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Why Do Players Prefer Texas Hold’em?

Posted by Charles, March 28, 2013

  

popular Texas Hold'em

While poker itself has been a popular game since (at least) the late 1800s, recent years have seen one form of the game emerge as a clear favorite among players across the globe - Texas Hold’em. Highlighted each year by the main event of the World Series of Poker, Hold’em has become the defining form of live and online poker, shaping the way we speak (giving us phrases like "I'm all in"), and showing up in pop culture (Lady Gaga's "Poker Face") and film (2006's James Bond relaunch "Casino Royale"). As the game is simple to learn but difficult to master, it's easy to see why Hold’em is so popular. Yet when one considers the similar traits of variations like Omaha or Stud, the question remains: why do players prefer Texas Hold’em?

The Film
Though it's impact wouldn't be felt for many years, much of the poker boom can be traced back to the influence of the 1998 film "Rounders". Part thriller, part drama, the film starred Matt Damon and Edward Norton as card sharks who get wrapped up in the world of high-stakes underground Texas Hold’em games in New York City.

One of the key scenes sees Damon and Famke Jansen reviewing a tape of the 1988 World Series of Poker. The main focus is on the decisive hand of the final table in which Johnny Chan flopped a nut straight and proceeded to trick then-newcomer Erik Seidel into pushing all of his chips into the pot. The event, one of the most memorable moments in poker history, solidified the importance of "playing the man" and not just the cards. It served as an inspiration for Damon's character, who in turn inspired a number of successful poker pros like Vanessa Rousso, Dutch Boyd and Gavin Griffin.

The "Moneymaker Effect"
Another of the biggest reasons for the boom in Texas Hold’em was the main event of the 2003 World Series of Poker. At the final table of the 839-player tournament, Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker upset slick Vegas pro Sammy Farha to win $2.5 million. The win was significant for a number of reasons, among the most prominent of which was the extensive coverage of the event on ESPN. This feel-good story of the average man besting a seasoned pro and becoming rich in the process made for great TV - and with the 2004-2005 NHL lockout clearing a lot of programming time on the cable network, rebroadcasts of the tournament were everywhere.

Another significant factor of the win was the emergence of online poker. Prior to his unforgettable run at the World Series, Moneymaker had never actually competed in a live tournament. In fact, the amateur player earned his way into the event by winning a $39 online poker satellite tournament. Seeing a rags-to-riches story play out this way inspired countless would-be card sharks to try their hand at live and online poker tournaments - and having watched the no-limit Hold’em event on TV, most players knew exactly which variation of the game they wanted to try.

There is perhaps no greater measure of this impact than the World Series itself, as each year since Moneymaker's big win has seen the player field grow exponentially. Through good economic climates and bad, the number of players paying (or winning) the $10,000 entrance fee to the main event has steadily climbed year after year, culminating in a record 8,773 participants in 2006. More than 6,800 participated in the 2012 tournament.

The Psychology
While these events may have helped to publicize poker, the main reason Texas Hold’em has remained so popular is the psychology of the game. Unlike some variations of the game, Hold’em makes the majority of the cards in play public. This simple change alters the psychology of play in a unique manner, as players are meant to deduce the strength of their hands - and those of their opponents - based on the shared cards. The fact that the reveal of these cards is staggered into three stages (the flop, turn and river) only enhances the drama and thrill of the game, and adds a layer of strategy that more traditional poker variations are missing.

This psychology is only heightened when placed in the context of a poker tournament. In tournament play, the blinds are constantly increasing as time goes on. This puts a new level of pressure on the player and forces him or her to constantly be making moves or see their stack slowly ebbed away over time. With a room full of players all facing the same pressure, every move feels that much more dramatic - and that raw emotion is part of what makes Texas Hold’em the most popular game in the poker world.

The image shows sailors participating in a Texas Hold 'Em Poker tournament aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, and is in the public domain.

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