If you visit the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame at the Stevens Institute of Technology you will see such celebrated inventors as Thomas Alva Edison and Albert Einstein honored. You will also meet Samuel Leeds Allen who invented the Flexible Flyer sled and Les Paul of electric guitar fame. And, of course, namesake Edwin Augustus Stevens, who was instrumental in developing the first commercial railroad and building the world’s first iron-hulled sailing vessels.
And then there is Henry Orenstein who was inducted into the pantheon of Garden State inventors when he was 83 years old in 2006. During World War II Orenstein, a 19-year old Ukranian Jew, escaped a Nazi death camp by hiding in a ditch, bribing a rifle-toting guard and spending the remainder of the war in an underground unit of German science professors who were doing their best not to be enlisted into the war effort. After escaping to the United States, Orenstein became a toymaker, accumulating over 100 patents including the iconic Transformer action figures.
Henry Orenstein is honored in the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame for “various toys.” But arguably Orenstein’s most influential invention happened just a few years before his recognition by the Stevens Institute and had nothing to do with playthings. Orenstein liked to spend his profits at the poker table where his poker tournament winnings climbed to over $200,000. In 1996, Orenstein won a World Series of Poker bracelet in $5,000 Seven Card Stud.
Orenstein unleashed his inventive mind on his passion for poker and came up with a near-microscopic camera that could capture the image of a poker player’s hole cards. The “hole cam” could be built into an elevated rail or slipped under a glass panel in the table and broadcast what hand a player was holding to a television audience. The hole cam was used on American television in 2002 during the inaugural season of the World Poker Tour. Televised poker became a sensation and Henry Orenstein was ushered into his second Hall of Fame – the Poker Hall of Fame – in 2008.
The game that starred on the many televised poker shows was Hold’em, a poker variation dating back to the early 1900s that is played with a two-card hand and five community cards used by all players to form a five-card poker hand. The variation was particularly popular in the Lone Star State of Texas and the American version became known as Texas Hold’em. When a group of Texas gamblers who were regular players at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in the 1970s got together to start the World Series of Poker, Texas Hold’em is the game they played.
Texas Hold’em is the simplest version of poker to understand and with only two-card hands bluffing and betting strategy are at a premium. When a television audience could see what every player at a table was holding, the choices in game play made for a compelling viewing experience as the narrative unspooled. In the early 2000s, Hold’em became ubiquitous on television, exploded online and swept through land-based casino card rooms.
Due to the popularity of Hold’em it is possible that an entire generation of poker players grew up without ever playing poker hands with their own cards. But after more than ten years the poker boom has stalled and the game of Hold’em has been diced and dissected so many ways there is not much meat left on the bone. This may be the time for players to make friends with other variations of the great game of poker…
2-7 Triple Draw. This game is as radical a departure from Hold’em as players are likely to find. The hand is built not with exposed community cards but with blind draws from the deck – three of them. There are betting rounds before the initial draw and after each draw for a total of four. Players are dealt five cards and are given the option to discard from zero to five cards before each draw. 2-7 Triple Draw is dealt to a six-player table so it is possible that mucked cards may need to be shuffled back into play to get the final hands for the showdown.
2-7 Triple Draw is also a lowball game where the worst hand wins the pot. That is not the worst poker hand – one pair – but the lowest ranking hand. In 2-7 Triple Draw the best hand (called a wheel) is 2-3-4-5-7, unsuited. Aces always play as a high card so the best hand with an Ace is 2-3-4-5-A (Nut Ace). The worst possible non-paired hand is A-K-Q-J-9 which would still beat one pair. The worst hands in 2-7 Triple Draw are flipped 180 degrees from Hold’em – if you are holding a Royal Flush you do not want to be in a showdown in this game.
Betting proceeds exactly as in Texas Hold’em with little blinds, big blinds and a dealer button. During the first two betting rounds in a limit game the limit is the small bet, two dollars in a $2/$4 game, for instance. The betting limit increases in the final two rounds for calls and raises in increments of $4.
Pot Limit Omaha. For Hold’em players who are not quite ready to break bonds with community card games, there is Omaha that plays almost exactly like its close cousins save for two rules: the player is dealt four hole cards instead of two and the final five-card hand must consist of two hole cards and three community cards from the board. This little twist results in an immense difference in strategy. Hold’em players can rip up their intricate strategy charts before sitting down to an Omaha table.
The “Pot Limit” places a cap on the betting so players can not just shove entire stacks of chips into the center of the table before the flop. There is a premium on multi-street decisions and complex calculations as gameplay progresses. If you are playing online the pot limit is calculated automatically and can be summoned with a click or tap of a button. In live play, the raise with a pot limit is calculated not by the amount in the pot but by the amount in the pot plus the call before the raise. For example, if the amount in the pot is $25 and the call to the player is $5, the raise amount, if desired, would be $30 and not $25.
High hand games of Pot Limit Omaha are most commonly found but there is fun afoot in variations as well. The number of hole cards dealt to a player can be five or six in some games. In Omaha/8 the player makes two hands from the nine cards available: one a five-card high hand and another that is a five-card lowball hand, with A-2-3-4-5 being the lowest. Straights and flushes are ignored in the lowball portion of the hand rankings. The “8” in the name comes from that value being the “highest” hand to qualify for the lowball split of the pot. If no hand qualifies as “eight or better,” the high hand takes the entire pot. One player can win both both the high and low hands in Omaha/8.
Razz. Razz is a version of stud poker which mixes hole cards and exposed cards that are non-community cards. Razz is played with seven cards, dealt two down, four up and one down with betting rounds beginning after the first three cards are delivered. This is a lowball game with Aces always counting as one and flushes and straights disregarded so the best hand is again A-2-3-4-5.
Razz games are conducted exactly as stud games with antes, a mandatory first bet to the player with the high exposed cards, limit betting and usually an eight-player table. Razz has been a part of the World Series of Poker since the beginning in 1971 but was shuffled off to a lonely corner of the competition until it made the cut on television in 2004. Since then lowball stud has become increasingly popular in online card rooms.
Mixed Games. As cracks begin to show in the stranglehold Hold’em has had on the Internet poker world Mixed Games are beginning to draw more players. These online tables are like the decathlon at track meets – instead of specializing in one event a champion must prove to be an all-around performer. Mixed Games include various numbers of poker variations: 7-Game, 8-Game, 9-Game or 10-Game. For example, a Mixed 8 might include Limit Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha Hi, Limit Stud Hi/Lo, Limit 2-7 Triple Draw, Limit Stud Hi, No Limit Hold’em, Limit Omaha Hi/Lo, and Limit Razz.
More constricted mixed game line-ups go by names like Ho (Limit Hold’em and Limit Omaha Hi/Lo), Horse (limit Hold’em, Limit Omaha Hi/Lo, Limit Razz, Limit Stud Hi, Limit Stud Hi/Lo) and so on. Online, different games are dealt in fixed rotations with a set number of hands. If you have not done so already, there is fun to be had in expanding one’s poker repertoire beyond Hold’em.