Omaha could overtake Hold’em as most popular poker game

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Texas hold’em originated in Texas in the early 1900s. Much later, in 1967, it was introduced to Las Vegas by Doyle Brunson, Crandell Addington, Amarillo Slim, and others.

Addington described it as “a thinking man’s game,” considering the opportunities it offers to play strategically. Perhaps that’s why the game eventually replaced seven-card stud as the players’ choice.

In Vegas, at the start, Texas hold’em was played only in the downtown Golden Nugget. The game remained relatively obscure until 1969 when a Texas hold’em tournament was held in the lobby of the Dunes casino. Probably due to the prominence of the location on the Strip, the tournament proved to be a financial success and launched its rise to fame.

A major factor was the start of the WSOP in 1970. Benny and Jack Binion bought the rights to the Gambling Fraternity Convention, changed its name to the World Series of Poker, and moved it to Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. Then, under Binion’s domain, the next WSOP event included Texas hold’em.

Since the second WSOP in 1971, the main event has been no-limit Texas hold’em. The number of entrants was small at first, but grew steadily over the years. Today, thousands of people compete in the main event.

The game became incredibly popular when an amateur player, CPA Chris Moneymaker, won $2.5 million in the 2003 WSOP No-Limit Texas Hold’em Main Event. He had gained his entry by winning a $39 buy-in satellite tournament! This “Cinderella story” inspired more people to learn the game.

Omaha threatens

Now Omaha, relatively new to the poker world, is threatening to dislodge it as the top game. Omaha was first introduced in the early 1980s by poker celebrity Robert Turner (a GamingToday contributing columnist). It was played at the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas and first known as Nugget Hold’em because of its similarity to the game of Texas hold’em. A few years later, Turner introduced the game into the Los Angeles poker arena.

Turner also is responsible for introducing World Team Poker (poker’s first professional league), as well as the popular Legends of Poker tournaments and “Live at the Bike,” webcast from the Bicycle Casino. Turner has been named All Around Player in four different decades, and has won over $2 million at the tables, finishing as high as sixth place in the 1994 WSOP Main Event.

Like Texas hold’em, Omaha was slow to gain acceptance, but the last few years have seen it becoming second only to Texas as the preferred game in many venues across the U.S.

A paradigm shift

Omaha is rapidly gaining in popularity at the expense of Texas hold’em. Based on its recent introduction to the poker world, you might expect Omaha would be preferred primarily by the younger players.

We old geezers are quite comfortable playing Texas hold’em, after spending several decades learning the game and trying to develop the pertinent skills. Change comes the hard way for us older folk!

But, judging from our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group, about one-fourth of them now prefer playing Omaha/8. That’s a hi-lo game, with the pot split between the best high hand and the best low hand, 8 or lower. If there is no qualified low hand, the high hand wins it all.

Omaha is exciting and challenging. A player could go for high or low – or both. He could have draws to several different hands at the same time. Example: In one hand, a player might have draws to a flush, a straight, and a full house using different combinations of his holecards and the community cards.

There are basic differences between Omaha and Texas hold ‘em. Each player is dealt four holecards instead of two. The betting rounds and layout of the community cards are identical. At showdown, each player’s hand is his best five cards using exactly two of his holecards plus exactly three of the five community cards.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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