The origins of Omaha Hi/Lo poker
November 04, 2014 3:00 AM
by Robert Turner
I get asked all the time, “Did you really invent Omaha poker?” Well, here is the true story. I am credited with inventing the game, and this is how it came about.
In the South during the sixties we played some crazy games like Greek Hold’em at the Greek club in Memphis and Spit in the Ocean, both early versions of today’s Omaha.
I like to tell the story that everyone cheated in the South, and in our Hold’em games so many players were holding out that we did not have enough cards to deal. So I came up with the idea of giving everyone two extra cards so they could practice holding out. But the trick was they had to use two cards at the end.
That’s not quite the truth, but it is close.
I went to work for Bill Boyd as a poker host at the Golden Nugget in 1977 or 1978. We had become good friends, so he told me just pick out any job in the casino I wanted. I love poker, so a host position was perfect.
Fast forward to 1982. I was at a table talking to a friend of mine named Gwen from Seattle who had come out for the WSOP. We began talking about games that were more fun than Hold’em.
We both agreed four cards were better than two. You could use anywhere from two, three or all four from your hand. I said I like to use two, so we decided to see if the Nugget would let us promote the game just for fun.
Bill told me he had to call the Gaming Control Board to get it approved. That very same day he said the Board wanted to send a couple of agents to watch the game, so we started playing, and they soon arrived and sat behind me while I explained the game.
We started playing $5/$10 limit high only, and the game grew to five-handed, but after a few hours everyone was bored, so we raised the stakes to $10/$20, which was a better game. Someone suggested we play it pot limit. So around 7 p.m. it became pot limit and something very strange happened; the game filled up, and we had a board. The timing was perfect.
The players were from all over the country because the WSOP was starting in a day or so. The game never broke up, and it kept going for 30 days.
After the WSOP concluded, the game stopped, but Boyd liked it so well he said he would keep it going and promote it as a $2/$4 limit game and call it Nugget hold’em.
Around 1983 at the Super Bowl of Poker in Lake Tahoe, I met Poker Hall of Fame member Fred “Sarge” Ferris who asked if I would have a cup of coffee with him. He said, “Robert, see if you can get that four-card game started, and I will back you. Try to play as high as you want.”
Ferris handed me $10,000, which was a lot of money for that time. We started a $3/$5 pot limit game that created enormous action with a dentist from Arkansas who won $40,000. The game became a huge hit at the Super Bowl of Poker.
A few years later in 1986 when I was the general manager of a card club in Gardena, California, called the Horseshoe, I got approval for Omaha poker. I started a $1/$2 game with a round of high and one round of high-low split.
We had players coming from all over to play hold’em in California, so I spread the first pot limit hold’em game in the state and the first Omaha games.
We had players like Phil Hellmuth and Freddie Deeb playing on a regular basis. A young Phil would fly in to L.A., take a taxi to Gardena just to play Omaha and fly back the same day. In fact, the first World Championship of Omaha was a $500 buy-in tournament held in Gardena.
Omaha has become the second most popular form of poker in the world. I have only one regret: I didn’t patent the game I have promoted all my life. Nevertheless, the game has been good to me for over 30 years.
I have not stopped promoting Omaha. I convinced Hollywood Park Casino in Los Angeles to host a small buy-in Omaha tournament every Saturday, and they will soon be spreading a pot limit Omaha game.
I owe a huge thanks to all the Omaha players who have been true to the game we love. I hope to see my friends at the table, both old and new.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co- founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at robertt firstname.lastname@example.org.