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  • Hold Me, Darling (Part 5)

    By Anthony Holden

    Anthony Holden’s new poker strategy manual, HOLDEN ON HOLD’EM, was published last 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.

    If the first version of poker arrived in the United States in the 1820s, imported by French sailors landing in Louisiana, it took another hundred and fifty years for ‘community card’ variants to catch on. Then, just as the poker revolution was catching fire in the early 21st Century, a Texan dealt a lethal blow to the game invented in his home state.

    On 13 October 2006 – Friday the Thirteenth, or ‘Black Friday’ as it soon became known in the poker world – President George W. Bush signed into law an outrageous piece of legislation that at least temporarily crippled online poker in the US. The ‘Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’, which rendered it illegal to transfer funds between online gaming sites and financial institutions from banks to credit card companies, had been cynically sneaked through Congress in the early hours of Saturday 30 September 2006, on the last vote before both Houses rose for the mid-term elections.

    In a nakedly opportunist move, apparently designed to appease the religious right and other fundamentalist voters, Senate majority leader (and then presidential hopeful) Bill Frist attached the anti-gaming act to the completely unrelated ‘Safe Ports Act’, a ‘war on terrorism’ measure which passed on a mere voice vote. It made little difference to US politics – the Republicans lost control of the House, anyway – but it dealt a lethal blow to online poker, which the legislation treated as a game entirely of luck, like craps or roulette.

    As far as Texas hold’em was concerned, the wretched Bush acquiesced in this fundamental assault upon a game of supreme skill invented in (and indeed named after) the state of which he had once been Governor. The consequences are still with us, perhaps to be resolved by the next occupant of the White House. The first was to see the number of entrants in the world championship event of the 2007 World Series of Poker fall for the first time in the event’s thirty-eight-year history.
    Nine months later, nonetheless, on 11 May 2007, the Texas State Legislature formally passed Resolution 80(R) HCR 109, declaring:

    WHEREAS, The popularity of the poker game Texas Hold’em has increased dramatically over the past several years, and each day untold numbers of peope throughout the world play this exciting game of skill, intuition and good old-fashioned luck; and

    WHEREAS, A true phenomenon of our time, Texas Hold’em has taken the world by storm, captivating countless card enthusiasts with its deceptively simple format; whether betting and bluffing across casino tables and kitchen tables, raising and folding in the virtual world of online card rooms, or moving ‘all-in’ at charity poker tournaments, poker players everywhere have embraced this fascinating and challenging game; and

    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, and from there it travelled northward in the hands of ‘rounders’ and up the sleeves of cardsharps who quickly recognized the game’s potential for mass appeal; and

    WHEREAS, Poker legends such as Crandell Addington and Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson helped further popularize the game in and around Texas in the 1950s, and they and others eventually brought Texas Hold’em to Las Vegas, where it was first played at the Golden Nugget casino in 1967; three years later, the inaugural World Series of Poker was held at the Horseshoe Casino, featuring no-limit Texas Hold’em to determine the world champion, and that annual tournament has continued to grow in both size and stature with each passing year; and

    WHEREAS, The popularity of hold’em has no doubt been spurred by the advent of online gaming and by the broadcast of televised poker tournaments, most notably the World Series of Poker’s ‘Main Event’, a $10,000 no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament that attracts top poker professionals, talented amateurs, celebrities, and poker wannabes from around the globe hoping to become the next world champion of poker; and

    WHEREAS, It is said that Texas Hold’em takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master, and this telling statement underscores the high level of skill necessary to win consistently; a successful Hold’em player relies on reason, intuition and bravado, and these same qualities have served many Texans notable well throughout the proud history of the Lone Star state; now, therefore, be it

    RESOLVED, That the 80th Legislature of the States of Texas hereby formally recognize Robstown, Texas, as the birthplace of the poker game Texas Hold’em.

    There is no evidence beyond this eyebrow-raising document that Texas Hold’em dates back to the early 1900s; and nothing but ‘tradition’ to suggest that the first hand was dealt in the small, south-east Texas town of Robstown, a suburb of Corpus Christi in Nueces county. Robstown was not even founded until 1906, when it was named for a prominent son of Corpus Christi, Robert Driscoll.

    Johnny Moss, never the most reliable of witnesses, claimed to have played Hold’em in the 1930s. In his forthcoming book The Story of Poker, James McManus will suggest that Hold’em arrived in Dallas, the ‘unofficial gambling capital’ of Texas, around 1925. ‘No one knows for sure where and when the first hand of hold’em was dealt,’ he has already written in Card Player magazine. ‘One plausible guess is that a dozen or so Texas ranch hands wanted to play a little stud, but found they had only one deck. The most creative cowboy must’ve got to thinking: If five cards were shared by all players, as many as twenty-three of them could be dealt two-card hands…’

    McManus quotes Moss claiming to have played limit at the Elks Club and no limit at the Otters Club, both in Dallas, in the 1930s. But he also points out that, when the authoritative Oswald Jacoby on Poker appeared in 1940, it mentioned ‘no game called or resembling Hold’em’. The same goes for Foster’s Complete Hoyle, which appeared in 1963. Five years later, the A.D. Livingston who introduced the game to America in that 1968 issue of Life magazine, could not find a single reference to Hold’em, or even Hold Me (Darlin’), in his extensive collection of poker books.

    But let the Texas legislators have their self-regarding moment in the sun; at least they called Hold’em a game of skill, thus belying the law enacted by their pal Bush – which was all but endorsed in the UK by an absurd court ruling (jn the Crown’s case against London’s Gutshot Club) adjudging poker to be a game of luck because the deck is shuffled before the deal. If Texas Hold’em is a game of luck, how come you see the same players at final tables month in, month out? How come so many expert players make a handsome living from the game?

    Luck (or chance) is but one element of poker; much of the skill lies in knowing how to minimize it. That, among many other things, is what this book will attempt to teach you.

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

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    Comment from Johnny Hughes
    Time: November 10, 2008, 4:20 pm

    The greatest words here about Hold ’em are “deceptively simple.” That accounts for the booms, busts, and the self-delusion that brings the money into the game.

    I had the honor of being staked by Johnny Moss and also bought by Oswald Jacoby in a bridge tournament Calcutta. Moss could barely read. Jacoby was the most brilliant man I was ever around.

    Jacoby opened his 13 card bridge hand, glanced at it without sorting, and then played the whole hand without looking back, just pulling out cards, which changed the order. He played as fast as possible, which led opponents to mistakes.

    He could remember all the hands from key tournaments for decades.

    He could look over the score sheets, add them up in his head and announce the winners long before they were added up.

    Several game book authors were code breakers in WW 2. Oswald Jacoby. Alfred Sheinwold. Herbert O. Yardley.

    Jacoby’s book on gin is a must for guys hanging around Country Clubs and Golf courses. He wrote about poker, backgammon, gin, canasta, bridge, and probability.

    Oswald Jacoby was smarter than and different from any man I have ever known.

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