Despite being one of the most popular poker variants played today, there’s almost an air of mystery surrounding the origins of Texas Hold’em, given that nobody actually knows when this version of the card game was first conceived.
Poker itself is thought to have originated from the Persian game of As-Nas, according to the 1837 edition of Foster’s Complete Hoyle, a literary publication of the day which discussed all manner of popular table games. The author, R.F. Foster postulated that given the dealing of “five cards to each player from a twenty-card pack,” there were undoubtedly striking similarities between the two games.
Although other historians have since dismissed such origins, the Persian card game undoubtedly spread to Europe along trading routes, eventually inspiring similar games like “Poque” in France, “Pochen” in Germany, and even “Poca” in Ireland. Given such names, it’s not hard to relate the similarities in name at least, if not the particular format of each game.
The traditional game of poker was already common in the United States by the early 1800s, having apparently spread along Mississippi riverboat routes during that era, and with gambling one of the most popular pastimes aboard vessels during journeys. As poker became more widespread and the gambling culture grew, so did the number of variants and particularly during the American Civil War, including stud poker as a five-card variant.
Thought to have emerged in the early 1900s, while the exact dates remain shrouded in mystery, at least we can be clear about the precise location where the game is believed to trace its roots. Officially, the small town of Robstown in Texas is credited with being the birthplace of Texas Hold’em poker, according to Texas State Legislature archives at least, claiming the location as being the first where a hand of this variant was ever dealt.
First Steps to Fame
While it’s fair to say that Texas Hold’em remained pretty obscure for the next several decades, certainly beyond the boundaries of the state which gifted the name, that gradually began to change when the game was introduced to the gambling mecca of Las Vegas. It was here that Hold’em first appeared in 1967, when renowned poker connoisseur Crandell Addington declared the game as being more refined than other variants, due to the skill and strategy involved.
Along with Addington, other prominent poker players of the era were attracted, including Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson, who regularly hosted games at the Golden Nugget. This venue was perhaps considered to be a little on the seedier side, compared to many other prominent casinos at the time. However, when these games of Hold’em moved to The Dunes casino, right on The Strip itself, that’s when professional poker players began to take notice.
Amidst early attempts to establish high-stakes poker tournaments included the Gambling Fraternity Convention. When this was subsequently bought by father and son team Benny and Jack Binion, it was truly a milestone for poker. The Gambling Fraternity Convention was renamed as the World Series of Poker, which inevitably caught the imagination.
When the very first WSOP tournament was hosted at the Horseshoe in 1970, several poker variants were included at the inaugural event. At the suggestion of journalist Tom Thackrey, it was Texas Hold’em and with no-limit wagering that became the headline event henceforth, principally because of the unique strategies and bluffing involved in this variant was more exciting, especially amongst participants.
The Hold’em Boom
Regarded as one of the most famed poker players on the tournament scene, not to mention being successful at more than a few high-roller tables, Doyle Brunson decided it was time to give Texas Hold’em the publicity he felt the game so richly deserved. As an expert in the game, when he wrote and published Super System in 1978, his guide to strategies and how to play was an instant hit, generating widespread appreciation and the desired interest he sought.
After the book had elevated the profile of Texas Hold’em, the next crucial step came with California legal battle through the 1980s, where the game remained illegal. In the famous case of Tibbetts vs. Van De Kamp, the court resolved that Texas Hold’em was actually a game of strategy, rather of chance, which is why the State of California had deemed it illegal in the first place. From that point, the boom continued as the game spread far and wide.
By the time that communications technology had made online casino gaming such a phenomenon, and with increased coverage of the WSOP, of all poker variants Texas Hold’em was by far the most popular. Whether at the gaming tables or at online poker venues, this was the variant of choice for novices and amateurs alike, all because while it’s a variant which quite literally anyone can play, it’s also one that requires patience and skill to truly master.
Irrespective of its mysterious origins and without knowing who actually invented Texas Hold’em poker, we’ve so much to thank them for. They created an authentic and challenging game of wits, strategy, and excitement. No two games are the same, fortunes can change in an instant, which are perhaps the magic ingredients that will keep this variant at the forefront of poker gaming for years to come.