Story behind Texas hold’em craze and the WSOP tournament

Jun 4, 2013 3:00 AM

A Heavenly Poker fan asked if we would write a column giving some historical background of the game of Texas hold’em. My friend, co-columnist George “The Engineer” Epstein, offered to help.

According to his book, The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS, the game of poker was introduced about 1,000 years ago by the ancient Persians under the name “nas.” The concept of betting was established in France during the 18th century and, shortly after, bluffing was created in England.

Over the years a lot of variations of poker have evolved, including draw poker, stud, Razz, and Omaha. None have gained the popularity now enjoyed by Texas hold’em. To a large extent, hold’em has replaced 7-card stud as the most widely played poker game.

It started in Texas

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, the Texas legislature takes credit for its state, and recognizes the city of Robstown as the birthplace of hold’em in the early 1900s. This is a very small city located near Corpus Christi.

Robstown also boasts of two notable professional football players, Gene Upshaw, former NFL player for the Oakland Raiders, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Marvin Upshaw, former NFL player for the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and the St. Louis Cardinals.

At first, the game was simply called hold’em. Later it became more firmly identified with the State of Texas.

Vegas and California

As the game gained popularity throughout Texas, later, in 1967, it was introduced into Las Vegas by a group of well-known Texas poker players who enjoyed gambling – Doyle Brunson (Texas Dolly), Amarillo Slim, and Crandell Addington.

Addington was certain hold’em would surpass the game of draw poker, which was the most popular at the time. He explained: “Draw poker you bet only twice; hold’em, you bet four times. That meant you could play strategically. This was more of a thinking man’s game.” Boy, was he ever right on the money!

Initially, in Las Vegas, Texas hold’em was played only at the Golden Nugget casino in downtown. Those were the early days when the Nugget poker room sported sawdust on the floors. The location catered to the locals so the game did not gain the prominence it deserved.

Then in 1969, pros were invited to play at a poker room set up near the entrance to the old Dunes casino on the Las Vegas Strip. And they loved it – especially the money they could win from the relatively inexperienced tourists visiting Las Vegas!

When the World Series of Poker, WSOP (originally named the Gambling Fraternity Convention) began in 1968, it featured several poker games, of which Texas hold’em was just one. In 1970, Benny Binion and his son, Jack, bought the rights to the convention, renamed it and brought it to their own casino, Binion’s Horseshoe.

A Las Vegas journalist, Tom Thackery, suggested the main event be no-limit Texas hold’em; and that’s been the case since as the WSOP grew in popularity, especially after it was popularized on television. Interestingly, the WSOP had only eight entrants in 1972.

Doyle Brunson’s historic poker book, Super/System, first published in 1978, may have been the first book that included Texas hold’em, discussing the game and strategies at length. The section written by Doyle Brunson and Bobby Baldwin predicted hold’em would become the “most popular form of poker” – and indeed they were 100% correct.

Al Alvarez’ famous book, The Biggest Game in Town, published in 1983, helped to gain wide interest in poker, and especially Texas hold’em. During the 1980s, casinos in California were very much interested in Texas hold’em. However, California laws prohibited the game until 1988, when Texas hold’em was declared legal. Then the game became increasingly popular throughout the state.

Finally Europe

In the early 1980s, two Las Vegas bookmakers, Terry Rogers and Liam Flood, introduced the game into Europe, where it quickly became well accepted. And the future of Texas hold’em appears quite rosy as more and more young people are drawn to the game either for recreation or as a career.

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