The origin of the name poker is not quite certain, but it most likely is an variation on the French game of poque, a bluffing card game that dates to at least 1752. The name of the French game, in turn, is from an older German card game known as Pochen, which dates to at least 1741. The -er ending in poker is a bit of a mystery. It may be from the French verb poquer, meaning to bet in a game of poque, or it could be an attempt to reflect a French pronunciation.
In any case, the earliest known English reference to poker dates to 1836 in James Hildreth’s Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains:
The M— lost some cool hundreds last night at poker.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton