Remember when a humble accountant and recreational gambler with the magical moniker Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event?
By besting the best poker pros on the planet in high-stakes no limit Texas holdem – and turning a $39 online satellite entry into the $2.5 million grand prize in the process – Moneymaker’s momentous victory launched poker into the mainstream.
Game shows, Hollywood films, and wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN soon commenced on real money poker. Along with the media coverage, a wave of holdem-themed games soon flooded the casino floor – but the five found below missed the flop and got flushed by the playing public.
World Poker Tour 3x Raise Holdem
While it was the WSOP stage which saw Moneymaker become a household name, the advent of televised poker tournaments actually began a bit earlier thanks to the World Poker Tour (WPT).
Armed with the first functional “hole card cam” technology, the WPT was the first tournament circuit in the U.S. to make watching poker a spectator sport.
The WPT parlayed Moneymaker’s famous “Poker Boom” into a boom era of its own. The Tour’s tournaments played out in dramatic fashion weekly on The Travel Channel, crowning new champions and creating stars out of the cool, cocky players bluffing their opponents into submission.
The Height of the Poker Boom
During the height of the Boom era, WPT higher-ups enlisted the assistance of legendary casino game inventor Roger Snow. The brain behind popular casino staples such as Four Card Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, and of course, Ultimate Texas Holdem, Snow was the perfect fit to create a WPT branded table game.
Snow’s input and the WPT’s expertise in holdem structure combined to create World Poker Tour 3x Raise Holdem. Despite the admittedly unwieldy name, this game is a fitting tribute to poker’s premier variant.
A New Casino Table Game Is Born
Here’s how the game worked…
Players placed an Ante bet to get started, along with two optional side bets which will be explained briefly later on. Using a standard 52-card deck, the dealer then delivers two hole cards face down to the player, along with a pair of hole cards face up for themselves.
Based on the relative strength of your hole cards compared to the dealer’s hand, you’d then be asked to either fold or raise. By folding, you simply surrender your Ante bet to the house straightaway. To raise, however, requires an additional bet equal to three times the Ante wager.
Let’s say you get a pretty holdem hand like the Ace-King of diamonds, better known as “Big Slick” in gambling slang. The dealer is showing a pair of 4s, but with two big cards which are suited to work with, your A-K has essentially 50/50 odds of catching the cards needed to run down the dealer’s pair. This is known as a “race” or a “coin flip” in the poker world, and for the most part, players are happy to get their chips in with either of these hands.
Thus, you decide to make a Raise bet for $15, or three times your $5 Ante bet. When the player raises, the dealer must have either a pair or any two-card blackjack total of 11 or higher to proceed. When they can’t, you’ll win even money on the Ante bet and receive your Raise bet back as a push.
In our example, the 4s are good enough to continue so the dealer continues by spreading out five community cards – AKA the “Flop,” the “Turn,” and the “River.”
You see a 4 hit the board right away, giving the dealer three of a kind or “trips,” and things don’t look good. But just like when Moneymaker found the perfect board to oust legends like Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey back in ’03, you connect with a 10, Jack, and Queen to form the “Broadway” straight.
Just like that, you’ve “doubled up” with an even money payout on your combined bet of $20.
Fun Casino Side Bets
World Poker Tour 3x Raise Holdem also included side bets which paid out generous sums (up to 500 to 1) when players landed “monster” hands like the Royal Flush.
True poker aficionados always had the real thing over in the poker room, while table game devotees slowly lost interest in a game they viewed merely as a passing fad.
Eight years before Moneymaker claimed his first (and only) career WSOP gold bracelet, three-time bracelet winner David Sklansky found himself tinkering with what was then a novel concept.
A actuarial mathematician by trade, Sklansky rose through the casino gambling ranks during the 1980s to become a certified pro. His strategy books on every game under the sun were required reading back then, and by 1995, he was focused on developing a new table game called Holdem Challenge.
It took nearly a decade before companies like IGT came calling, motivated no doubt by Moneymaker’s historic triumph on poker’s greatest platform. But when they did, Holdem Challenge machines soon began popping up along the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street.
That’s right, I said machines…
David Sklansky’s New Casino Game Debuts
Ever the innovator, Sklansky eschewed the table game format for a bolder vision that blended Texas holdem with video poker.
From there, standard holdem hand rankings were used to determine the winner. Victory via any high-card or low One Pair hand saw the player break even, while a pair of Jacks or better, Two Pair, or Three of a Kind all paid back at even money. Winning flushes and straights were good for 2 to 1, Four of a Kind paid back 9 to 1, a Straight Flush was good for 24 to 1, and a Royal Flush connected for 99 to 1.
Playing a game of holdem on a video poker machine seemed like a surefire hit, but Sklansky faced the same dilemma as the WPT. Poker purists simply sat at a real table, while serious real money video poker players scoffed at the 1.39 percent house edge that more than tripled that found on a Jacks or Better machine.
Triple Action Holdem
The less said about Triple Action Holdem, the better…
That’s because inventor Al Ethier’s 2009 release made the maddening decision to cut the deck nearly in half. By removing the 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, and 7s from the equation, Triple Action Holdem uses a wacky 28-card deck that only uses 8s, 9s, 10s, Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces.
Leaving aside the Asian-influenced “Short Deck Holdem” variant – which ditches the 2s through 5s – Triple Action Holdem only vaguely resembles its namesake from Texas.
The game debuted at Binion’s casino in Downtown Las Vegas, site of Moneymaker’s breakthrough win, but quickly fizzled from there. Recognizing that holdem isn’t holdem without the hole deck in play, most players never even gave the Triple Action variety a try.
Mini Tex 3 Card Holdem
That same year, Raymond and Amanda Smith released their Mini Tex 3 Card Holdem game.
Hoping to lure fans of the classic Three Card Poker along with holdem players, the pair opted for a concept in which three-card hands were king.
Alas, anybody who wanted to chase three-card Royals stayed seated at the Three Card Poker tables, while true poker players weren’t about to chase a 3.22 percent house edge.
Riverboat Holdem Poker
First appearing in Indiana around 2005, the Riverboat Holdem Poker game launched by the now defunct River Gaming Concepts LLC is a curious case.
On the one hand, its faithful replication of holdem game play made it perfect for poker people dabbling in the pit.
But on the other hand, an extremely confusing system of “qualification” rules relating to the dealer’s hand and subsequent payouts left most players shaking their heads.
When it takes more than a minute to figure out what the dealer has, and what they owe you, most gamblers simply don’t have the time, patience, or attention span to wait around.
Traditional Texas Holdem Is Hard to Beat
In the wise words of WSOP legend and three-time Main Event World Champion Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, no limit Texas holdem is surely the “Cadillac of Poker.”
Intense competition, mind games, million-dollar prize pools, big bluffs and brutal bad beats to go bust – this classic poker variant puts everything on the table. But aside from Casino Holdem and Ultimate Texas Holdem, the dozens of casino games which have tried to capitalize on its popularity almost always miss the mark.