Although little is known about the invention of Texas hold ‘em, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas as the game’s birthplace, dating the game to the early 1900s.
After its invention and spread throughout Texas, hold ‘em was introduced to Las Vegas in 1967 by a group of Texan gamblers and card players, including Crandell Addington, Roscoe Weiser, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim. Addington said the first time he saw the game was in 1959. “They didn’t call it Texas hold ‘em at the time, they just called it hold ‘em… I thought then that if it were to catch on, it would become the game. Draw poker, you bet only twice; hold ‘em, you bet four times. That meant you could play strategically. This was more of a thinking man’s game.”
For several years the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas was the only casino in Las Vegas to offer the game. At that time, the Golden Nugget’s poker room was “truly a ‘sawdust joint,’ with… oiled sawdust covering the floors.” Because of its location and decor, this poker room did not receive many rich drop-in clients, and as a result, professional players sought a more prominent location. In 1969, the Las Vegas professionals were invited to play Texas hold ‘em at the entrance of the now-demolished Dunes Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This prominent location, and the relative inexperience of poker players with Texas hold ‘em, resulted in a very remunerative game for professional players.
After a disappointing attempt to establish a “Gambling Fraternity Convention”, Tom Moore added the first ever poker tournament to the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention held in 1969. This tournament featured several games including Texas hold ‘em. In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to this convention, renamed it the World Series of Poker, and moved it to their casino Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. After its first year, a journalist, Tom Thackrey, suggested that the main event of this tournament should be no-limit Texas hold ‘em. The Binions agreed and ever since no-limit Texas hold ‘em has been played as the main event. Interest in the Main Event continued to grow steadily over the next two decades. After receiving only 8 entrants in 1972, the numbers grew to over 100 entrants in 1982, and over 200 in 1991.
During this time, Doyle Brunson’s revolutionary poker strategy guide, Super/System was first published. Despite being self-published and priced at $100 in 1978, the book revolutionized the way poker was played. It was one of the first books to discuss Texas hold ‘em, and is today cited as one of the most important books on this game. A few years later, Al Alvarez published a book detailing an early World Series of Poker event. The first book of its kind, it described the world of professional poker players and the World Series of Poker. It is credited with beginning the genre of poker literature and with bringing Texas hold ‘em (and poker generally), for the first time, to a wider audience.
Interest in hold ‘em outside of Nevada began to grow in the 1980s as well. Although California had legal card rooms offering draw poker, Texas hold ‘em was prohibited under a statute which made illegal the now unknown game “stud-horse”. However in 1988, Texas hold ‘em was declared legally distinct from “stud-horse” in Tibbetts v. Van De Kamp, 271 Cal. Rptr. 792 (1990). Almost immediately card rooms across the state offered Texas hold ‘em. (It is often presumed that this decision ruled that hold ‘em was a skill game, but the distinction between skill and chance has never entered into California jurisprudence regarding poker.)