Edmond Hoyle 1672-1769

Poker? He never touched the stuff. But when it comes to laying down the law he’s the only name worth knowing

The Poker Hall of Fame at Binion’s Horseshoe, Las Vegas, boasts some of the most talented gamblers ever to play the game – and a sole Englishman, who not only never set foot in a Las Vegas cardroom, never played a hand of poker in his life either.

You can’t really blame the man – after all, he died half a century before the game was invented. Nonetheless, the importance of Edmond Hoyle to the world of cards (and by extension poker) is indisputable, as he was the first chap to set about the serious task of recording and systematising the rules of card games in the 18th century.

The full details of Edmond’s life are unclear. A sometime resident of London, it’s thought he trained to be a barrister – though perhaps not a particularly good one, as he had to supplement his income teaching Whist. In 1742 he knocked out his first technical work on card games, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, a handbook designed primarily as a teaching aid for his students. The work proved popular in the London card scene, helping to clear up many an argument and avoid a bout of fisticuffs, and Hoyle subsequently had it published. The Super System of its day, the book was an instant hit, and in ensuing years Edmond followed it up with several expanded versions and treatises on other games.

The collective works of Hoyle soon became accepted as the ultimate authority on game rules, and to this day, playing ‘according to Hoyle’ still means ‘playing precisely by the rules’. Indeed, the name carried so much sway that when the rules of poker were laid down in the 19th century, the expression ‘Hoyle Poker Rules’ became associated with honest and correct play – not bad for a bloke who died 50 years before the first hand was dealt.

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