The world of poker is one that has been in a state of flux for some time. In its early days on the Mississippi riverboats where the game was arguably born, the 20-card pack (Aces through tens of the four suits) dictated that the game of poker was a four-player game. As the U. S. Civil War began, there was the need to have more players in the game (to allow for more action?), thus the 52-card deck was introduced and Five- and Seven Card Stud became the games that were played. This was the way it was…at least until the 20th century.
Sometime around the 1920s or 1930s – the exact date isn’t known – something called Texas Hold’em was invented. It changed the game literally in that, instead of receiving five or seven cards of your own, you now only received two cards but had five others on “the board” – the community cards used by all the players – to help build your best hand. It was a stunning switch from the previous incarnations of poker and quickly became successful.
Since those early days, Texas Hold’em has become the poker “game of choice.” When Benny Binion was looking for the Championship Event of his newly created “World Series of Poker,” Texas Hold’em was the game played. When online poker was created, Texas Hold’em was the game that the masses flocked to. As the 21st century gets into full stride, there’s a challenger on the horizon and it does make one ask if Texas Hold’em is still the “game of choice.”
Omaha Hold’em, Anyone?
The game that seems to be “sweeping” the community – if you can call a few decades “sweeping” – is Omaha Hold’em. Where the game exactly came from is unknown (much like Texas Hold’em, although Robstown, TX, has claimed its birth), but casino executive Robert “Chipburner” Turner is credited with bringing it to the casinos on or about the late 1970s/early 1980s. The late Bill Boyd offered it first in Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and the rest, as they say, is history.
While it was introduced in the States first, Omaha earned its initial inroads into poker overseas. Europe became the location to play the game primarily and it slowly worked its popularity back online with the high stakes crowd (anyone remember the “Dwan Challenge?” Omaha was a part of that). Slowly, Omaha began to work its magic on the U. S. poker crowd and nowadays it is a solid part of any tournament poker schedule and cash games are run worldwide.
So Why the Change?
When it first came out, Texas Hold’em was recognized for the psychological element that was brought to the game. With the Stud games, the information was pretty much in front of the players through the up cards, giving plenty of information to those players who were smart enough to remember the action and put the puzzle pieces together. When Texas Hold’em came about, it brought different nuances to the game.
With the lack of information, players could now employ different tactics and strategies in the game of poker. This psychological shift in the game – it arguably could be said that Stud poker was science where Hold’em was artistry – was enough of a catalyst to make Texas Hold’em the game for decades.
How Robert Turner came up with the simple idea to add two cards to Texas Hold’em and ramp up every aspect of the game needs to be etched in stone. By putting in the rule that ONLY two of the four cards in the player’s “pocket” could be played opened up untold options. And when you put in the Hi/Lo option of the game, you’ve added to the excitement even more.
And perhaps that’s the reason for the beginning of the shift to Omaha…
Texas Hold’em, in its day, provided a great deal of action in that players would sometimes chase those hands that, logically and statistically, they shouldn’t have been chasing. But this knowledge wasn’t readily available for decades (for those that hadn’t read Doyle Brunson’s Super/System). As online poker became bigger and players could play in a year what it took Brunson a lifetime to build in experience, then the gap between the “best” players in the world and the “gamblers” began to shrink.
Think back to 2001. Online poker was in its infancy and the game of poker, for the most part, was still the domain of a subculture of gamblers and professional cardsharps. A brief 17 years later, there are probably 15-year old’s that have played more total hands of poker than Brunson has played in his life. Wherever a poker tournament is played, the gap between the best player in the room and the worst is quite miniscule. The reason? Poker players have studied Texas Hold’em more, learned the odds and the proper plays to make, and there aren’t as many “gamblers” left in the game.
With Omaha Hold’em, however, there is a whole new world for players to discover. Four cards – especially if a player is skillful in hand selection – present so many more options when paired with the proper board. But those same four cards also present something to the unskilled player, the “gambler.” It offers a chance to get some “action” going and, with the increased four card pocket, there are a multitude of options available. Add in that there are still many players in poker that don’t fully understand the game of Omaha Hold’em (trust me, I’ve seen plenty of players try to use one or three of their hole cards in a hand) and it makes Omaha a gambler’s dream.
Who Has It? Omaha or Texas?
It’s a question that doesn’t have a definitive answer. Poker is a game that different people have different reasons for playing. For some it is the mental challenge, for others it is the opportunity to “gamble it up.” There is one question that all should be asking themselves, if not now then perhaps 30-40 years into the future…