by Brendan M. Lynch | June 01, 2005
Poker, specifically the game of Texas Hold ’Em, has temporarily taken over American culture (remember cigar bars and Tamagotchi?). Multiple TV networks like Bravo, ESPN and the Travel Channel now regularly broadcast poker played between celebrities and poker champions. But this storied game of kings and queens, jacks and the rest of the deck is more than made-for-TV fodder. Poker is being played on the Internet, in gaming houses (many are still illegal), private homes, college dorms and casinos worldwide.
    The stakes can be minimal, such as bragging rights, or huge, such as seven-figure winnings doled out at the televised championships. (Sometimes the payoff is delayed: This writer recently inherited $1,000 won during a World War I poker game when a GI in France, both unlucky and a bad bluffer, lost a Texas ranch to my father’s great-uncle. My family sold the ranch in the 1990s.) 
    Decades ago, many casinos closed their poker rooms, seeing the game as unpopular and unprofitable. That’s all changed: In Las Vegas, for instance, the Golden Nugget, Harrah’s and the Imperial Palace have opened their poker rooms once again, and lately it can be challenging just to find an empty seat at a table.
    “If you go by our poker room you see people of all ages,” says Silke Finnegan, spokesperson for the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. “Gone are the days of a smoky room full of old-time gamblers. Now we have women players, people of all skill levels and styles. You can’t pinpoint the poker player these days.”
    While games such as Omaha High, Omaha Hi/Low, Five-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud Hi/Low and One on One are popular, Texas Hold ’Em is the current king of the poker hill, plus it is easy to learn. 
    At the beginning of the game, players are each dealt two face-down cards called “hole” or “pocket cards,” the value of which are known only to the player holding them. The first round of betting takes place based on these pocket cards alone. 
    Next, three cards (called “the flop”) are dealt face-up in the center of the table, for all players to consider as part of their hand, and another round of betting ensues. Then another face-up community card, “the turn,” is dealt, followed by a third round of betting. Finally, one more communal card, “the river,” is dealt, and the last round of betting takes place.
    At this point, it is time for “the showdown,” when the remaining players reveal their best hands, composed of two pocket cards and three of the five communal cards. The overall best hand wins the pot. 
    The craze of this game should be understood by planners: “Often, a planner asks for suggestion for team building, and we offer poker and they love that,” says Joan Esneault, executive director of resort sales at Foxwoods Resort & Casino, in Mashantucket, Conn. “They are here primarily for their meetings, and the poker is for when they want to have some fun. No question, the game of the moment is no-limit Texas Hold ’Em. They have a lot of fun doing that as a group.”