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  • Hold Me, Darling (Part 4)

    By Anthony Holden

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

    Texas Hold’em was introduced to Europe in the 1980s by the Irish bookmaker and poker entrepreneur Terry Rogers. Nicknamed the ‘Red Menace’ because of his ginger hair and bursts of belligerence, Rogers was one of the first Europeans to travel to Vegas each May for poker’s world series. At the 1980 event, he was the only bookmaker not to write off Stu ‘The Kid’ Ungar too soon, quoting him at 20-1 while all else were offering 100-1; Ungar went on to win the first of his three world crowns, beating Doyle Bruson in the heads-up.

    Back in Ireland, Rogers founded the Eccentrics Club in Dublin, where the inaugural Irish Open tournament saw Colette (‘Collect’) Doherty sent to Vegas as the first European, man or woman, to play in the World Series’ main event. Another Eccentrics Club member, carpet millionaire J.J. ‘Noel’ Furlong, went on to win the world title in 1999. Before his death that year, Rogers handed control of the Irish Open to his friend and partner ‘Gentleman’ Liam Flood, who really deserves to share the credit for introducing Hold’em to Europe. The advent of poker on television saw Flood, another bookmaker and professional poker player, become a popular tournament director; as a player he was a finalist in the first two series of Channel 4’s Late Night Poker and won the $125,000 first prize in the 2007 Party Poker European Open.

    Back in the US, the popularity of Hold’em was swiftly boosted by the advent of a tournament circuit, and the first few manuals offering tips on the game, by the likes of Brunson, David Sklansky, ‘Mad’ Mike Caro and Mason Mallmuth . In 1988 the game finally became legal in the casinos of southern California, spreading across the country to Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the early 1990s.

    John Dahl’s 1998 movie Rounders also, undoubtedly, played its role in the growth of Hold’em. Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich, it also used the players themselves to recreate the famous showdown between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel at the 1988 final table. The movie was the inspiration for the 2003 world champion, Chris Moneymaker, whose name alone – plus his amateur status, as in ‘If that guy can win it, anybody can’ – also triggered a poker boom symbolised by the sub-title of his 2005 memoirs: ‘How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker’.

    By then television had joined the internet in promoting Hold’em into the stratosphere, starting in Britain with the Channel 4 series Late Night Poker, which debuted in 1999; its pioneering format proved influential throughout the world, thanks to the system devised by the late Rob Gardner of seeing the players’ hole cards via a glass panel around the rim of the table. Across the Atlantic, the inventor of Transformer toys played a crucial role when he switched from chess to poker in his sixties because chess was giving him headaches; bored with ESPN’s coverage of the World Series, which simply pointed its cameras at a group of unhealthy-looking men playing cards, Holocaust survivor Henry Orenstein devised and patented the under-the-table camera, later known (because of its shape) as the ‘lipstick’ camera, which could also share the players’ hole cards with the viewer.

    ESPN or CBS Sports had been airing short segments on the WSOP since 1979. But the capacity to see hole-cards, allied with snappy graphics keeping tally of the pot, changing odds and so on led to an explosion of poker on cable television that turned the leading players into celebrities, – even, in some cases, brands – whom the average Joe could find himself sitting down next to at a tournament. Joe’s liability, what’s more, was limited to the buy-in, which he could win in a low-entry-fee satellite, usually online. The new economics of poker were born, and the biggest beneficiary was that most telegenic of all card games, Hold’em, where the flop sits handily beside the sponsor’s logo.


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

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