When I was a kid (long ago in the previous century) and we played poker for fun or pocket change none of us knew of such a thing as an "all-in" bet. If somebody raised you and you didn't have the funds to call you had to fold. Likewise, in movies I have seen depicting poker, normally informal, unregulated games, and games taking place in the 19th century, it seems to be a common theme of somebody not being able to call a large bet and having to resort to finding some valuable heirloom on them such as a gold watch that the other players will accept in lieu of the required call amount in order to continue playing their hand.

Obviously, the lack of an all-in bet allows a player with an early lead to apply unfair pressure by forcing a player even with the best hand to fold if they are behind on chips. But in my (admittedly limited to Google) research I haven't found any definitive answers on how long the "all-in" bet has been around, or whether there was a time frame in which players unable to call a bet due to lack of chips were required to fold. Wikipedia does seem to support the idea that table stakes aren't quite as old as poker itself:

Open stakes is the older form of stakes rules, and before "all-in" betting became commonplace, a large bankroll meant an unfair advantage; raising the bet beyond what a player could cover in cash gave the player only two options; buy a larger stake (borrowing if necessary) or fold. This is commonly seen in period-piece movies such as Westerns, where a player bets personal possessions or even wagers property against another player's much larger cash bankroll.


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    I wrote that Wikipedia text. Such games did exist, but table stakes games were still more common even in the early years of the game. Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 2:57
  • @LeeDanielCrocker Well, that's quite a coincidence that I would find the text you wrote on Wikipedia shortly before coming back and seeing your answer here...
    – user1934
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 3:05
  • @LeeDanielCrocker Still, I get opposite impressions reading the Wikipedia text versus your answer... "open stakes... is the older... before "all-in" betting became commonplace." I can definitely accept that table stakes had completely supplanted it by 1905, but that's at least a hundred years after early variants reached the Mississippi river.
    – user1934
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 3:10
  • Poker isn't much older than the 1820s, but there were similar betting games before then. It is not well-documented precisely which being rules were in common use then. Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 3:19
  • But if such a rule were ever in place, someone would simply buy-in with more than anyone else on the table, then bet all-in on every single hand and win all the money. That does not make any sense. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


"Table stakes" rules are essentially as old as poker itself. My copy of Foster's Practical Poker (1905) says that some games would allow borrowing or going to pocket, but even then going all in was more common. There was an extra important rule: if you borrowed or went to pocket in order to raise, you were no longer allowed to go all in if reraised, but had to go to pocket to call or fold.

TV and movies get a lot of things wrong, most notably string raises and WAY too much table talk.

  • updated my question to reflect some evidence I have found that suggests open stakes are older than table stakes...
    – user1934
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 2:52
  • yes, string bets are particularly annoying...
    – user1934
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 3:07
  • I'll accept on the premise that table stakes were the rule at least by 1905.
    – user1934
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 5:25

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