Card playing was as much a part of America’s “Wild West” era as cattle drives, stagecoaches, saloons and six-shooters. The original game of choice among cowpokes, miners and pioneers was “Faro,” a betting game using a standard 52-card deck. It was played in almost every gambling hall in the Old West from 1825 to 1915.
The game known today as “Poker” got its start in New Orleans. In 1829, it was played with a deck of just 20 cards and four hands dealt, made up of five cards each. Over the next several decades, it spread from there to the Western frontier via riverboats, on which gambling was a common pastime.
By the start of the California Gold Rush in 1848, the 52-card deck had been adopted for poker, along with new rules that included a winning combination of suited cards called a “Flush” and a card-replacement convention known as the “Draw.” It was not until after the Civil War (1861-65) that the winning sequence called a “Straight” was added and a non-drawing version of the game, “Stud,” was introduced. The first “Wild Card” poker was seen around 1875.
The Birth of Texas Hold’em
According to poker historians, split-pot and lowball poker games became popular only after the turn of the century. The idea of having “community cards” shared by players was a novelty first introduced in the 1920s. That’s when the version known as “Texas Hold’em Poker” was first played, allegedly the invention of a Texas road gambler named Blondie Forbes, who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1980 for his creation.
In Texas Hold’em, each player is dealt two concealed “hole” cards, followed by a betting round. Then, three community cards are dealt “open,” face up, in no special order or pattern. Collectively, the three cards are referred to as the “flop.” This is followed by a second betting round. Next comes a fourth community card known as the “turn,” a third betting round, a fifth community card called the “river,” and a fourth and final betting round. Lastly, there is the “showdown,” with each remaining player exposing the best five-card hand, using any five cards among the hole cards and the five open cards on the board.
The Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas, as the game’s birthplace. It was initially known only as “Hold’em,” but as it spread throughout Texas and beyond, the state label stuck. A group of Texas gamblers, including Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim, introduced the game to Las Vegas in 1967. It caught on quickly and would eventually eclipse Five-Card Draw and Seven-Card Stud over the next 50 years.
The Wild West Connection
Despite mountains of evidence that Texas Hold’em did not even exist in the 19th century, “when the West was young,” many today have a notion that Billy the Kid was stealing blinds, while Wyatt Earp anticipated a “showdown on the river” with the likes of the James boys or the Youngers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The cause of the confusion is misinformation on the Internet and in pop culture. For example, in 2008 an interactive online game called “Governor of Poker” was introduced by Miniclip.com. It features a Wild West avatar roaming Texas saloons to win a town full of homesteads by playing the modern game. Before long there was a Governor of Poker 2 version with enhanced sound and graphics commandeering Texas Hold’em tables, too.
Then, in 2010 Rockstar Games released “Red Dead Redemption” for the Xbox 360. Cheating villains and surly gunslingers gather round the Texas Hold’em table, just aching for some action. A Playstation 3 version came out in 2011, followed by a sequel to the original. History may take its course, but obviously revisionist entertainment will have its day as well, largely because the very word “poker” has become synonymous with Texas Hold’em in the past decade.
Truth be told, the type of poker most widely played west of the Mississippi way back when was “Jackpots,” an antiquated term once commonly applied to what’s now called “Five-Card Draw, Jacks or Better.” That was the game Doc Holliday killed hombres over. It was also the one Wild Bill Hickok was playing on August 2, 1876, when he was murdered at the Number Ten Saloon in Deadwood, forever cementing the reputation of “Poker” not Faro as the card game of the Wild West.