Texas Holdem is the most popular poker variant played today. But it wasn't always that way - the Cadillac of Poker's popularity is a relatively new phenomenon.
So why is Texas Holdem the most popular poker variant and why is it the most played game? Let's take a look at why and how it took the world by storm!
Why Is Texas Holdem So Popular
There are several major reasons for Texas Holdem's popularity:
- It has great brand recognition
- It has mass appeal
- It's easy to learn
- It's hard to master
The most obvious reason why Texas Holdem is the most popular poker variant is that it is the main form of poker you will see. Success breeds success!
When comparing Texas Holdem vs poker variants, the choice is obvious for numerous players. Most people start out playing Five Card Draw as kids, but if you get back into poker as an adult, chances are it's going to be Holdem.
All the major poker tournaments and poker TV shows feature Holdem. It's the main game in casinos and online card rooms.
And if poker is featured in a non-poker movie or TV show then it's nearly always Texas Holdem.
Simply put, Texas Holdem has great brand recognition - it's the Coca-Cola of poker!
Texas Holdem is a game of skill, but there is also an element of chance, and this means bad players can beat good players. This is especially true for tournament poker, and combined with the possibility of massive paydays for the winner, this gives Holdem a real "anyone can strike it rich" appeal.
Nothing encapsulates this more than "the Moneymaker Effect" - named after the amateur who won the 2003 World Series of Poker, turning a $39 satellite ticket into over 2 million dollars.
And Chris Moneymaker is the only average joe that became a rockstar poker celebrity overnight - there are dozens of examples. Texas Holdem makes people millionaires, and that's a pretty big reason why Texas Holdem is the most popular poker variant.
Texas Holdem's popularity has a lot to do with how easy it is to learn. Sure, it's not quite as simple as Five Card Draw, but it's still really easy to understand - especially compared to games like Omaha or Razz, which are two of the hardest poker variants to understand for certain players.
The basic Texas Holdem rules are simple:
- The Big Blind and Small Blind post their blinds and everyone receives two hole cards that only they can see.
- After a round of betting, three community cards are dealt (the flop).
- There's another round of betting and another card is dealt (the turn), followed by another round of betting.
- The final card is dealt (the river) - and there is one final round of betting.
- Whoever is left shows their cards - and whoever has the best five-card hand from the seven available wins. For those with the same hands, the kicker decides who wins the showdown.
Betting in Holdem is very straightforward - it always goes clockwise, starting with the Small Blind. Preflop, the Small Blind and Big Blind are forced to bet without seeing their cards, so the player to the right of the Big Blind appears to act first. This is much simpler than games like Stud Poker, where the betting order changes based on who has the highest poker hand.
Because of the number of betting rounds, there are numerous kinds of poker bets in Texas Holdem. These bets can be used to extract information from your opponents or force them to fold.
Omaha looks similar to Holdem but is much harder to get the hang of. With Holdem, you just make the best five-card hand you can out of your two hole cards and five community cards - whereas with Omaha you have to use exactly two of your four hole cards and three of the five community cards. This is a whole lot trickier than it sounds!
Legendary gambler Crandell Addington describes Holdem as "a thinking man's game". It takes minutes to learn - but a lifetime to master. Compared to Texas Holdem, other poker variants are hard to understand.
It's no coincidence that Texas Holdem attracts successful players of other strategy games - including Backgammon, Chess, and Magic the Gathering.
No Limit Holdem is deceptively simple, yet mathematically complex. Even the best players in the world admit they always have something new to learn. You will notice in tournaments that there are a wide range of playing styles. The advent of solvers has opened up a new understanding of the game - but don't let their name fool you. No-Limit Texas Holdem is not a solved game, and no human being could ever play exactly like a solver in any case.
How Texas Holdem Became So Popular
Texas Holdem's popularity did not happen overnight. It was invented in the 1920s, but it was hardly played outside of Texas until the 1960s when Corky McCorquodale brought the game to Las Vegas. However, it remained a niche game that few casinos offered - and it was illegal in many states.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) began in 1970 - and from 1971 its Main Event was a No-Limit Texas Holdem tournament.
1998 was the next big year for Holdem: the first-ever real money game of poker was played online at Planet Poker, and the movie Rounders was released.
The next year, hole card cameras were used on the British TV show Late Night Poker, turning Holdem into an exciting spectator sport.
But the real Texas Holdem poker boom was due to the "Moneymaker Effect". In 2003, an unknown amateur named Christopher Bryan Moneymaker - an accountant by trade - won the WSOP Main Event, turning a $39 satellite ticket into the $2.5 million first prize. Moneymaker got into the game after watching Rounders.
ESPN had the television rights to the event. After their initial showing got good ratings, they made the most of this underdog fairytale by rerunning it repeatedly. Poker was now a prime-time sport! The 2004 WSOP Main Event had 2576 entrants - nearly triple the previous years. In 2006, 8773 players battled it out for a prize pool of nearly $83 million.
2006 was the peak of the boom, due to the US Congress passing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act - followed by "Black Friday" in 2011. However, by then Texas Holdem was well-established as the most popular poker variant. As more states are beginning to legalize online poker, another poker boom is just around the corner.
There's no better time to get into Texas Holdem!
Why Five Card Draw was Overshadowed by Texas Holdem
Five Card Draw is the simplest form of poker and a game most people have played - either at home or as Video Poker.
It's also the oldest form of poker still played. Its name was derived from Poch or Poque, a game that also uses 32 or 52-card decks. The first poker players would have received five cards and wagered over who had the best hand. Drawing (discarding and replacing cards) was introduced later, sometime before 1850.
Stud poker (where one or more of the player's cards are upturned for all to see) came about during the American Civil War, and Community Card poker (such as Texas Holdem) didn't come about till the 1920s.
However, despite Five Card Draw being much older and simpler than Holdem, it's still nowhere near Texas Holdem in terms of popularity. Why is Texas Holdem the most popular poker variant, while Five Card Draw is hardly played at all? Let's take a look.
Only Two Betting Rounds
Poker looks like a game of cards, but it's a wagering game where the cards create situations to wager on. In other words, it's the betting that makes poker what it is. If there were no betting in poker it would be about who can make the best hand, which would be pretty boring. The great thing about poker is that the best hand doesn't always win!
Texas Holdem has four betting rounds, but Five Card Draw only has two. That makes the game far less strategically interesting, decreasing the skill factor and increasing the role of luck. It's also much harder to build a big pot!
Lack of Hand Information
Poker is a game of "imperfect information", as you don't know everything about your opponent's hand as you play. How much information you have depends on the variant you're playing.
Texas Holdem involves sharing the five community cards, giving you a lot of information about what hands your opponent can make. But with Five Card Draw, you do not know anything about your opponent's hand at all. All you have to go on is their betting patterns and any tells you to pick up.
With only one opportunity to improve your starting hand (compared to three with Holdem), the Five Card Draw strategy is pretty simple: wait for a good starting hand and don't chase draws. On the other hand, it can be very profitable to chase draws in Holdem - so long as you are getting the correct odds to do so.
Because of the shared community cards in Holdem, you can calculate the odds of making your hand by counting your outs, converting them to your required equity (using the rule of 2+4), and comparing that to the odds you're getting. And when the shoe is on the other foot, you can also make sure you deny your opponent the correct odds to chase their likely draws. You can't do that with Five Card Draw. It's a much simpler game with less strategic depth.
Rare 5 Card Draw Branded Tournaments
When was the last time you saw a Five Card Draw tournament on television - if ever? There's a reason for this - it doesn't make good television.
It's also pretty hard to find a game online. Even if a poker site offers it, traffic is usually very low. Nowadays the only time you're likely to come across a game of Five Card Draw is as part of a mixed game.
The fact is there are no Chris Moneymakers who've made their fortunes from playing Five Card Draw. It just doesn't have the same glamour as Holdem! Five Card Draw is a dying game, whereas Holdem continues to grow in popularity.
Why is Texas Holdem appealing to new players?
Texas Holdem appeals to new players because it is so easy to learn. Complete beginners can beat seasoned pros if they get lucky. But Holdem has great strategic depth as well: as the saying goes, it takes five minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master!
How did Texas Holdem become more watchable to TV audiences?
Texas Holdem is very TV-friendly. The invention of the hole-card camera in 1999 allowed audiences to see what hands the professionals had, turning Holdem into a true spectator sport. Although in theory, this sort of camera would work with other poker variants, the fact that Holdem only has two hole cards makes it especially suited.
Was Christopher Bryan Moneymaker a major contributor to Texas Holdem's popularity?
Chris Moneymaker is the man behind the "Moneymaker Effect", which is widely credited to have kickstarted the Texas Holdem poker boom. He was a complete amateur when he came first in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event - winning millions of dollars. ESPN had the television rights, and because it got good ratings they kept rerunning it - bringing Texas Holdem to the attention of millions of Sports fans, with the promise anyone could make it big.
Did Texas Holdem come out before five-card draw poker?
Texas Holdem wasn't invented until the 1920s, but Five Card Draw has been around since before 1850. Poker did exist before Five Card Draw - but players just wagered over who had the best five cards, so Five Card Draw is the oldest variant still played today. Texas Holdem is now much more popular than Five Card Draw, which is hardly played at all anymore.
Why is Texas Holdem more popular than the oldest poker variant?
Five Card Draw is the oldest poker variant still played today and is very simple to learn, but it is nowhere near as popular as Texas Holdem for numerous reasons - it is not as strategically deep, it is harder to build big pots, and there are no big Five Card Draw tournaments or success stories.
Are poker suits relevant in Texas Holdem?
Suits are only used in forming a hand such as a flush, full house, pair, or even the second-best possible combination: straight flush. Otherwise, suits are much more considered in other poker variants such as 7-card stud where there is an order or ranking to the four.
Why is Texas Holdem the most popular poker variant? No other poker game has the same combination of simplicity, strategic depth, and brand recognition. And no other poker variant has the same "get-rich-quick" mass appeal - as illustrated by the incredible story of Chris Moneymaker.
This article was published on July 12, 2022, and last updated on July 14, 2022.