Any analysis of the effect of internet gambling and in particular online casino gambling, must include the enormous surge in interest in the casino game of poker. Not that long ago playing poker was more likely to be a reason to spend an evening with friends having a few beers than a game to be taken seriously and even earn a living from. Nowadays of course playing poker is big business with poker tournaments being held all over the world, most of them hugely oversubscribed in spite of quite big entry stakes. There is even a large spectator following at many of the major tournaments. There is still some debate as to whether the initial rise in interest was due to the introduction of online casinos or as a result the televising of poker tournaments on some satellite channels with programmes such as ‘Late Night Poker’, but the combination of the two has definitely had a significant effect on the number of people playing poker regularly and watching others play. We don’t exactly know how far the game of poker can be traced in our history, but most people appear to think that the game of poker as we know it today originated during the 18th century in America, either on the Mississippi river boats or in the gold fields of the west. Certainly there is evidence that what we now know as draw poker was played seriously both on the river boats and in the gold fields. Tournament poker gambling was also started in America when a number of American casinos introduced the ‘world series of poker’ during the 1970’s, and there are now big poker tournaments all over the world, including of course the Irish Open. We should point out that you don’t have to be a professional poker player to enjoy playing poker, and the fact is that in spite of the massive increase in the number of people playing tournament poker the figures are dwarfed by the overall poker fan base made up of people playing poker online. Even here there are differences, with possibly the more serious poker enthusiasts playing at one of the many specialist poker forums and the rest of us playing at an online casino probably for fixed odds against the house.
For those who know very little about poker we should point out that there are a variety of different versions of poker, with the only common factor being the ranking of the hands. Having discussed the history of poker perhaps we should start with what is generally considered to be the first move towards the modern game, and that is 5-card draw poker. This is the version of poker which we know was played on the river boats in America, but was also a common feature of most of the westerns we watched as kids. Most poker formats when played against other players follow the same basic rules. There is usually some form of ante bet to establish an initial pot, which can be staked by the dealer or made up of a contribution from all the players. One player then acts as dealer and deals the cards according to the rules of the poker format being played. In the case of 5-card draw poker each player is dealt five cards one at a time and face down. The role of dealer is passed clockwise at the end of each hand, and the cards are also always dealt in a clockwise direction. Betting rounds also follow the same rule and each player in turn clockwise from the dealer can choose to fold, call or raise in turn, and each betting round continues until all the remaining players have matched the highest bet. In 5-card draw poker the first betting round takes place after each player has been dealt their full five card hand face down. Each player in turn then has the opportunity to exchange some or all of their cards to try to improve their hand, after which the final betting round takes place and the players remaining in the game at the end of the round reveal their cards in the showdown. There is one common element of all the poker formats which we should point out at this stage. If there is only one player left in the game when it comes to the showdown, clearly that player will win the pot but there is no obligation for that player to reveal their hand. It is this element of the game of poker which gives players the opportunity to try to bluff their opponents, an essential feature of the game of poker.
From one of the simplest forms of poker we should move on to the poker format now almost universally used in the poker tournaments around the world, namely Texas Hold’em poker. There are a number of reasons why the Texas Hold’em format of poker has become the most popular version of poker among serious poker players, and they will become apparent as we examine how the game is played. Texas Hold’em poker is a version of poker which uses what are called community cards. These are cards which are dealt face up into the middle of the table and can be used by any of the players in conjunction with their individual hole cards to form their showdown hand. In the case of Texas Hold’em poker each player is dealt two hole cards face down in front of them. There then follows the first betting round in exactly the same way as in draw poker. The first of the community cards is then dealt face up into the middle of the table and there is then another betting round. This process is repeated until there are five community cards in the middle of the table for the remaining players to use along with their two hole cards to form their best 5-card poker hand. We can now see the two elements of Texas Hold’em poker which makes it so popular. First each player has 7 cards from which to make a hand rather than 5, which usually improves the quality of the hands, and second the number of betting rounds significantly increases the size of the final pot.