The Three Forgotten Card Games That Inspired Poker



Poker is the king of card games with a history to match. Its history in America is well documented, from the riverboats of the Mississippi to the modern televised poker championships of Vegas. However, poker was inspired by several other games that originated in Europe and Asia, now long forgotten. Today, we’re taking a look at them.

Poker Today

Today, poker is the most popular card game in the world. Even culturally, no other game has been represented more in media. With Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha Hold ‘em leading in popularity, there are many other ways to play poker, with more being invented as time goes on.

The latest example of this would be through the internet. After solitaire became a household favorite, the internet and iGaming allowed real players to challenge one another to games. iGaming is still going strong today, with the largest sites facilitating poker, slots and other activities, as can be seen with the Jackpots at Paddy Power. While there will always be a desire to hold real cards in your hands, an increasingly digital world means that poker and other casino games have found a new home online.


That brings us to our first historical card game – As-Nas. As-Nas is one of the earliest and most distant ancestors of poker, a Persian card game played with beautiful tarot cards. As explained by HowStuffWorks, there has always been a link between tarot and card games.

The cards were ordered by social class, including a king, a lady, a soldier, and a musician. That’s right, the Persians were responsible for creating the first face cards in the world. Reportedly, the game was played across five suits with 25 cards in total, intended for a maximum of four players. As-Nas was gradually replaced with European equivalents, though it lasted a lot longer than you may think, surviving in Iran up to the 1940s.


Those European equivalents included Primero, a 16th-century Renaissance game that also inspired modern poker. It went by many different names depending on specific regional languages, though you can probably guess what it means – prime. We don’t know if we have the Spanish or the Italians to thank for this one, though the way cards are scored is consistent with other Italian games like Primo Visto.

Primero was very popular, earning a mention in some of Shakespeare’s works and having the first known card game rulebooks published about it. It’s still possible to play this through Italian games like Goffo (a variant of Gilet) or Scopa. This is because elements of Primero persist in these games despite the game itself, and the name, falling out of fashion.


Lastly, Brelan is yet another poker ancestor that doesn’t get played anymore. Originating from 15th Century France, it shares DNA with Primero and Gilet. Card enthusiasts might know what Brelan became after hitting England – the game called Brag. While bluffing was present in older games, Brag is generally thought to be what solidified deception as a valid means to win the game, with the word brag replacing a bet or a raise. It encouraged the poker face before poker.

Played with a 32-card pack, Brelan players had a hand of three cards and just one on the table, which they needed to make the brelan carre – four of a kind. Brelan eventually became Bouillotte, which inspired open-card stud poker. Meanwhile, Brag survived as Three-Card Brag and can still be played today.

If you combine all three of these games, you essentially get poker. Each one has a distinct, shared lineage that can be tracked from Asia to Europe, and then the early American poker scene in the Mississippi.

Tyler Darby

Tyler Darby