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  • Hold Me, Darling (Part 1)

    By Anthony Holden

    Anthony Holden’s new poker strategy manual, HOLDEN ON HOLD’EM, is published today by Little, Brown. By way of celebration, BiggerDeal.com is proud to present an exclusive, five-part extract chronicling the origins and history of the variant now known as Texas Hold’em.

    ‘This is poker?’ asked an incredulous Life magazine on 16 August 1968. Inside an issue leading on the Nixons and the Agnews, a partnership that would last all of five years, there lay buried an article introducing mainstream America to something rather more enduring: a ‘wild’ new variant of its national game of poker, called ‘Hold Me’. Above a colour photograph of no fewer than twelve men crowded around a green-baize table, most of them wearing suits and ties amid a profusion of splashed chips, exposed cards and overflowing ashtrays, the magazine sniffed that ‘the decorous mob scene below looks more like a group therapy séance down at the poker-chip factory.’

    There were several other names for this radical new variation of America’s favourite pastime : originally called Hold Me Darling, it had already bred regional variations such as Tennessee Hold Me, and – in Texas only – Texas Hold’em. ‘It started somewhere in the South or Southwest a few years ago,’ according to Life, ‘and is threatening to catch fire with the rest of America’s 47 million poker addicts, who bet an estimated $43 billion yearly.’

    The magazine went on to explain the rules of ‘Hold Me’. ‘The game’s fascination lies in the number of players involved – up to 22 can play. This leads to big action and huge pots, both dear to all gambling card-players, and to great precision in analysing hands, especially dear to brainy poker experts.’ Alongside the article was an explanatory piece by the Alabama poker authority A.D. Livingston, which presciently declared: ‘I believe the game is a major event in the history of poker and I predict it will replace stud for the rest of the century.’

    If he could have foreseen the 21st Century advent of the internet and televised poker, Livingston might well have added: ‘and beyond, way beyond’ – despite Cassandra-like predictions in the early 1990s from the poker pundit Mason Malmuth that ‘There will be a decrease in the number of major tournaments… No-limit hold’em will be a game that a few old-timers will remember.’

    This late Sixties issue of Life magazine is Exhibit A for anyone investigating the origins of Hold’em, the game that has so comprehensively monopolised the poker community during the TV and internet boom of the early 21st Century. Exhibit B is an essay by Texas oilman and high-stakes player Crandell Addington, in Super/System 2, the ‘Bible’ of poker manuals edited by Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson – world champion of poker in 1976-77, doyen of living players, and the man who christened Texas Hold’em ‘the Cadillac of poker games’.

    Addington was among the Texan ‘road players’ who first played Hold’em in and around San Antonio in the early 1960s, when poker was still illegal in all American states but Nevada and California. He adds his own name, as well as those of his fellow ‘roadies’ Brunson, Bryan ‘Sailor’ Roberts, Johnny Moss, Amarillo ‘Slim’ Preston and Jack ‘Treetops’ Straus to that of Felton ‘Corky’ McCorquodale, the man traditionally credited with introducing No Limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE) to Las Vegas in 1963. Addington insists that the game did not arrive at Benny Binion’s downtown Horseshoe casino, as poker legend would have it, but across the street at the Golden Nugget card-room then run by Bill Boyd.

    Boyd’s room at the Nugget was an authentic ‘sawdust joint’ – red-flocked wallpaper on the walls, and oiled sawdust covering the floors. ‘It didn’t exactly attract the same number of high-roller casino patrons that the Strip casinos reeled in by their thousands,’ recalls Addington. This meant there was ‘very little opportunity to catch a drop-by player or “producer” [‘fish’, in modern parlance; see Glossary] at the poker room.’

    But Sid Wyman, the boss of the Dunes, was one entrepreneur who could see the game’s potential, not least as a spectator sport. In 1969 he invited these Hold’em pioneers to play a high-stakes no-limit game just outside the entrance to the Strip hotel-casino’s main showroom – opened in 1955 by Hollywood musical star Vera-Ellen, by then hosting a Welsh-Irish-German opera singer born Jim Haun who had changed his name to the more exotic ‘Rouvan’. Here, says Addington, ‘we were able to catch lots of drop-ins’ – occasional players to whom poker still meant five-card stud, not least the Dunes’ majority owner, who went by the name of Major Auterburn Riddle.

    TO BE CONTINUED…

    Extracted from Anthony Holden’s new poker strategy guide, HOLDEN ON HOLD’EM, published by Little, Brown on 6 November.

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