Texas hold ’em (also known as hold’em or holdem) is a variation of the standard card game of poker. The game consists of two cards being dealt face down to each player and then five community cards being placed by the dealer—a series of three (“the flop”) then two additional single cards (“the turn” and “the river“), with players having the option to check, bet or fold after each deal, i.e. betting may occur prior to the flop, “on the flop,” “on the turn,” and “on the river.”
In Texas hold ’em, like all variants of poker, individuals compete for an amount of money contributed by the players themselves (called the pot). Because the cards are dealt randomly and outside the control of the players, each player attempts to control the amount of money in the pot based on the hand the player holds.
The game is divided into a series of hands or deals; at the conclusion of each hand, the pot is typically awarded to one player (an exception in which the pot is divided between more than one is discussed below). A hand may end at the showdown, in which case the remaining players compare their hands and the highest hand is awarded the pot; that highest hand is usually held by only one player, but can be held by more in the case of a tie. The other possibility for the conclusion of a hand is when all but one player have folded and have thereby abandoned any claim to the pot, in which case the pot is awarded to the player who has not folded.
The objective of winning players is not winning every individual hand, but rather making mathematically correct decisions regarding when and how much to bet, raise, call or fold. By making such decisions, winning poker players maximize long-term winnings by maximizing their expected gain on each round of betting.
Johnny Moss, Chill Wills, Amarillo Slim, Jack Binion, and Puggy Pearson outside of Binion’s Horseshoe in 1974. Although little is known about the invention of Texas hold ’em, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas, as the game’s birthplace, dating the game to the early 1900s.
After its invention and spread throughout Texas, hold ’em was introduced to Las Vegas in 1967 by a group of Texan gamblers and card players, including Crandell Addington, Roscoe Weiser, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim. Addington said the first time he saw the game was in 1959. “They didn’t call it Texas hold ’em at the time, they just called it hold ’em.… I thought then that if it were to catch on, it would become the game. Draw poker, you bet only twice; hold ’em, you bet four times. That meant you could play strategically. This was more of a thinking man’s game.”
For several years the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas was the only casino in Las Vegas to offer the game. At that time, the Golden Nugget’s poker room was “truly a ‘sawdust joint,’ with…oiled sawdust covering the floors.” Because of its location and decor, this poker room did not receive many rich drop-in clients, and as a result, professional players sought a more prominent location. In 1969, the Las Vegas professionals were invited to play Texas hold ’em at the entrance of the now-demolished Dunes Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This prominent location, and the relative inexperience of poker players with Texas hold ’em, resulted in a very remunerative game for professional players.
After a disappointing attempt to establish a “Gambling Fraternity Convention,” Tom Moore added the first ever poker tournament to the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention held in 1969. This tournament featured several games including Texas hold ’em. In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to this convention, renamed it the World Series of Poker, and moved it to their casino, Binion’s Horseshoe, in Las Vegas. After its first year, a journalist, Tom Thackrey, suggested that the main event of this tournament should be no-limit Texas hold ’em. The Binions agreed and ever since no-limit Texas hold ’em has been played as the main event. Interest in the Main Event continued to grow steadily over the next two decades. After receiving only eight entrants in 1972, the numbers grew to over one hundred entrants in 1982, and over two hundred in 1991.
During this time, Doyle Brunson’s revolutionary poker strategy guide, Super System was first published. Despite being self-published and priced at $100 in 1978, the book revolutionized the way poker was played. It was one of the first books to discuss Texas hold ’em, and is today cited as one of the most important books on this game. In 1983, Al Alvarez published, The Biggest Game in Town, a book detailing a 1981 World Series of Poker event. The first book of its kind, it described the world of professional poker players and the World Series of Poker. Alvarez’ book is credited with beginning the genre of poker literature and with bringing Texas hold ’em (and poker generally), for the first time, to a wider audience.
Interest in hold ’em outside of Nevada began to grow in the 1980s as well. Although California had legal card rooms offering draw poker, Texas hold ’em was prohibited under a statute which made illegal the now unknown game “stud-horse.” However in 1988, Texas hold ’em was declared legally distinct from “stud-horse” in Tibbetts v. Van De Kamp, 271 Cal. Rptr. 792 (1990). Almost immediately card rooms across the state offered Texas hold ’em. (It is often presumed that this decision ruled that hold ’em was a skill game, but the distinction between skill and chance has never entered into California jurisprudence regarding poker.) After a trip to Las Vegas, bookmakers Terry Rogers and Liam Flood introduced the game to European card players in the early 1980s.
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