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The Origin of Different Poker Names

Home » The Origin of Different Poker Names

The Origin of Different Poker Names

Casino chips and playing cards on a grey surface.

The 2021 World Series of Poker exceeded all expectations. Nearly 120,000 players entered the live tournaments, while the second-ever WSOP online poker main event attracted an incredible 4,092 entrants. It’s clear that poker’s star is on the rise as more and more people begin to appreciate the merits of the most popular poker games like Texas Hold’em Online

Poker’s burgeoning popularity coincides with increased interest in the game’s history and the various types of poker available today. There’s a story behind the name of popular variants like Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hold’em and Seven Card Stud, as well as less well-known games like badugi. Whether you play poker online or in person, knowing the stories behind this list of poker games can only make the game more interesting.

Texas Hold’em

Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker variant in the world today. It’s played in poker tournaments ranging from low-stakes sit-and-goes to the WSOP Main Event. According to the Texas state legislature, the first hand of Texas Hold’em was played in Robstown, Texas, sometime during the early 1900s. The WSOP Hall of Fame, though, credits Texas road gambler T. “Blondie” Forbes with having created the game in its current form sometime back in the 1920s. In any case, one thing is certain: Texas Hold’em was definitely invented in Texas. The “hold’em” part refers to the rule that you have to keep your initial cards throughout the hand. You can’t draw any more cards; you’ve got to hold’em!

Ultimately this aspect of the game accounts for its rise to fame. It took a while, though. Texas Hold’em poker remained obscure for decades until it was introduced to Las Vegas by Texan players such as Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. Addington, in particular, praised Texas Hold’em as a “thinking man’s game.” Most poker variants lean heavily on chance, but Addington noted that this variant allows a degree of strategic thinking and execution. Since you don’t know your opponents’ actual cards until the showdown, you have to use logic to figure out what they’re holding. It’s the perfect balance between skill and luck.

The game made its Vegas debut at the infamous Golden Nugget in 1967. However, it only started gaining popularity three years later in 1970, when Benny Binion opened the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino and drew up the inaugural World Series of Poker tournament rules. From then on, Texas Hold’em rapidly gained a reputation as “the Cadillac of poker.”

Omaha

If Texas Hold’em is considered the Cadillac of poker, some might say that Omaha hold’em is the Tesla. It’s a hold-em game in which players get four hole cards. They then have to use exactly two of their own cards and exactly three of the five cards on the board at showdown. As a result, their thinking has to be even sharper. But the game has nothing to do with the city of Omaha, Nebraska. In fact, Omaha Hold’em was created by Californian poker pro, Robert Turner, who brought his invention to Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

Because the game was first offered at the Golden Nugget Casino, it initially went by the name of Nugget Hold’em. Asked in an interview why his creation subsequently became known as Omaha, Robert Turner said, “As far as I know, there is no Nebraska connection to the name of Omaha poker, but in the first Pot Limit game at the Golden Nugget, it seemed to me there was a guy from Omaha who played every day.”

Turner also offers the following poker tournament tips:

“If it’s Omaha high-lo, always try to backdoor the high by going in with an ace and two other baby cards.

“If it’s Pot-Limit high only, don’t shut yourself out of a pot by betting when you could have easily checked and see another card for a lot less money. It’s called pricing yourself out of the pot.”

“In high-lo, being aggressive after the flop is a complete waste of time.”

Stud Poker

A man playing poker at a green felt poker table.

Stud poker is any kind of poker game in which players are dealt a combination of face-down and face-up cards in multiple betting rounds. Five-card stud became popular after the American Civil War and was made famous in the depression-era Steve McQueen film The Cincinnati Kid. Later, seven-card stud became the poker game of choice. Texas Hold’em is now more popular, but WSOP bracelets are still awarded for seven-card stud, with many online poker tournaments dedicated to this variant.

So where did stud poker get its name? According to poker player James Lewis, the term arose in a saloon somewhere in the backwoods of Ohio shortly after the Civil War. Writing in the LA Times, Lewis said that a group of rough and grizzled war veterans was playing a game of draw poker. One war-weary player had three kings in his hand. All his money was on the table already, so he went outside and came back leading a stallion, which he tied to his chair as betting collateral. Figuring that his competitors had probably looked at his cards while he was outside, he insisted that they all turn their cards face up, discard two and draw another two face down. Whether or not he lost the “stud” isn’t known, but it’s a good explanation of the term’s origins!

Badugi

One of the more unusual poker game titles is badugi, a limit triple-draw game in which each player is dealt four cards and tries to make the best “badugi” – the lowest unsuited, unpaired hand. The 2022 WSOP $10,000 Dealers Choice 6-Handed Championship ended in a hand of badugi. Adam Friedman beat Phil Hellmuth to take home $248,350 and his third straight $10k Dealer’s Choice bracelet.

It’s not entirely clear where the name comes from, but general consensus is that it originated in South Korea during the 1960s. The Korean word “baduk” or “badug” means “a black and white pattern.” “Baduk” is also the Korean name for the board game Go, which is played with black and white stones; “Go” is also a common Korean name for a black-and-white spotted dog. The theory is that the name could also refer to the “patchy” nature of the ideal badugi hand. Pro poker player Paul “Eskimo” Clark is credited as the first person in history to introduce badugi to the US.

Badugi is played as follows. Four cards are dealt face down. Betting starts from the dealer’s left. After the first betting round, players can swap up to four cards for new ones. There are two more draws (for a total of three) and a final betting round. The lowest unsuited, unpaired hand wins. Aces are low, so the nuts in the game is a hand of 4, 3, 2 and A in four different suits.

Five-Card Draw

Five-Card Draw is the oldest and simplest version of poker and often the first variant any new poker player is exposed to. This is the game that most of us play at home or socially. You’re not likely to find it in casinos or at poker tournaments, although some online casinos that cater to different types of poker players will offer it as a novelty game. 

The name’s history isn’t particularly illustrious as it is completely descriptive. For reasons unknown, though, it is also known as Cantrell draw. It is simply five cards in a draw game in which each player is dealt five cards face down. After the first round of betting, players are offered an option to exchange up to three cards to strengthen their hands.

Players then read the game based on the number of cards their opponents exchange and apply similar strategies (albeit with fewer statistical permutations) to Texas Hold’em or Omaha.

Chicago High or Low

Chicago High and Low are variations on seven-card stud poker but with one key difference. The pot can be split in half, with the strongest hand taking one half while the other half is won by the player holding the highest or the lowest spade hole card. High or low is determined prior to the game. 

Few casinos offer this version, but it is definitely a family favorite since it introduces a new dimension to the strategy and the bluffing game, given that opponents don’t only track potential winning hands but also spades. 

The name is derived from the city where this variation was conceived and should not be confused with Chicago, a poker variant of the Swedish card game Fem-kort. The latter has a far more interesting origin and is rumored to have been created in an underground poker club in Stockholm, Sweden, owned by the Russian mafia. 

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How often do we stop to consider how our favorite poker games got their names? Here are the stories behind them.