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Old West Gunslinging Poker Players

SALVATORE APODACA - Friday, December 16, 2016
Old West Gunslinging Poker Players

There has always been a fascination with the Wild West. Popular television shows like Gunsmoke is where the famous quote “get outta Dodge” originated referring to villains to leave Dodge City, Kansas that became a household phrase in the 1960s and 70s. Actor John Wayne was the cowboy legend that stole the hearts of his audience on the silver screen and songs like Will Smith’s song Wild Wild West topped the billboard charts.

The Wild West also recognized as The Old West, is defined at the turn of the 19th century after the Civil War ended. This era was initially born between Texas and California eventually expanding all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Areas were sluggish along mining towns and desolate prairie settlements that were protected by local mountaineer. With the war over and plenty of discharged soldiers, an onslaught for corruption and crime erupted.

In smoky filled saloons liquor was overflowing and prostitution was prevalent. To pass time the likes of Wild Bill Hickock, Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok would sit down with their backs to the wall and a loaded gun strapped to their hip played poker in between shootouts and “soiled doves” (term for prostitutes). It became a serious business for players who needed financial resources.

Wild West Card Games


A deck of cards in the Old West era were smaller and had only twenty cards: A-K-Q-J-10 in the four standard suits we are familiar with today. These poker games started by dealing out the entire deck to each player, and until draw poker swept across the West, there was no such thing as a draw. Hands were made up out of what cards you were dealt, rather than drawing towards a better hand.

Poker winning hand combinations were also unique too, with “full” akin to a full house and “triplets” related to the three of kind variety and the Royal Flush. But poker wasn’t the only popular card game during the Old West. These games were popular too:

Three Card Monte – Three cards are placed face-down and quickly switched around, and the player must identify the card with the queen. While some establishments might have run a fair game, the potential for sleight of hand on the part of the dealer has made Three Card Monte a popular con game in the modern era.

Faro – This was among one of the most favored and prolific games partially because it was so easy to learn. A single deck was in play as wagers were placed on one dealer's card and one player's card that was drawn from the deck. Any bets on the dealer’s hand went to the house and players card was paid  in even money. Another option was a “high card,” a wager that the player’s card would be of a higher than dealer’s.

Brag – This is card game has similarities to poker but is much older dating back to the 16th century. There are 3 cards per player in play with the strongest hand winning.

Legendary Hands

Dead Man’s Hand - Just in case you have conjured up thoughts of a dead man playing poker, it isn’t quite as morbid as all that but nonetheless it the kind of story that will live on for centuries to come. It began on August 2nd, 1876; Wild Bill Hickok (inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979) entered Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10 in the mining camp of Deadwood and sat down to a game of poker. He was notoriously known as the deadliest gunmen in Old West and always sat with his back against the wall keeping a watchful eye on everyone who entered. Today though was different, after trying to trade seats with another player without no success he had no choice but to sit with his back to the door.

Tensions rose when John “Jack” McCall, the brother Hickok killed walked into the saloon. Rumors suggest the real motive for shooting him was because he was angry over a loan for breakfast Hickok offered him the morning before. McCall snuck up behind Hickok and shot him in the back of the head and was killed right there on the spot. At the precise moment, he was shot Hickok held in his hand a pair of aces and a pair of eights all black. Thus, has been coined the “Dead Man’s Hand” by players holding it.

Poker Alice – Originating from England to Colorado in the in the 1860s she was a quick learner of poker after watching her mining engineering husband play in the gambling halls. When her spouse passed away she was confident enough to try her hand at poker for a way to make ends meet. She amassed a small fortune for that time period of $5,000 when she retired. There was nothing dainty about her after shooting two men and killing one. She moved to New York and opened a brothel and card room.

There are countless compelling poker stories and impressive characters that have been the interest of card game enthusiasts across the country and around the world.

The Wild West left behind a history filled legacy, that has transcended over time in a more civilized manner today. There are now several poker variations which have expanded greatly over the years.Gamblers now congregate at plush land based casinos far away from saloons and brothels.

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