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“A Little Hold’em History” by Alan25main

May 8, 2018

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Ron Pittenger, known by Alan25main on Replay Poker, writes a guest post for us this week, detailing how he first heard about Texas Hold’em. Poker has changed quite a bit over the past century, and this format that was largely ignored just a few decades ago has become a worldwide sensation. Read on!

“The first time I ever heard of Hold’em poker was about the spring of ​’​74. A men’s magazine, perhaps Playboy, ran a story about how Puggy Pearson had just won the 1973 World Series of Poker’s final event, the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em tournament. The article explained how the game was dealt with only two cards in the hand​, and the rest were dealt as community (shared by all players) cards on the board. The article stated that up to 22 players could participate in the same hand of poker, assuming a table large enough could be found.

I passed the article along to some friends. We all agreed it sounded like an incredibly stupid way to play poker. Of course, none of us had ever seen it played at the time. Had anyone suggested it and its cousin, Omaha, would one day dominate the game, we’d have laughed at them.

The idea of community (shared) card games was unorthodox, but not without precedent. In the old days, when Seven card stud was king, sometimes a full game would use so many cards that the final card (or, very rarely, two) would have to be dealt to the table as a common card for all the remaining players to share. Even earlier, a draw game called Spit in the Ocean only had four cards in the hand and one card dealt to the board in common; the common card and all others of its rank were usually wild. Both of these games were dated back to at least the 1920s for Spit and the 1890s for Seven stud (both may be older). So, community cards were not an unknown, just an uncommon occurrence.

Hold’em appears to have combined the community card concept with reducing the number of private cards in the player’s hands. Once known as Hold Me Darlin’, at least according to legend, Hold’em dates ​to ​at least to the late 1960s, but may have been played much earlier. A cousin game called Cincinnati, which also used five community cards (but had five private cards, as well—think of Omaha except you can use the best five of the whole ten cards! Hands tended to be VERY high or VERY low; this is the game I grew up as a poker player with), was often played as high-low split and was in rule books dating to the 1930s. Nobody was keeping records, so we’ll probably never know for sure when or where it originated.

By the late 1980s, Hold’em games were being offered in all Las Vegas casinos and most card rooms wherever poker was legal. Home and club games would catch up slowly over the next 20 to 30 years, and by about 2015, S​even stud high was difficult to find in a casino setting (there are still Razz games of seven stud low). Draw poker, once a very popular game, has virtually disappeared from all but private home games.

Our game has evolved. We’ll have to evolve with it, or like the dinosaurs, go extinct.”