in the history of poker: It was played in France since 17th century. English pronunciation turned poque into poker. Besides the name similarity, French poque had the same structure of the game in betting, hand rankings and bluffing…

* From http://www.cardschat.com: The Chinese Emperor Mu Tsung introduced the game ‘domino cards’ in 969 A.D. and this is believed to be the oldest form of poker…

Ah, the French, the Germans, the Americans and the Chinese— all of whom have different stories on how poker came into this world; but everyone (and their stories) would have to agree that the game of poker which we know today is most probably a version of several different games from different corners of the globe.

The Rise of Poker in Asia, Despite the Odds

Despite being ancient compared to other sports and games, poker has seen its share of criticisms on being more of gambling than an actual sport itself. And this is especially true in Asia. Relative to their European and American counterparts, Asians have seen the struggle of poker go mainstream as some countries still have an unfavourable stance towards the game:

* Earlier this year, a http://www.cbsnews.com had this report:While neighboring Macau is known as the Las Vegas of Asia, casinos are illegal in Hong Kong, where the only legal forms of gambling are betting on horse races and football matches and a numbers lottery…

* Also earlier this year, http://www.cardplayer.com reported: The Ministry of Public Security in China has launched a six-month campaign to clampdown on online poker and gambling according to China Daily…

While there are rare cases of subjugation over poker in some countries, there’s a healthy pattern over the last few years in what looks like the start of the boom and boon of the Asian poker scene.

APT Becomes the Frontrunner

In 2008, the Asian Poker Tour (APT launched a pair of major tournaments under the same name. First stop was in Manila, Philippines where roughly 200 players signed up for the APT main event. David Saab, a Korean-born Australian became the first champion of the event. Then in the same year, Macau hosted the APT main event and saw the attendance figure rise to 257 players as Yevgeniy Timoshenko from Ukraine ruled the event.

The steady rise in attendance continued as the APT returned to Manila in January of 2009. Local player Neil Arce won the main event besting 261 other contenders. Then as action shifted back to Macau for the second leg of the year it was Frenchman Adrien Allain who came out on top outhustling the field which numbered to 326 players. Earlier this year in the APT Philippines, Michael Cua outlasted 225 players to win the main event for yet another title for a player from the host country.

This year, the Asian Poker Tour will go back to Macau this time with the City of Dreams and Hard Rock Hotel as the venue in a 9-day festival of poker. And with the rise of poker popularity in Asia, it is expected that the attendance again be record-breaking and the action at the tables unparalleled in one of the most prestigious poker events in the region.

The stories vary from one tour to another; or from one tournament to another; but history suggests that the game of poker is here to stay, if not indeed, to go mainstream, sooner than later.

By James Patrick Quizon
James Patrick Quizon, is a writer/editor working for Asian Poker Tour. For further information about the latest poker events in Asia, go to www.theasianpokertour.com