By being one of the easiest variants to learn combined with being almost tailor-made for audiences, Texas Hold ’em is one of the most popular poker games today. While most historians agree the game was, in fact, born in Texas, the specific creation story is still shrouded in mystery. To understand the origins of Texas Hold ’em, we must go back to where poker itself began.
New Orleans, the birthplace of poker
Despite the popularity of Texas Hold ’em in the state it’s named after, Texas poker rooms are technically prohibited. Even so, there are more than 50 currently operating in the state. As of yet, there is no specific law outlawing them.
According to the National League of Poker, “The direct ancestors of poker were traced back to the 1800s in the French Quarter of New Orleans. No doubt brought over by French sailors who played a game called ‘As,’ meaning ace. The English played a card game, ‘Brag,’ and like most things American, the culture combined. The two games made the one game called ‘Pogue,’ in which they played with 20 cards.”
As poker grew in popularity across the US, it became part of our nation’s history. During the Civil War, it kept the soldiers occupied during downtime. After the conclusion of the war when the nation reunited, America’s collective focus returned to westward expansion. And poker went along for the ride.
During the Gold Rush, Five Card Stud was the choice of gamblers, played in saloons across the West.
From Draw and Stud comes Hold ’em
Draw poker, where players can discard and draw new cards to strengthen their hand, is believed to have originated in New Orleans in the early 1800s. While it remains a popular variant today, and the vehicle by which many new players get introduced to poker, stud poker soon overtook it in popularity.
Stud poker, where each player has a certain number of cards face up and a certain number face down, is said to have originated in an Ohio saloon. According to poker.com,
“A game of draw poker was underway, with one player having already bet his last cent. The man obviously had a good hand and was so determined to stay in the game that he put his cards down on the table, ran outside and led his horse back into the saloon.
“He tied the reins to the back of his chair but immediately realized his mistake – he had left his cards on the table and was pretty sure that the other players had taken a look. The man was determined to play on and so suggested that in the interest of fairness, all the other players turn three of their cards face up, discard two, and draw two more face down. He then said that he would get his prized stud horse on his chances.”
If stud is the child of draw, then Texas Hold ’em, with its two hole cards and five “community cards,” seems like a natural offspring of stud. But where most people agree on the origins of draw and stud poker, some say “hold on” when it comes to the birthplace of Texas Hold ’em.
Hold ’em: Minutes to learn, a lifetime to master
An old poker expression declares: “Texas Hold ’em takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.”
With simple-to-understand rules, it’s a game that most players quickly pick up. However, understanding the various playing and betting strategies when it comes to Hold ’em is significantly more difficult. Another complicated component is the game’s origin story.
It is generally agreed upon that Texas Hold ’em showed up in Las Vegas casinos in the early 1960s. At first, it was played in areas off the casino floor, where it languished for several years.
Eventually though, it got centered in the limelight when gambling legend Benny Binion invited seven of the world’s best poker players to his iconic Horseshoe Casino to play it in the first World Series of Poker tournament. The buzz about Texas Hold ’em after that tournament made it spread like wildfire throughout Vegas casinos and beyond. But where had it come from before it appeared in Vegas?
Does a resolution make it right?
“WHEREAS, The game’s invention dates back to the early 1900s when it is traditionally held that the first hand of the popular card game was dealt in the city of Robstown.”
It was with those words, and several more, that Texas House member Abel Herrero declared Robstown, TX, as the official birthplace of Texas Hold ’em in the form of a resolution passed by the Texas State Legislature in 2007. Mystery solved, right? Not so fast.
Doubt set in when it was discovered that Robstown is Herrero’s birthplace. Secondly, several of poker’s most infamous players told stories of playing the game in other parts of Texas. According to pokernews.com, Johnny Moss, the “Grand Old Man of Poker,” recalled first playing Hold ’em in Dallas clubs around 1930. Pokernews.com also lists other references to people playing Hold ’em in Dallas in the 1920s.
Poker legend Doyle Brunson, who cut his teeth playing in poker games across Texas, said he first played the game in the 1950s. He mentioned it in his 2009 memoir, The Godfather of Poker.
“Round about 1958, I first learned about a game called Hold ’em. Some thought Hold ’em originated in Waco, although I’ve heard it said that Hold ’em might have begun in Corpus Christi.”
No matter its specific origin, most historians agree that Texas Hold ’em was born in the state for which it is named. Perhaps one day there will be one origin story that everyone can agree on.
Until then, there is little doubt that Texas Hold ’em can attribute its popularity to being easily understood and exciting for both players and audiences alike. And it should reign as the king of poker for a long time to come.