A man of demeanor stature smiles with glee from behind a mountain of colorful casino chips as he reveals his cards to the other poker players at the table. One by one they throw their cards into the muck with a heavy sigh. A murmur travels around the small group of men as they try to analyze the hand.
The winner leans forward and pulls the pot towards him with both hands while he quietly glances at the other players, careful not to spill his drink. He quickly adds the chips to his stack and prepares for the next hand.
“I can’t believe you hit a four outer on the turn to complete that gutshot straight. Well, well, you’ll soon run out of luck,” one of the losing players said. “And when you do, I’ll be there to felt your ass.”
Welcome to the world of Texas hold ’em. This poker variant is currently dominating in casinos worldwide. It was first introduced to Las Vegas in the late 60s by a handful of players like Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, and Crandell Addington.
Almost 50 years later hold ‘em became a household name when a Tennessee accountant qualified to the World Series of Poker main event through an online tournament, and then went on to win the whole thing.
Chris Moneymaker turned the US$40 he spent on entering the online tournament into US$2.5m and made history in the process.
Back at the Empire Casino there’s a heated debate going on. Last hand’s winner is reluctantly defending his decision to call on the turn when he only had four outs.
“Look, there were four of us in the hand and I got a cheap price to see the next card. You all know it’s called gambling right,” he explains.
Poker players will acknowledge that there is an element of luck to poker, but it’s nothing any serious player would hedge their bet on. Ask anyone and they will tell you: “Poker is a skill game.”
The entire table is in upheaval now. Players are almost shouting at each other across the table. One of the losing players refuses to back down and wants the winner to admit that he only won the previous hand because he got lucky.
“Maybe it was luck. Maybe I calculated the odds for hitting my card and the pot odds and liked the answer. What does it matter? Let’s just play,” he says.
The arguing tampers off and becomes but a murmur. It’s silent enough for the croupier to say: “Gentlemen, pass the button and post your blinds.”
Scenes like this are played out in casinos all over the world. Poker players and gamblers are a specific breed, fuelled by coffee, cocktails and the occasional break for a cigarette. All of them want to make it to the ‘big show’ in Vegas.